By Tyler Hatten, Unite Contributing Writer
Growing up, I played with dolls from sunrise to sunset. I would braid their hair and cut up their clothes to create new ones. As a child you never really recognize your passion until you’re older and still doing the same things, but for humans. On Christmas and birthdays, my father would only purchase African American dolls for me. He said it was important however I never knew the significance until now.
Since 1986 American Girl has provided dolls, books and accessories for young girls to enjoy. BeForever, American Girl’s signature line of eight historical dolls in their time periods, have developed a ninth new doll named Melody Ellison. Melody is an African American young girl growing up in Detroit during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. She is a courageous girl who wants to sing at her church and becomes inspired by words from Martin Luther King Jr.
Growing up I can count on two hands the number of African American dolls that were in stores in the 90s. With the racial tensions in America, creating dolls of different ethnicities is crucial to a young girl. Children are very impressionable. Young girls will play with any doll as long as they’re aesthetically pleasing however subconsciously companies are teaching those girls what is pretty.
Mattel recently gave Barbie a new look. The toy maker company has developed Barbie dolls of different body types, racial backgrounds and includes a full figured doll which is the first of its history. The dolls are meant to show a more realistic shape for women. The modern dolls show girls there are beautiful women of all races. The dolls can also encourage girls who aren’t necessarily slim to love their bodies.
A part of the modern Barbie collection is a dark skinned African American woman. The doll’s hair is also taken into consideration by developing a different texture which is to emulate course hair. In our community, many dark skinned women are considered “undesirable”. As a result, some dark skin women have developed a complex. Creating a dark skin Barbie can change the mindsets of girls and women who don’t consider themselves beautiful.
There is also another African American Barbie who has short, natural, curly red hair. For centuries people of different races and some of our own have referred to women with course or kinky hair as having “nappy” hair. A Barbie doll which embraces our hair texture is pivotal to the black community.
The responses to these new dolls have been positive. Parents and children are excited for the future American Doll and have already purchased Melody’s book to read to their children and grandchildren. Mattel’s remodeled Barbie has also received good reviews. Mattel’s quarterly sales have increased and the African American community unanimously approves.
I have spoken to plenty of women who wished there were more dolls of different ethnicities when they were younger. A slim, tall, blonde hair white doll is typically what companies market. I reminisce on the how my father told me to acknowledge who I am and to be proud of where I come from. Having a doll that not only resembles me, but has a similar hair texture reinforces my confidence.