When mulling over toys for my daughter, I must admit baby dolls hadn’t figured highly on my list. At least not until Eva’s eyes alighted on a friend’s doll during a recent Windsor outing (Yes, the blue-eyed one!). I guess children really relate to the lifelike features, fascinated as they are by other babies and children at this age. Plus (at risk of making her sound like the world’s youngest serial killer) Eva is big into body parts at the moment.
Watching her embracing the doll and examining its face with fascination, I realised I’d made an oversight, and a rather snobbish one if truth be told, thinking us too ‘contemporary’ for plastic and blinky eyes. A classic case of foisting my own tastes onto this little person. So, lesson learned and wallet willing, I hit the high street.
My plan was to bag a mixed race doll for Eva. If you’ve seen her picture, it may catch you out to learn we boast a Jamaican influence in our family, her Great-Great Grandad arriving on UK shores early last century and working his socks off to make a living and a home here. So obviously I am keen for her to know about her heritage, and be mindful of it. But it’s not just that that made me angle for a doll of colour. I want Eva’s toys to be representative of the world she lives in. Especially in a climate where some are trying to bully us backwards towards more segregation, more fear.
Now, I know Guildford is not known for being a bastion of Multiculturalism, but we are making progress. So, thinking it should be easy enough to find such a doll in a decent toy store, I strolled into The Entertainer with confidence. Nope. Nothing doing there. Pink and Beige all the way.
Okay, I reasoned, feeling a mite uncomfortable, The Entertainer is smaller scale. Surely a mega-chain like Argos will bring it! So off I hopped, full of optimism, to Ladymead Retail Park.. and proceeded to flip through at least three catalogue pages of Argos Baby Doll Bedlam without seeing one black face. Seriously. I am starting to wonder if I imagined the whole thing. Maybe someone can go in there and confirm I’m not going mad?
For fairness’ sake, I should mention that other types of dolls fair better for ethnic diversity than your classic plastic baby (just how cute is this Lilliputiens offering, for example?). But, as pointed out in Woman’s Hour this month, the humble baby doll is something a child grasps, cuddles and relates to from the start. So what sort of message does it send when little girls and boys can’t see themselves represented in that aisle of the toy store, or over several pages of a catalogue? And I appreciate shops have to stock what sells, etc etc. But come on guys; three pages, and not one? It’s like hitting the breakfast aisle in Tekkies and finding nothing but cornflakes! There’s nothing wrong with cornflakes, but what f**king century are we in, again??
Anyway, to turn this rant into something more positive: I hit The Interwebs. And it delivered, though it was noticeably trickier to find ethnic baby dolls readily available and at a decent price point. I was on the lookout for variations in skin tone, features and also for anatomical correctness (no point in ‘shielding’ them from this imo. Eva long ago clocked and pointed at mine and DPs dangly bits, so that cat is decidedly out of the bag. Not that it should be in a bag in the first place!)
Here are some highlights:
More Doll for Your Money: Dolls World, Early Moments – £9.99
This doll ain’t gonna win no prizes for charm, but it delivers on skin tone, anatomical correctness and price, so no wonder it’s a staple in UK nurseries. Size: 41cm.
Cute and Compact: Lots to Love, Chubby – £10.99
Check out this little fella! Or is it a girl? Sadly we may never know as there’s nowt under them pants! And it looks so cuddlesome, but if there was a way to make all that blubber a bit softer to the touch, that would also be on my wish list (Have a go at searching for soft body ethnic dolls on amazon.co.uk and see if you have any more luck than me turning something up that has a reasonable price). Note that not all facial expressions are the same, so you may not get Mr Smiles-a-Lot on the photo, here. I didn’t.
Negging aside though, there are good points about ‘Lots to Love’. At 28cm, it’s the ideal size for an 18 month old to grasp. And it actually is rather pleasant looking as plastic dolls go, so not so many ‘Chuckie’ style nightmares for Mum! Plus £10.99 shouldn’t break the bank, though you’ll see a big price hike on the next size up. You can also find Asian and Hispanic variations.
Skintone Winner: Tiny Babies, Black Baby – £19.00
Of the three mentioned here, this is the only one that seemed readily available in a really strong black colour, and the features look race-appropriate to me. So two thumbs up for that! Plus it is anatomically correct. It is at the more expensive end if you’re on a budget, though not ludicrously so. And it comes in a bit smaller than Early Moments at 34cm. There is also an Asian variation, with a great head of hair! Shop with care, though – there seem to be some wildly variable prices around for the same dolls, from the same company!
After gnashing my teeth over the anatomy issue a bit, I’m afraid I was once again seduced by looks (see: the pram saga!) and opted for ‘Lots to Love’. I’m a sucker for a chubster, and I liked the overall size. Plus the site I purchased ‘Chubby’ from, Mixed Streets, gets a shout for the free kid’s hair product and nice little note they sent along with the purchase. These small things make all the difference. So the intention is of ‘upgrading’ to a ‘Tiny Baby’ at a later date when she’s bigger and it’s easier to handle a larger doll – which means we’ll have to overlook The Mystery of the Missing Genitals for now. But, as I’d hoped, she does seem to be enjoying her doll. It gets frequent bottle feeds – though so do I, to be fair! – and lots of cuddles. And is lovingly tucked up in a cardboard box bed, Norwegian Style.
So, back to where this all started: Guildford Argos. Feeling sure I must have missed something, I returned to my local branch and did some more fishing around for ethnic dolls. An initial search raised nothing but, after trawling a few pages of plastic dolls on their computer thinger, I noticed a male and female version of this Bayer doll. Not a bad little lass/fella, eh? Yet tucked away there on the third or fourth page, and only available for delivery (I can’t think this would fly in somewhere like London, for instance, there must be regional variations, surely?)
Somewhat mollified, I turned my attention back to the catalogue that had first caught my attention. Turns out I’d misremembered. It wasn’t three pages of uninterrupted white. It was eight. I counted, several times. Then I noticed something else: that in those eight pages of real children playing with all those white dolls, there was only non-white face.
So I invite you to join me in an Argos-directed Facepalm, and hope that things move ever forwards.
Now, got to run.. Eva is calling me for my bottle-feed! But if anyone knows a good place in the Guildford area to get ethnic dolls please shout.
(Oh and, FYI, that place off North Street that still sells golliwogs does not count)