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 six-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-inch 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."

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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 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 treehouse 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

Read more from Debbie here.

Debbie King (aka SUPAFITMAMA) is a Toronto-based masters athlete, influencer, freelance writer, wife and mother of one. At age 42, she is training toward her goal of becoming a 2020 World Masters Athletics track and field champion. In her work as a writer and influencer, Debbie creates powerful content and connections in female fitness, sport, wellness and culture. Body positivity, inclusion and representation are strong themes throughout. As a regular contributor for CBC Parents, she explores a range of healthy living topics for individuals and Canadian families. Follow her journey at and on Instagram and Twitter.

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