Doll Colors

When I was shopping with Samantha for her Barbie doll this weekend, she initially picked out a bride Barbie that was blue eyed and blonde. My gut response to the blonde Barbie was to find the same Barbie with brown skin and see if she would prefer the brown Barbie to the blonde Barbie. I did find an African American Bride Barbie and she got that one. When I look around our house, I see that most of her dolls are brown skinned: Latina, African American, Asian. The white dolls we have, when I think about it, were mostly given to her by her Japanese relatives, while the brown dolls were given to her mostly by her white relatives.

It got me thinking why it bothered me that she would pick out a blonde Barbie. Is it really a hang up I have? Does the race of the dolls really make a difference? And isn’t kind of funny that her white relatives tend to buy her brown dolls and her Asian relatives tend to buy her white dolls? Why is that?

Is it, that when we see her, we pick out the differences from ourselves instead of the similarities. Her skin is darker than mine, so does my mind make her identity more Asian than white? Do her Japanese relatives look at her and see lighter skin than theirs and therefore identify her more with her white heritage? And then we all buy the dolls that we think look the most like her?

Will she, as I’ve read about people who are half white, half African American, not really be accepted by either race as she grows up? Too white to be Asian, too Asian to be white, and therefore be an outsider her whole life, not really fitting in anywhere?

Am I not as color blind as I thought? I married outside of my race and truly believe skin color is not important and does not make a person who they are anymore than hair color does. Or do I not believe that, deep down. Do I really believe that your identity, who you are, is somehow linked to your skin color?

In actuality, I think the color of the doll’s skin bothered me because I know she chose the blonde Bride Barbie because she thought she was prettiest. I know that because that’s how I chose my dolls growing up. And the Bride Barbie was pretty. She had a beautiful white gown with ruching on the bodice, spaghetti straps tied halter style around the neck, a flowing skirt with a glittered, lacy overlay, with a hot pink ribbon around her waist and matching, strappy hot pink high heels. She wore a veil over her hair, diamond earrings, and a gigantic diamond ring that gleamed from the box.

But when she came with the blonde doll, I thought, is that Samantha’s idea of pretty? Does she think blue-eyed and blonde is the prettiest Barbie? Does she not think the brown Barbie is pretty? The one, that in my mind, looks the most like her. I want her to grow up with a positive self image and feel pretty and I do believe the dolls she chooses can be a reflection of that.

When offered both dolls, she did choose the darker one. But, maybe she only chose it because she knew that was the one I was hoping she would pick. Maybe she only chose the blonde Barbie in the first place because it was displayed along the main aisle at her eye level, while the brown Barbie was in the Barbie aisle, over her head (which is a completely different issue I won’t address here). Maybe, she didn’t really notice the skin color, and she was just picking the most beautiful dress she saw. I hope so.

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13 Responses to “Doll Colors”

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  1. Alyna, Better Your Blog
    Twitter: BetterYourBlog

    Another good one. Food for thought. She’s an adorable girl and I hope that she does grow up to have a very positive self-image. Happy birthday to your little one!!!

  2. Cheryl @ Mommypants
    Twitter: mommy_pants

    My kids are also part Asian, and I know my son identifies himself as brown, “just like Daddy.” My daughter likes all kind of dolls, but what’s interesting is one time there were only brown “Groovy Girls” left at Target and she was very excited to get it.

    It might be all in OUR heads, this color thing. At least, for now.

    • Jessica Anne says:

      I hope it’s all in my head. It probably is. Of course, then I have to worry about trying to not put it out there so my kids pick it up. This raising kids thing isn’t easy.

  3. Michele
    Twitter: papoe2010

    My girls are too young to have a preference, but I know my oldest is getting there. This is definitely something I’m thinking about because they are half-black. Should then we only buy black dolls? I’m not sure. My mom, who is white, has bought them black dolls. I would hope that they won’t seek out the white blond barbies, thinking that they are the only “pretty” ones but I also don’t want to force any issues about race on them that they aren’t really feeling. Then there’s the fact that one of my girls is darker than the other. Will that have an effect on doll preferences? Only time will tell! This is a great post. I have wrote a bit about being the white mom, and I know I’ll write about it a lot more as the girls grow up.

    • Jessica Anne says:

      It’s really a strange experience, raising children who are biracial. It’s something that never even crossed my mind as a potential issue. It’s so hard to know what to do. And then I think I’m over thinking it and making an issue out of something that’s not there.

  4. ericka @ alabaster cow
    Twitter: alabastercow

    hi from the red dress club! definitely a thought provoking piece. have you seen that experiment oprah featured on african american girls picking the blonde doll because they thought it was the prettiest. perhaps we’ve all been brainwashed to believe that…

  5. Great piece! I read an article recently that says it helps to actually talk to children about race. Having open dialogue seems to help them have a healthier attitude toward racial differences. It sounds like you are doing a good job!

  6. Sandra says:

    I’m going to take a wild stab here and say she chose the blond haired Barbie just ’cause she liked it. It’s we as adults who put so many labels and associations on everything, when in reality, children are pure and true. And let’s face it, we all love a bride, no matter what the colour of the skin.

    • Jessica Anne says:

      I think you’re probably right. It was the first time she had ever picked her own doll, so it made me think. I do think she was going for the dress, or maybe the gigantic fake diamond ring. :)

  7. Ali says:

    i know that i’m late to the party, but i can’t resist commenting. :) i’m half-filipino and i’ve been trying to think back and remember who got me what dolls growing up. i honestly can’t remember. between my two sisters and i we had TONS of barbies, but i don’t really remember how many blonde/brunette/pale/tan ones we had. i do remember our disney princess dolls/barbies and our american girl dolls. disney: we had belle, jasmine, mulan, and ariel. american girls: felicity, kirsten, and samantha. those characters all have personalities, dreams, and goals in a way that barbie just doesn’t.

    my favorite american girl was molly (the WWII-era american girl) but i when i saw that catalog where you can basically choose the skin, hair, and eye color of your “girl of today” i went with that. the catalog is also full of girls and dolls in matching outfits, and i really wanted to do that (despite hating when my mom made my sisters and i all match :P ). the next american girl to come out was josefina, who looked basically like the doll i had created with one key difference: her ears were pierced. i thought that was so cool, and wished i had somehow waited just a little bit and been able to get josefina instead (and i hadn’t even read any of the books in her story). so yes, i think it can be just the bling, or the dress, or the accessory that draws a little girl to a particular doll. :)

    also, i think the “not being accepted by either race” phenomenon is less of an issue today. it would be a lie to say that i’ve never felt outside of the circle, but i can’t think of a specific time when somebody intentionally made me feel that way because of my mixed-race. it was driven more by my own insecurities about being different from the rest of the group for x reason, which i think everybody feels from time to time as a teenager. on a related note, i’ve found that mixed kids make fast friendships with other mixed kids, regardless of how their parents ethnicities match up.

    • Jessica Anne says:

      Thanks for the comment! (Long comments are great. They give me something to think about too. :) ). I’m glad to know you didn’t think about the colors of the dolls so much as a characteristic or bling they had.

      And I’m really excited to hear mixed kids make friends with each other easily regardless of the ethnicities involved. My oldest is about to start kindergarten and there are a lot of mixed kids in the program. I’m hoping it makes things a little easier for her.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  8. Ali says:

    wow, sorry for the essay! i didn’t expect it to turn out that long. :)