Children now love unconventional dolls

Art & Culture Business Children

Attracted to new  toys, like those with disabilities 

In recent years, children’s toys have become more inclusive. Experts and parents believe this is a step towards acceptance and body positivity.

In 2020, toy manufacturer Mattel, released a new Barbie Fashionista line that included Barbie dolls with disabilities, prosthetic limbs and skin conditions like vitiligo.

The vitiligo doll is a popular toy among kids in Bengaluru. 

Nikita S, an employee at Toys R Us store in Garuda mall informed The Observer: “Kids love this doll.  It is Barbie, after all, which is very popular among children. Every day, at least four or five kids come and choose this doll.”

Parents support the initiative.

Ronika Mukherjee, an English professor at Jain University and  a parent, said: “It is a step towards inclusivity. Such toys are normalizing obesity and pigmentation and disabilities that should have always been normal to all of us.”

Asked whether she would like her child to have these dolls, she said: “Of course. I want her to play with these dolls. But at the end of the day, it is her choice. Whatever she chooses, I let her buy it. So far, she has been more into conventional dolls, but I would love her mind to nudge towards these dolls.”

Meanwhile, young adults wish they had access to these toys during their childhood. 

Ashmita Mohan, a 21-year-old college student, said: “I remember that when I was a kid, I loved to play with Barbies. But at that time, Barbies came in just one form —- slim, white with blonde hair and blue eyes. I wish this variety was available back then.”

The conventional barbies reflect society’s rigid beauty standards. 

Kashish Sharma, 25, shared: “I think this is where our insecurities begin as a child. As a kid, I thought that these dolls were the standard of beauty. That your hair, your outfit, your body needs to be… doll-like or pretty. As a brown kid, my hair and skin never matched any of these dolls. I am happy kids now have dolls that look more like them.

“Another thing I remember is that whenever I broke a doll’s arm or something, I would just throw it away and not play with it anymore. If children have access to dolls that portray disabilities and prosthetics, children will grow to be more empathetic,” she added.

In recent years, doll-manufacturing companies are making Barbies with different body types as well. The new range of Barbie has five body types, 22 skin tones, 94 hair colours and 13 eye colours. Similarly, Ken dolls are much more varied than they used to be, with four body types, 18 sculpts and 13 skin tones.

Dr Nitya Parvar,  a professor of psychology in Delhi University, explained how the new initiative by doll manufacturers makes a change. “Cognitive development starts as soon as a child is 5 or 6 years old. Toys play a major part in how thoughts and beliefs of a child are formed.  Toys are like a miniature version of the world for them. Kids try to mimic the people around them through these toys and so on. That is why representation is really important when it comes to toys. If a child doesn’t feel represented by the dolls they play with, they will not be able to feel completely connected to that process.”

Fuller or skinnier dolls promote body positivity among children as they would never consider a doll  ugly, Parvar added.

In 2020, Mattel also worked with dermatologists, cancer patients and people with disabilities to make sure that the disabilities were represented correctly in the dolls.


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