Black Dolls Matter

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Reasons why your little girl needs a black doll

Little girls playing with dolls is nothing new. But, did you know it could have an impact on their self-perception? Nancy Nkirote Schürch, based in Switzerland, noticed her daughter referring to her blonde, blue-eyed Barbie doll as ‘Mimi’. This sparked the idea of creating a doll that not only looked more like her daughter but also promoted self-awareness and cultural cognizance in little girls. Hence, Mimi Authentic was born with a range of dolls that explore different Kenyan cultures and traditions.

So far, there’s Mimi Nasiaye from the Maasai Community, Kalenjins are represented by Mimi Chemarus and Mimi Muthaka is Kikuyu. They come complete with a culturally aligned dress, accessories and a backstory that explains their individual cultures. Notably, she created Mimi Nasimae – an industrious Maasai girl – to resemble her firstborn daughter and Mimi Muthaka after her second-born. Many may ask why this matters; it’s just a doll after all. Right? Mimi Authentic is just one of the few brands who’ve realized how crucial it is to have dolls of colour in the market for little girls. This is because dolls help to develop their concept of beauty and self-identity.

A study by psychologists Kenneth and Maimie Clark that looked at how black children reacted to black and white dolls showed that 63 percent preferred white dolls. In addition, black children by the age of five have already developed the notion that having black skin and features is a mark of inferiority. Alternatively, they begin to believe stereotypes about their race. But when they grow up with visuals or dolls that look just like them, it confirms that who they are is normal and affirms that they exist. Interestingly, a white child playing with a black doll has an opposite effect on the child; making them loving and respectful to people of colour.

Then there are the body issues dolls can instil in little girls. Notice how most of the Mimi dolls are a little pudgy as opposed to Barbie’s impossible dimensions (32” bust, 16” waist and 29” hips if you were wondering). A study, published in the journal ‘Body Image’, found that playing with dolls with unrealistic proportions made girls as young as five years old internalize the idea that being skinny is ideal. One thing that is clear is that children learn through observation and imitation of the world around them. Their earlier ideas about appearance, and what is considered good or bad, highly depends on what they are exposed to. It doesn’t hurt to start with the message that who they are and how they look is perfectly normal.

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