The ‘variety’ of dolls in the toy box, why it matters to children

“Toys are a reflection of the outside world for children, so I think they should be as diverse as possible. It’s important to foster a sense of affirmation—”

Minako Suzuki Lowe, owner of BOKUNO, which sells handmade dolls on the online marketplace Etsy, and one of the finalists in this year’s design awards on the platform, said, “Different ethnic groups, Cultural dolls raise children’s awareness and foster acceptance.”

Diversity, inclusivity and equality are at the heart of her collection. The items sold on Etsy raise important questions about the power of play and the need for children to see themselves in the world and toys around them.

“Biased” Dolls

It’s often parents of young children who want to take action when they realize they’re not selling clothes, books or toys that represent their children and family.

In 2017, Sharon McBean launched a brand called Nia Ballerina after realizing there were no dolls that looked like her daughter. McBean explains how he got started:

“My mother bought me a music box for my daughter, but the ballerina doll on it didn’t look like her.”

She spent a year and a half scouring stores around the world to buy her a music box with a black ballerina that looked like her daughter, or with a doll that looked like her. But he couldn’t find it.

Writer and journalist Rebecca Atkinson founded #ToyLikeMe in 2015 after noticing a lack of dolls for children with disabilities. Having grown up with hearing aids, she knows how it feels to not find a doll that looks like you in a toy box, and how that can affect a child’s self-esteem.

“Not in a toy box” makes “all” kids feel like they don’t have to be in the real world, Atkinson points out.

Atkinson’s claim is supported by a paper by Dr. Sian Jones (psychology) from Queen Margaret University in Scotland. “After just three minutes of playing with dolls that simulated children with disabilities, children developed more positive and friendly attitudes toward children with disabilities,” she said.

Now is the time for companies to review

BOKUNO founder Rowe Suzuki initially only made stuffed animals and imaginary creatures. That’s because I couldn’t decide on the doll’s skin color. As a British minority (Japanese), it was difficult to decide which race of dolls to prioritize.

So I chose a gnome (spirit of the earth). The beard was removed so as not to identify gender or age, and the skin color was made into six patterns, including vitiligo and albino.

In the first eight months or so of its launch, 90% of orders were for light-skinned gnomes. He said he was sorry about that, but after that, the order trend changed completely due to the racism protest movement “Black Lives Matter” that spread around the world. Since then, the most popular product is the dark-skinned gnome.

An increasing number of consumers understand and demand the importance of having dolls that represent every child. Now is the time for companies to consider how to reflect these changes in their products.

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