Did you play with dolls as a child? I was never all that much interested. My best friend Sam and I preferred instead to wrap bandages around the limbs of our soft-toy animal collections, and Sam's ET doll, as practice for becoming vets.* But already I can see Madeleine taking more pleasure in dolls than I ever did. She uses them for role-play, mimicking the mother-like actions that she sees in me, as she cares for her own little "Baby Suzy." Madeleine and her Daddy Pig doll go to work together. "Busy Mummy, very busy," she informs me with weighty authority. Then later she'll put Daddy Pig in the little toy pram and announce that they are off to the tea house together.
When you are the mother of a girl, dolls can be a fraught subject. Once considered a simple and innocent pastime, it seems dolls these days are loaded with gender stereotypes and social politics, and carry the weight of a girl's future profession and confidence and self-worth on their often all-too-bony shoulders. But what can you do about it? The fact remains that a lot of girls (and a good number of boys) simply like playing with dolls.
That's why I love the ideas behind emerging company Girly Girl Doll Company so much. They recognise that children like to play with dolls, and that some little girls want to be princesses. There's nothing wrong with that, they say. Let a girl dream. BUT let's show her how to dream even bigger! Give her options, broaden her horizons, encourage her to explore and play and innovate, and teach her empathy and compassion for others.
I can see this being fantastic for Madeleine. Because I really don't want Barbie to be her role model. But at least right now, Madeleine has zero interest in super heroes. If I tried to interest her in a superhero doll, male or female, she'd be unlikely to go for it. She's just not a lycra-lovin' two-year-old. The girl likes pink, and the girl likes tutus, what are you gonna do? Show her that pink-tutu-wearing girls can do great things and have great adventures too, that's what!
The concept behind Girly Girl Dolls is that children can customise a doll of their own, choosing hair and eye and skin colour etc, letting their natural creativity take the lead. A portion of proceeds from every doll sold is donated to girleffect.org, an international movement working to include adolescent girls in education, health and economic investment. In addition, any accessories purchased for the doll will have a corresponding social mission. So clothes purchased for a doll will also be used to fund donations to international orphanages. A medical kit for a doll will help fund medical care in at-risk areas around the world.
Girly Girl Dolls are part physical product and part interactive experience. After the child customises the physical doll to make it their own, a series of interactive apps and accessories guide them through a labyrinth of experiences, meeting other characters from other cultures along the way.
Don't you think this is a lovely concept? It takes the focus away from looks and turns it, instead, onto adventure and imagination and empathy. Because tomboys are not the antidote to princesses. Little girls (and little boys) should be allowed to be either, or both, or anything in between. But let's bring up tomboys and princesses who are globally aware, creative, bold, adventurous and compassionate.
If you'd like to get behind this idea, Girly Girls is running a crowd-funding campaign right now in which you can reserve a limited edition (one of 500) doll for just $1. Ultimately the cost will be $125. Take a look around their website to learn more.
* In case you're thinking play has no relationship to a child's future choices, Sam actually did become a vet.