The need for dolls that depict ethnic or multicultural features is essential in today’s society. Earlier this year, The Census Bureau released estimates on the U.S. population’s growth in 2011, finding that racial and ethnic minorities made up more than half of all children born in the country, totaling 50.4%. With this kind of statistic, one would think there would be more products specifically catering to these demographics, but that is not the case. Don’t’ get me wrong, there are products in the marketplace that cater to the ethnic demographic – hair care is a prime example. Hair care products are made for specific hair textures and it is a fact that African-American hair is different from other ethnicities.
For ethnic and multicultural children, there lies a bigger issue. Outside of hair care, what products are made for them? Seeing this gap in product offerings, some companies have developed multicultural products. One that comes to mind is a doll. When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, finding an African-American doll was almost impossible! I only remember the infant African-American Cabbage Patch Doll, but I was in my teens by the time it hit the shelves. My mother purchased it simply because it was black doll. Over time and from the demand from ethnic consumers, major companies came out with ethnic dolls. One that comes to mind is Mattel. I would bet my last dollar that everyone on Earth has heard of the BarbieÒ doll! Barbie plus most of her family members were a staple in my household growing up!
But, there came a time when I realized that Barbie was no reflection of me. She didn’t have my hair, my nose, no hips whatsoever. The image of Barbie was engrained in my mind as what a girl should look like. So, just imagine if you have that thought and you fail at what you think you should look like. Growing up, my self-esteem was low. I didn’t like the way I looked (I was a fat kid) and always dreamed of getting a “new nose” when I became of legal age to do so. This was my thinking back in the 80s! Can you imagine what children’s thoughts are these days with all of the negative imagery they’re exposed to?
Companies that produce multicultural dolls must “get it right”. By that I mean, the dolls must really illustrate one’s ethnicity and cultural imagery. It took Mattel 50 years to introduce its first black Barbie. While I appreciate the thought, I don’t appreciate the execution. One of the many flaws of its black Barbie is that it has Pocahontas hair! No one in my family or any of my friends have hair down their back. Another doll within the black Barbie franchise is the So In Style doll. Not only does this doll have four interchangeable weaves but it also comes with a baby! Words alone cannot express the disappointment and the offensive nature of this doll. What is the message that Mattel would to convey to young black children with this doll?
Coming from a corporate marketing background, I’m appalled that the doll actually reached the launch status. What kind of research was done with black consumers? Was it face-to-face or an online survey? What was the educational background of the consumers? Were they parents? What were the questions asked that led to this doll being produced? Did the consumers actually see a mock-up (graphics and messaging) during the research? I could go on and on! Digressing for a moment, most importantly, were there any African-Americans on the marketing and product development team? I mean, any African-American could have told you that this doll had the potential to be offensive. A five-minute conversation vs. millions of dollars to launch? Well, we know the answer to that question.
I’m taking such strong stance against this doll because I know how doll images can shape the mind of a young child. There needs to be more positive imagery out there for multicultural youth. African-Americans are not the only demographic suffering from this! When’s the last time, or even when was the first time, you saw an Asian doll? Or, an Asian on any product? Same thing for Latinos – is their culture being captured in the best light? There’s already backlash from the Latino community about Princess Sophia, who looks like a redheaded Caucasian girl to me. But, supposedly, she’s of Hispanic descent.
Because mainstream companies are not getting it right, entrepreneurs have taken the doll market by storm. There are companies such as Dolls Like Me, Trinity Designs, Pattycake Doll Company – just to name a few, who provide dolls of ethnic descent. Unfortunately, I didn’t create a doll to shape the self-esteem of multicultural children, but I did create a line of composition notebooks. I incorporated exactly what I said Mattel should – authentic cultural imagery onto my products. With only six images featuring African-American and Latinos, the response has been overwhelmingly positive! I saw a need and instead of complaining about it, I did something about it! I encourage others to do the same.