Recently, what is ed pop singer Jamelia sparked fresh controversy regarding the comments she made about the lack of ethnically diverse dolls in the UK. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who took time to tweet and share their complaints at Jamelia’s This Morning appearance, even going as far as calling her racist!
Some people noted that she was making a problem out of ‘issues that don’t exist’ and even questioned the necessity of Black children owning black dolls. These people completely missed the point and let me tell you why.
As a Black girl, born and raised in Poland, I had NO-ONE to base my looks on as a young child. Sure, I had siblings and a small group of Black family friends, but it wasn’t the same. All of my dolls were white – at first, because there was literally no other choice of purchase in toy shops, and as I got older, I learned that dolls with fair long hair and blue eyes were better and prettier. Even when black dolls were introduced to the Polish market, and I finally had the option to choose a toy that looked like me, I chose not to, because I had already internalised the society’s beauty ideals and standards of attractiveness. Unfortunately, the Barbies with dark skin and Afro hair only acquired the roles of babysitters and exotic friends during my childhood play time.
Thus, I am still baffled as to why a call for wider diversity among children’s toys is something so many people found issue with. I agree with Jamelia that there is still – in 2017- a huge discrepancy in doll ethnicities in stores. I don’t just mean black vs white dolls. Where are all the Asian and Indian dolls? The dolls with short hair and shorts and t-shirts instead of pretty dresses? We’ve all complained about the unrealistic size of the Barbie doll and the consequences it may have on body image in young girls. However, why is it so much worse when race and ethnicity are brought into it? A lot of people commented on Jamelia’s point, saying that Black children should not be taught to ‘just play with black dolls’, but such remarks miss the point again.
The concern is not about little Black girls playing with ‘their own’ kind of toys. It’s about the implications of child development and self-perception. I would have loved for my younger self to be shown a Black version of Wonder Woman doll, so that I could too feel as included and as empowered. I would have loved if the black dolls I saw in stores also shared my brown eyes, instead of blue and short kinky hair, instead of wavy highlights. Maybe its because of such lack of representation and diversity I witnessed as young child, that I hated my natural hair for so long.
People need to acknowledge that body image and self esteem are not just constructs we learn about in adolescence and through the media. Yes, these factors also have a major influence on the way we view and feel about our bodies, but the seed is planted much earlier on – in the golden years of childhood. The things presented to us in our childhood, the toys we play with and the games we play help us internalise and imitate the world around us. Me choosing to have only white dolls reflected my daily life – being the only Black child in my school and all friendship groups. I considered only white dolls as beautiful because I didn’t know or see anyone else, ‘like me’ who was also perceived by the rest of society as beautiful. Can you see the possible destructive consequences that the lack of ethnically diverse dolls can have on young girls today?
I applaud Jamelia for raising this important issue, despite the horrible comments that have come her way. How can anyone see a plea for more inclusion and the celebration of beauty as a negative thing to strive for?
Written by Melissa Zuu
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