It was Christmas 1984. Like all little girls, I had my heart set on one thing – a Cabbage Patch Doll. After opening a series of small gifts on Christmas morning, my mom presented me with the box I had been waiting for all year. As I tore through the wrapping paper, my excitement immediately turned to disappointment when I discovered that the doll of my dreams was brown.
I was just five at the time, so I took no pains to hide my displeasure with Santa’s choice. In fact, the painful moment is caught on VHS, when I turn to my mom and ask “Why Didn’t I Get the White One?” Although it was nearly forty years later, it was an episode straight out of the famous Kenneth Clark experiment form the late 1940s, when an overwhelming number of black children were found to show preference for white baby dolls.
Despite the fact that I was raised by a strong black woman and grew up on the West Side of Detroit, media and other outside forces had a powerful influence on my perceptions of beauty.
In 2005, Mattel, Inc.’s Caucasian holiday Barbie doll sold out so fast that the company had to issue rainchecks to those who were not lucky enough to get their hands on one. Meanwhile, the African-American holiday Barbie doll stayed on the shelves for most of the holiday season. Brenda Wade, a family psychologist, says its not completely surprising that black girls still favor white Barbie as study after study has shown that a significant number of young black girls still associate white dolls with beauty, purity, and goodness.
The fact that the African-American dolls bear little or no resemblance to the target market serves to further complicate matters. Many buyers often complain that black dolls appear to be nothing more than white dolls with brown skin or too ethnic, to the point of not resembling black children.
This year, I have had the opportunity to travel all over the country and to parts of Africa promoting my new book Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for and Maintaining Natural Hair, and yet I still find that many of our black and Latina daughters, mothers, and grandmothers have not come to grips with the fact that their brown or black is beautiful. This holiday season, my message to you regardless of how old you are, is that you are beautiful just the way you are.
For those of you who are mothers, the New Naturalista has done some phenomenal research on dolls which celebrate your daughter’s heritage, which I have provided below.
Who wouldn’t love this beautiful little doll? I mean look at her! We did a story last year on Karito Kids awesome work (click here) This little girl’s name is Lulu, from Kenya.
Lulu $88 on Amazon
Hasbro Baby Alive Doll
This little cutie is for the nurturer…and her little curls are adorable! The set is $99 on Amazon
Hasbro Baby Alive $99
BFC, Ink Fashion Dollpack – Calista
Calista is fly! The price can’t be beat either. $9 bucks on Amazon
Calista $9 on Amazon
Corolle Les Cheries Doll Cecile
Shhhh, my daughter is getting this doll for Christmas. The face, the hair, the clothes – this doll is just too cute. $30 bucks on Amazon
Corelle Les Cheries $30
Fibre Craft – Black Hai
This doll comes the closest to the American Girl doll look – and the price is much better @ $18 bucks on Amazon. It’s gotten great reviews.
Black Hai $18
Madame Alexander Doll – Oh So Groovy Collection
American Girl doll clothes fit her! $36 on Amazon
Madame Alexander $36
Fisher Price Loving Family Sister and Brother
These two cuties are part of a larger family unit. All of them have kinky/curly hair and ethnic features. Go Fisher Price! $13 on Amazon
Fisher Price $13
Manhattan Toy Groovy Girls, Latasha
Manhattan Toy company does a great job representing different cultures. They even have black dolls with different skin tones! $14.58 on Amazon
Manhattan Doll, LaTasha $14.58
Playskool Dressy Daisy African American
Meet Daisy, an alternative to the Raggity Ann doll! Her yarn hair resembles locs! $32 on Amazon
Last but not least Barbie has a fro! Ok, well not exactly – but this retro doll is so adorable for your child or the collector in you! $21 on Amazon
Classic Barbie $31
So, is it just me, or have you or your daughter had a similar experience with black dolls? Where do you think the general lack of interest in black dolls stem from? What efforts if any did your mother take to encourage you to play with black dolls? How important do you think a doll is to a child’s perception of race and beauty ? As always, we’re keeping it real, and would love to hear from you.