Why I HATED my Dolls as a Child

sad doll barbie

I wish I was White.

Those were the words of my baby cousin back in 1998, while we played in her room. She looked wistfully at the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Barbie she held in her hand and then she set it aside. It was one of many in her Barbie-fleet; only sparsely littered with the occasional green-eyed brunette.

“Why don’t you have any Black dolls?” I asked her.

She cringed at the mere mention. “I don’t want those,” she told me. “They’re ugly!”

She was only five.

Painful Questions

I was about her age when I first started asking questions, usually after hours of examining my dolls alongside myself in the mirror.

At first, the questions were innocent.

“Why don’t I have these?” I asked my mother, while pointing at my doll’s chest one day. “You  have them. How come I don’t?”

My mom only laughed. “You’re not old enough yet,” she explained. That seemed to make sense. It’s not like anyone else in my kindergarten had breasts, aside from the teachers.

But there were far more harmful questions I never dared to ask aloud. I wondered why I didn’t have my dolls’ complexion, hair-type, tiny noses, or thin pink lips. I didn’t need to ask my mother to know that it wasn’t age that had robbed me of those.

And I did feel robbed. Having my hair combed was a daily nuisance. My hair even broke quite a few combs in kinky rebellion.

Meanwhile, not only could I run a comb through my dolls’ hair with no such incident, but I could do the same with my Mom’s. Though she differed in colour and facial features, just like my dolls, she had long, flowing hair that was manageable and neat.

So what was wrong with me?

More and more the question weighed heavily on my mind. Unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, I packed most of the dolls away in my old crib, and stacked my teddy bears on the bed instead.

Every now and then, I would peek into the crib to look at my dolls’ smiling faces, and bright eyes. I desperately wanted to play with them, but I knew doing so would only make me miserable again.

The Importance of Representation

So imagine my excitement when my parents won me a Cabbage Patch doll at a local Christmas festival. She was caramel-coloured, with brown eyes, and a patch of dusty blondish brown hair. I finally had a doll that looked like me.

Her head was made of a rock-hard material, and her body was made of fabric – the perfect combination of a doll and a teddy.

“You would wake up every morning with busted lips, and still wouldn’t sleep without her,” my Mom remembers.

Enter Tomboy Alex

But as time went by, my dislike for my other dolls grew even more. I stopped asking for dolls every Christmas and started asking for other things, instead. I wanted transformer robots, doctor sets, helicopters, a bicycle, remote control cars…

The racial disparity between my dolls’ model of beauty and myself were not the only reasons I disliked them now. They also began to feel like a big part of the pressure I faced to conform to gender norms.

I was not your average daughter – or even the average tom boy, for that matter. I would insist on being dressed up in my most beautiful princess clothes every day, but would then go play with the boys and come home looking like a tortured rag-doll every evening.

And if the boys had gotten into trouble at school, best believe I was the one girl whose name would be heaped along with theirs.

“How do you even let these boys talk you into this?” my Mom asked me one day, when I came home literally covered in ticks.

The boys and I had snuck off during our lunch break to climb trees and explore in the woods and had returned to school with evidence of our excursion all over us.

If only she knew, that all those adventures “the boys talked me into” had been my idea… (I hope she isn’t reading this)

As I matured into a teenager and young adult though, my hatred for dolls began to wane.

I no longer blamed manufacturers and ads, or even the dolls themselves, for making me feel less than beautiful. And I certainly don’t blame my parents for buying me all-White dolls. There was hardly anything else for sale back then, anyway.

We can’t spend our whole lives blaming others for how we feel about ourselves.

But these days, there are a wealth of options for young girls. There are White dolls of many colours and sizes, alongside several shades of Black, Asian, Middle Eastern and everything in-between. There is no longer any reason the dolls young girls play with shouldn’t represent them, their friends, and their families.

A Beacon of Hope

Just before leaving Jamaica, I had the pleasure (and sometimes displeasure) of living next door to a White Canadian expatriate.

Shortly after arriving on the island, he had met and fallen in love with a Black Jamaican woman, who later gave birth to his first and only child. Unfortunately, the relationship did not last and he ended up pretty much toughing it out as a single father to a biracial daughter.

On my way to work one morning, I walked by his house and saw his daughter’s dolls scattered in the driveway. They were of every colour, shape and size imaginable – including many that had her curly mocha hair, and her peanut butter skin.

