The Weird World of Multiracial Dolls

  • Seeing Race

    America has always been a multiracial country, but these days, particularly with the election of the first multiracial president, our diversity has been closer to the forefront of our collective consciousness. And it’s a trend that isn’t lost on America’s biggest toy manufacturers, which in recent years have ramped up their production of toys that target and reflect a diverse population. Still, a look at toy store shelves will tell you that the number of non-white dolls out there isn’t close to matching the U.S. population, of which 43% are minorities, according to The New York Times. But do a mix of dolls really reflect our diversity? And how are kids likely to feel about these products? For example, Mattel’s (Stock Quote: MAT) So in Style black Barbie dolls, with features that are much different than the white Barbie, may not be “black enough” because of their hair, The Wall Street Journal suggests. However, the Journal quotes one mother saying, "If they had given the dolls short, kinky hair or an Afro, people might have complained that it was too Afro-centric … We're so hard and picky." Photo Credit: Amanda M Hatfield
    Filling in Features
  • Filling in Features

    Do the features on kids’ dolls really matter, anyway? Well, it probably depends on the age of the child. Christopher Byrne, Content Director at, a trade publication for the toy industry, says that kids between the ages of three and five will nurture a corn cob doll the same way they would a doll with more specific features. He also says certain details on dolls aren’t essential when kids of that age play, and kids tend to be more attracted to what’s pretty as opposed to what looks like them. Still, “for the past decade to 15 years, toy makers have relied on consumer insights in all of their toy development,” Byrne says, including numerous focus groups and monitoring comments and conversations online, on Twitter for example. “During the product development process, we routinely solicit consumer feedback on a variety of issues, including input related to the look and design of our toys and games,” according to Hasbro (Stock Quote: HAS), one of America’s largest toy companies. Additionally, the Hasbro says it uses outside consultants for some of its toys for various ethnic backgrounds. Photo Credit: (nutmeg)
    As a Child
  • As a Child

    Byrne says adults tend to forget that a kid’s perception of the world may not be as complicated as ours, and race isn’t a determining factor for them at play. Regardless of a child’s or a doll’s race, kids play by “parodying lessons they learn from their adults and their peers,” Byrne says. On a personal note, I remember when I got my first Asian doll when I was 8 years old. She had a skin tone, eyes and hair like me, and to me, even the cutest, pale, pink-haired doll couldn’t compete. So, while 4-year-olds may not care about how their dolls look, older kids probably do. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the diverse dolls and other kids' stuff on the market now. Photo Credit: Arkitekta
    An “Ethnic” Family
  • An “Ethnic” Family

    What they offer: In an attempt to be inclusive of minorities, PlanToys developed a non-white family of dolls that were also environmentally friendly. They’re made from “all-natural organic recycled rubber wood,” but this set, including presumably a mother, father, sister and brother, is described with the questionable term, “ethnic.” The word “ethnic” seems to be interchangeable for brownish skin tone these days. As an “ethnic” person, it’s hard not to look at this without rolling my eyes. Downside: Especially if given to white kids, this set could cause some confusion, and possibly even embarrassment. “Mommy, is that man ethnic?” How would you answer that question? Price: About $16. Photo Credit:
    Black Barbies
  • Black Barbies

    What they offer: This So in Style line of still-unnaturally skinny Barbie dolls have darker skin of varying shades and curly or straight hair styles. Downside: Critics say that these dolls suggest to children that they may not be pretty enough unless their hair is significantly relaxed or otherwise processed, the Journal reports. “They’ve come under fire because their hair isn’t literal,” Byrne says. "Hair and beauty play are core to Barbie and  the So in Style dolls are no exception," says Mattel spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni. "We know girls love to brush, style and cut Barbie's hair, which is why most of the dolls in the line have longer, straighter hair." Black Barbie also comes with a child. According to their Web site, they are “sisters” –- not literal sisters though. The older Barbie is meant to act as a mentor for her little friend. And why are black Barbies specifically packaged with little ones? We’re still waiting to hear back about that from Mattell. Price: About $24 for set of one black Barbie doll –- with child in tow. Photo Credit:
    Too-Sexy Dora Dolls
  • Too-Sexy Dora Dolls

