In 2015 Barbie’s manufacturer, Mattel, introduced 23 new Barbie dolls with different skin tones, body shapes, hairstyles and outfits to better reflect the diversity of girls around the world.
But some of the most innovative make-overs are being performed by small-time doll makers at kitchen tables in suburban Australia. Here we shine the spotlight on some of those women (yep, they’re all women) and others around the world who are, quite literally, changing the face of doll making.
Dolls that look like actual kids
Founder of Tree Change dolls, Sonia Singh, finds dolls in op-shops around her hometown of Hobart, wipes off their makeup and reveals their natural features so look more like the kids they’re targeted towards. She calls this a ‘make-under’. Sonia’s dolls have inspired a world-wide movement of DIY doll ‘make-unders’. “It’s great for people to realise that you can take some action yourself and you can change things,” says Sonia. “What I love to see it that people have not only been inspired by me, but have come up with their own take on it.”
Black and beautiful Indigenous dolls
One of those people inspired by Sonia Singh’s Tree Change dolls is Wiradjuri woman and mother, Lorna Munro. Lorna works on her dolls from her Sydney home, using possum and kangaroo fur to give them authentic clothing and details of her ancestors. “Culturally appropriate dolls made by Aboriginal people just aren’t out there,” says Lorna. “I wanted to make these dolls look like beautiful black women that I know.”
Dolls for kids with disabilities
For Millie, who has Down syndrome and was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 3, standard dolls do not quite fit the situation. “We feel guilty bringing Barbie dolls in with long, blonde, Rapunzel hair when Millie’s sitting in a hospital with her bald little head,” says Millie’s mum, Kate Grant. Step aside, Barbie, step forward, Maria Kentley. Maria is a custom-order doll maker who made Millie a doll that comes with its very own wig. “I might get an email from a parent saying, oh, ‘My daughter has spina bifida. Can you make a doll for her in a wheelchair with leg splints and a scar on the back?”
Sewing hope for kids in hospital
Twelve-year-old Campbell Remess has an unusual hobby: sewing. Specifically, he makes teddy bears, and gives them to children at Hobart Hospital in Tasmania. “If Campbell could be on that sewing machine 24/7, he would,” says his mum, Sonia. Some people donate money to the project, but Campbell spends most of his pocket money on fabric, doing extra chores to buy supplies. Campbell delivers new bears to the hospital every Thursday and visits kids who he’s given gifts to previously.
Canada’s welcome teddies
Did you see the heart-warming footage of Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, welcoming refugees into his country last year? The PM was moved to tears as he handed refugee families winter coats and other must-have supplies for their new lives in Canada. Children also received teddy bears to help them learn English. When children squeeze the bear, it speaks a range of different phrases including, “What is your name?”, “Let’s build a snowman!” and “I love hockey.” The bear says the phrase in Arabic, then repeats it in English. “They immediately start to pick up words in English and start to practice them and interact with each other and play using their new words,” says Josie Di Zio, Senior Director of Planning and Program Development.
Dolls for boys
Toy manufacturer Wonder Crew has a range of dolls for boys in an attempt to buck some of the negative gender roles associated with dolls. They represent children of colour in action heroes. In the company’s official statement they say: “Toys that encourage friendship and empathy are largely marketed to girls – sending the message to many boys that this kind of play is not for them.”
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