I smiled at the sheer genius of her father, and thought to myself:

There goes one coloured child who will never wonder why the dolls she idolises look nothing like her.


Featured Image Photo Credit: arielmori doll

25 thoughts on “Why I HATED my Dolls as a Child

      1. Yep, my next mission at the game store where the site says its stocked is to look for the dolls and check their prices, and perhaps buy one or two.

    1. Yes, for other races, the main problem was more about the body type than the racial features. I never got past the face to worry about the body as a child. Good to see brands are specialising in dolls for ethnic groups now.

  1. I was fortunate as a child of the 60’s in Miami, that my white parents had friends of every color and from many countries. I was given a black doll at the age of two by a Jamaican woman…though I didn’t much like any of my dolls. I liked the stuffed animals better, and like you, I climbed trees and preferred bikes and roller skates to dolls. My mother wouldn’t let me have little cars or other ‘boys’ toys until begged for so long that I finally got a set of little trucks of all kinds for Christmas when I was about 7. They were my favorite present ever.
    I appreciate my upbringing and its openness to multi-cultures. I truly to the bottom of my soul see and feel all people as equal and I love each person’s uniqueness as well as the multi-facets of their cultures.
    But I missed out on the gender-equality in my upbringing – or more on having a lack of differentiation. My parents had a relationship of ‘different but very equal’ as far as gender. So at least I didn’t witness power issues between genders. I grew up to be open to any gender identity people wish for themselves just as their other aspects are their own. I choose friends by their good hearts and kind/respectful behavior, and the more creative they are, the more likely I am to spend time with them.
    I feel fortunate indeed. And I really appreciate your blog and your perspective in helping to clarify some of these things for those that didn’t grow up with a smooth and gentle understanding and acceptance. Thanks for sharing! -Sheri

    1. It’s good that you had such a multicultural upbringing.

      I grew up in a White neighbourhood in a predominantly Black country, so same here. I also lived and/or worked in 6 of Jamaica’s 14 parishes before moving to the United States.

      As far as the gender issues as a child, my mom was the same. She didn’t want me playing with the boy toys either and that really hurt and confused me. She also hated that I eventually enjoyed dressing like a boy and that I couldn’t care less about beauty and fashion.

      I too had a beloved truck. I named him Chucky! 😊

      1. Chucky the truck, I love it! I’m White and my husband’s Black, so we have a multicultural household too. lol. He was born and raised in Seattle, but he lived in Jamaica for a couple years before we met and then came back here (near Seattle). It’s beautiful here, but we both still miss Jamaica. We tried Hawaii, but I like the culture of Jamaica so much that it just wasn’t the same.

      2. If he lived in Jamaica, he probably knows a thing or two about Portland too then. Multicultural households are always interesting. Mom and I are from Jamaica. Dad’s from Haiti. Michael is from Illinois. And we all live in Georgia. LoL

      3. I knew many Haitians in Miami too. My parents worked with people who helped build radio stations and other projects in Haiti. We used to have visitors from Haiti and Jamaica over for dinner when they came to Miami. I loved that. The people I met from both places were so kind and fun to be with. Living in Seattle makes it much harder to go to the Caribbean, but we will go back when we can. Thanks for chatting with me.

      4. I never knew very many until my Dad, who is actually my step-dad. We have quite a few back home but they keep to themselves for the most part.

        No prob. I hope you get back soon. I want to visit soon myself.

  2. hey Alex, great post as always. This really made me realise how representation is so important! My favourite Barbie doll when I was young was Kira, and a quick Google search tells me that she’s apparently Asian, although there’s no way I was (consciously) aware of that at that age. I just liked her cos she had dark hair, like me. it makes a lot more sense now.

    1. Hi Michelle! Yes, it is important at that age so we don’t subconsciously teach kids that there’s some terrible reason they can’t be included.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  3. “So what was wrong with me?” My heart broke when reading this.
    But I smiled widely when I read that you dressed up only to play with boys. That was exactly what my childhood was like – wearing dresses and playing with toy cars.

    1. Thanks for reading Kristina. I saw your email earlier too and will respond in a bit. Currently grabbing lunch.

      Haha yes. I felt that I owed it to myself to look my best barbie or no barbie, but those clothes always took a beating. Eventually mom put her foot down. I remember the horror the first time she put me in T-shirt and pants. Now that’s all I wear. Smart woman!

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