One of my most treasured possessions is a baby doll. By modern standards she’s not the prettiest of dolls, but she means a lot to me because I’ve had her since I was very small.
My doll is made of hard, dark brown plastic, her straight hair is molded into her mainly bald head and for some reason her eyes are orange and they close noisily when you lie her on her back. My children think she’s scary and one in particular regards her as the sort of thing more at home in a horror film than a children’s playroom.
Although my doll is now wearing a pink fluffy romper, that wasn’t her original outfit, she inherited that after three decades or more of being naked. At some point in the gap between playing with dollies and becoming sentimental and middle aged, her clothes along with lots of my other toys will have been given away. When she arrived on Christmas morning she was wearing a hand knitted orange and white dress with a matching hat. That retro number has long since disappeared and the fact that she had no other clothes, suggests that she probably didn’t come with an outfit.
As a little girl, although she was always there I don’t remember playing with her very much, but I was always very fond of her. I definitely didn’t like her as much as my Tiny Tears. Tiny Tears was the must have toy of 1970 whatever, because she weed herself if you fed her water and squeezed hard enough, which was quite impressive in those days.
So why do I have this weird attachment for her? There are two main reasons.
The first reason is that she’s a connection with my childhood. I’m increasingly fascinated with things that remind me of being a little girl. I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to things from my childhood including television programmes I watched, Ladybird books, toys I owned, and sweets they no longer make. My doll reminds me of being a little girl and keeping her is a way to remember those days.
The second reason I’m so attached to my doll is because as the only brown doll I owned at the time, she was one of the few toys that actually reflected how I looked. I allegedly exclaimed that she was another me when I received her. All my other dolls were white and usually had blonde hair and although Tiny Tears, Sindy and Barbie were always my favourites, they didn’t look like me. To be honest “Little Claire” with her straight molded hair and orange eyes didn’t either but I knew that she was like me. It was a poor imitation but at least she was supposed to look like me and for whatever reason her hard plastic skin and noisy orange eyeballs never bothered me.
Finding dolls with brown skin is much easier to do now and they are no less attractive than their paler counterparts, although strangely enough they are sometimes referred to as “ethnic”, presumably to avoid the whole “should we call it brown?” question. If you’re buying a doll in 2018 you have a wider set of choices. Large companies are offering a range of different skin tones. Skinny and blonde may still be the default, but at least other options exist. There are also lots of small companies who are creating beautiful dolls in every skin shade.
Showing children that they are unique, but not unusual, is important. The images they see on television and in magazines matters. The characters they read about in books and the physical attributes of the toys they play with matters. My orange eyed scary doll was a part of my childhood and although we didn’t look alike she was and will forever be, another me.