Growing up, I remember how hard it was to find dolls, books, movies or TV shows with characters that looked anything like me. Actually, looking back, I think this was a huge motivation behind what started my international doll collection. I was never really into Barbie dolls, but everywhere my mother and father traveled, they tried to get me a doll that was reflective of the country they visited. I fell in LOVE with one of the first I can remember, a beautiful bronze-skinned doll dressed in a traditional Brazilian carnaval outfit. It was colorful and sparkly and we had the same skin color! My parents saw how excited I got and made it a practice to pick one up wherever they went. Those were the only dolls I really cherished.
Now that I have children of my own, I make sure to scour the internet for toys and media that reflect their skin tone, hair texture, and culture. Still, it’s even harder to find anything for girls that aren’t laden with sparkles and ruffles and pink. With a baby girl on the way, I’ve been hyper conscious of the pervasive Princess Industrial Complex that’s been built around and for little girls. And mamis, I have to be honest with you, I really, really hate it.
Some of that opinion is based in the fact that I just never have been a girly-girl. Pink is probably one of my least favorite colors and I opt out of sparkles whenever I can. The other part of that though is based on my belief that girls shouldn’t be pigeon-holed and forced to accept the role of the damsel in distress. We can help ourselves, thank you very much.
Enter Luciana Vega, the product of a brilliant collaboration between NASA and the American Girl company. She’s Latina (Chilean to be exact) and she loves science and space and dreams of being an astronaut. Does it get ANY cooler than that? Um, I don’t think so. “It is so important to find exciting new ways to inspire our next generation of space explorers,” NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, who serves on the project’s advisory board, said in a statement. “I always want to encourage girls and boys to pursue their dreams, no matter how big, and I think it helps to show how those dreams can become reality for any kid.”Amen sister! Props to American Girl for always striving to be inclusive as well and for showing the full spectrum of girls interests and hobbies.
But the fact of the matter is, we shouldn’t be cheering from the rooftops every time a cool new toy or character is introduced who happens to be Latinx or Black. A full 50% of children in the United States are Asian, Native American, Black, Latinx or mixed race. That is NOT a minority, and that was as of 2016, those numbers are just going to continue to grow.
This is a population that can not be ignored and if those in charge of making toys, TV, film and books would wake up and smell the cafecito it would be of great service to ALL children in the U.S. We deserve to see ourselves represented in all facets of media, and it’s been proven that when kids play with characters who like they do, it helps them to build confidence and a solid foundation for leadership skills. Perhaps the most important part of that study was that it also demonstrated that when children see toys outside the “norm” that look like others (i.e. a different race) it encourages empathy and compassion.
“[Diverse] dolls give kids a more robust and healthy sense of the world and of themselves,” says Samantha Knowles, director of the award-winning documentary Why Do You Have Black Dolls? “It sends a subtle message that you matter and that what you look like matters. Someone took the time to make something in your likeness.”