    What they offer: Dora the Explorer is a beloved and iconic Spanish-speaking figure among American children. Because of the success of the Dora TV show, this doll is popular among kids of all races. Downside: Dora has gotten a makeover that’s been criticized as “too sexy.” Byrne says this is to reflect her age. While the original Dora had the body of “lumpy” six-year-old, the new Dora is supposed to be about 11 or 12, Byrne says. Price: The Dora the Explorer Suds and Surprise doll, a bust of the updated Dora with hair that changes color, among other features, costs about $31. The Dora Links doll, which connects to a computer to give kids access to her interactive world, costs about $70. Photo Credit:
    American Girls
  • American Girls

    What they offer: American Girl dolls have sparked a craze in the past decade.  And they’re not just dolls. They come with a life story, even involving triumph over tragedy, that’s meant to educate and encourage young kids. American Girl Just Like You Dolls can be custom designed with various skin shades and hair colors and styles. Downside: Many of these dolls cost upwards of $100 and their clothes and accessories might cost more than you’d spend on your own. Price: $95 for a Just Like You doll and book. Photo Credit:
  • Bratz

    What they offer: On the more affordable side, Bratz dolls have been known to represent a diverse and multiracial population and give kids more freedom to make up their own stories about the dolls. Byrne calls them “racially ambiguous.” Downside: Bratz dolls have long been thought to be too sexy for kids. Critics have even used the terms “scandalous” and “slutty” to describe them. Price: Bratz dolls, plus accessories, can cost between $10 and $35. Photo Credit: *Saffy*
    Baby Alive
  • Baby Alive

    What they offer: These Hasbro baby dolls, which come in Caucasian, African American and Hispanic versions, eat, take medicine, sleep and poop like real babies. Downside: If they want to be inclusive of all races, they’re missing a few. When asked whether they plan on adding other races, Hasbro told MainStreet, “While we cannot provide specifics regarding future plans due to competitive reasons, we certainly remain open to potentially broadening our range of diverse offerings … based on a variety of criteria, including consumer and retailer demand.” Price: $15 to $20. Photo Credit:
    Hawaiian Hello Kitty
  • Hawaiian Hello Kitty

    What they offer: This darker-skinned, grass-skirt wearing Hello Kitty doesn’t just represent Hello Kitty with a tan. For some, this doll represents multiracial native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. Downside: It may just be a tan. Price: There’s a ton of Hello Kitty paraphernalia out there. The plush Build-A-Bear Workshop Sunkissed Hello Kitty costs $23 on The bobble hula Hello Kitty I bought in Hawaii for my biracial sister costs about $20. Photo Credit:
    Baby Jamz
  • Baby Jamz

    What they offer: Baby Jamz isn’t a doll, but we decided to include it nevertheless because it is seen by many to target a particular demographic. It's a line of rhythm and hip-hop themed toys teaching kids about DJing, dancing and singing, notes an interesting if not offensive holiday shopping guide from The New York Times. It’s a kind of more focused version of the kid-friendly music company Kidz Bop. Downside: If you’re white and you give this as a Christmas gift to the son of your one black friend, you might get an unexpected reaction. Price: A CD of Baby Jamz songs, such as Baby Jamz Presents: Krazy Kuzins - It's a Kid's Thing, costs about $10. Photo Credit:
    Disabled Kids Like Me
  • Disabled Kids Like Me

    What they offer: Obviously this one isn’t multiracial, but it touches on the same themes. There are a few dolls on the market geared toward disabled kids -- wheelchair-bound girls in particular. Even American Girl has made a wheelchair that goes with its toys and Barbie has a Wheelchair Becky character. Byrne, however, doesn’t think kids will have much interest in these dolls. “What child fantasizes about that?” he asks. Well perhaps a child in a wheelchair does. Maybe the kid likes to pretend that the doll can get up out of the wheelchair and walk. Downside: There aren’t enough of them. Price: A wheelchair fit for any 16-inch doll costs about $37. Photo Credit:
Show Comments