Share
Ages:
all

Stories

She Never Wants The Black Doll

Dec 8, 2016

Those savvy marketers knew exactly what they were doing. I know because I was once one of them. I can imagine the sequence of meetings and approvals that landed the Maplelea Canadian Girls catalogue into my mailbox last fall, strategically poly-bagged with our monthly issue of Chirp Magazine.

I like the Maplelea Girls concept: seven adventurous Canadian girls with unique personalities, experiences, interests and dreams for the future. My daughter, then a bright-eyed 6 year-old, dove into the manufactured lives of the Maplelea Girls. Charlsea, the brown haired, blue-eyed, outdoorsy West Coaster was immediately her favourite, topping her birthday wish list.

Truthfully, I'm fine with the dolls, but here's what bothers me: given the choice, she'll choose a Caucasian doll over a black doll. For me, it's not just child's play. It's a subtle part of a self-love conversation I don't have the privilege to ignore.

a black and a white barbie sitting together on a bench

Why did she dismiss the black and brown-skinned Maplelea Friends pictured in the last pages of the catalogue? Why didn't she, “oooh” and, “ahh” over the 18" HerStory Dolls of Color in my Instagram feed? Then again, why did my dad have to exchange a black Cabbage Patch Kid for a white one, 30-something years ago? Asking my daughter about it led nowhere. She couldn't articulate her preference any better than I could at her age.

"What about Alexi?", I asked, thinking she might relate to the Toronto-born city girl.
"Umm, no. I like Charlsea."
"Yes, Charlsea's nice but, oh, do you like these ones too?" My enthusiasm for the two darker skinned dolls was lost on her. She flipped back to the front of the catalogue. "I like Charlsea."


You'll also enjoy: Parenting in the Land of Gendered Toys


She never said the black dolls weren't cute or pretty or anything else. They just weren't her favourites any more than the redhead or Native dolls were. But shouldn't she automatically identify with the black dolls? I wanted to press on, but didn't want to stoke biases she may have been naive to. I left the conversation there.

I’m concerned my daughter feels that black dolls, and by extension herself, are somehow less. Less beautiful, less acceptable, less able to leap from the tree-house to the car and zoom off to save the day.

various dolls of different ethnicities sitting on a bench

I want her to love, yet not be defined, by her skin colour. I want her to know, to really know, that she is a beautiful being. And yes, I want her to want the black doll. And if she doesn't, I want her choice to be based on the character's hobby or accessory, not skin tone or hair type.
So, what's a mama to do? I'll continue to meet her where she is in the race conversation. I'll keep encouraging diversity in her play and in her life. I'll always teach her to think critically and independently. And most of all, I will forever do my best to foster and model self-love and acceptance. Oh, and I'm totally throwing a couple of tactical gift-giving hints to Grandma and Auntie too, for good measure! 

Article Author Debbie King
Debbie King

Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Debbie is a multi-sport athlete, freelance writer, wife, and mother of one. As creator and author of SUPAFITMAMA, she leads the everyday extraordinary woman on a journey through fitness, health and cultural experiences in her hometown. Her stories and reviews are honest, witty and packed with professional insights. The subjects of body image, strength, beauty and community are common currents throughout her work. Debbie explores a range of healthy living topics for individuals and Canadian families, with a unique personal twist. Follow her on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter

Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.