Band-Aids, doll babies, and racial shades of beauty

Since almost all my daughters’ friends are various shades of brown and black, I’m frequently struck by the prominent shades of Band-Aids (or plasters as they are called here) and dolls. I remember walking into a drug store in N.E. Washington, DC and being unable to find a dark shade of Band-Aid for the kids I was working with. I thought about it for a minute and realized that, in this predominantly African-American part of the city, I was probably the only white guy who was going to be in that drugstore that day. Still, all the Band-Aids blended much better with my pink skin than they did with just about every other customer. Since then, I have seen some darker shades, and clear ones help, but check out the Band-Aid selection next time you are in a store. All the Band-Aids for kids in our house are now flashy kid colors – blue, yellow, red, green, purple, etc.

Finding multiple shades of dolls is another problem. Sadly, even when Christi does find black dolls for all the girls to play with, Kiara and Leila’s African friends (from all over the continent) still prefer the white-looking  dolls; white dolls are “more beautiful” they argue (even when they are identical except for color). Do we need any more evidence of the powerful impact of popular imagery (TV)? Christi’s had to do a lot of work building the self image of these young girls as black, brown, and beautiful.

Reconciliation blog brings attention to the culture clash over dolls and quotes a comment under a post by  Noble Mother that talks about her conflicted feelings over Bratz dolls – they like the color, but does not like the materialistic diva image.

Until the Bratz dolls came on the market, my daughter [black dad; white mom] just wasn’t really interested in dolls of any kind. She and I have lots of conversations about ‘what she is’…and she’s decided she’s not white, she’s not black, she’s brown. She’s often asked why there are never any brown babies in the stores? There are white and there are black, but not brown. And I’m sure she’s not been the only little girl asking this question.

The Bratz dolls, while I have major issues with many other factors about them, have given my daughter a sense of validation of her color. Now, there are dolls on the store shelves that look just like her. She no longer has to decide whether she wants a white doll or a black doll…she can get one that looks just like her.

Gilbreath asks:

Does Barbie represent an increasingly outdated notion of what “normal” mainstream culture looks like, while the Bratz signify a more multiethnic (or urban) aesthetic that is underrepresented among children’s dolls today? Even millionaire celeb Angelina Jolie, who adopted an African daughter, spoke up on this recently saying,

“and I look for a Barbie that’s African, and the African Barbie has straight hair! And you know, why has Disney never made a film with an African-American princess?”

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5 thoughts on “Band-Aids, doll babies, and racial shades of beauty

  1. steph says:

    When I was little a very very long time ago I had three children. Silver (a grey bear), Lizzie, my black doll, and Toby, my kaola bear. I loved Lizzie – my aunty brought her over from England for me. I don’t remember Lizzie’s colour being any more of an issue than Toby’s species or Silver’s teddiness. I never wanted another doll and I thought barbies were ugly greedy dolls who wanted too many clothes and stuff. Lizzie liked homemade clothes.

    • Ben says:

      Very cute, Steph. The girls are actually very creative with making clothes out of paper and even used balloons. I wish color wasn’t an issue here too, but it was startling how all these little girls are already steeped in certain public biases against their skin colours (spelled for you); it’s very sad.

  2. […] Girl Like Me – American Beauty In response to the recent commentary on Ben Byeryl’s Blog, Reconciliation blog, Noble Mother and I am sure several other blogs about the Bratz dolls and the […]

  3. Rombo says:

    You know, I didn’t even know that band aids were supposed to match skin colour. We’ve just always had the ones we’ve had, which, of course, are pink-ish. We live. We learn.

    The doll thing has bothered me a long time. I don’t give dolls as gifts to kids. I won’t give Barbie or her cousins and kids often don’t want the black ones.

    You’re right in saying the situation has to be rectified elsehow. Positive images much precede, or at least come alongside, multiracial dolls.

    But I have hope. I see how far local music ‘heros’ have come in the last decade and believe that if the right trigger comes, change will follow quickly. I’m not certain what that trigger is. I don’t even think there’s actually something out there that one can call a trigger. Kenyan musicians just had to keep pushing against a wall of disinterest until one day it crumbled.

    I do have to add however, that the African American community in the US has been very proactive with regard to crafting the positive images, in toys as in entertainment. I was quite impressed at the range available at the last international fair I attended.

    • Ben says:

      It’s amazing how much happens right in front of our faces until someone opens our eyes to recognize it. Racism is more often subtle than in-your-face hostility, but almost always systemic. That’s why it is hard to get whites (especially well-meaning ones like me) to see how they support and maintain those systems. We subconsciously feel like it is in our best interests.

      I’m glad you saw a nice range of options at that international fair. Someone finally figured out that the African-American community was an important market – that there was money to be made there.

      I’ll be interested to see the U-Tube video that the Black WASP posted above in “Girls like Me” very interested.

      I too have high hopes for Kenyan musicians too. I really enjoy the way they’ve created new genres. There’s a lot of brilliant and authentic creativity on the music scene here.

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