Toys matter. Not just which ones are popular right now, or how long a kid might have to wait to get one, but more viscerally and emotionally, as symbols. Many toys become a powerful part of the visual story of our childhoods. If they didn't matter, there wouldn't be so many Facebook posts about '70s, '80s or '90s toys with thousands of comments, and people wouldn't go to great lengths to find the same toys for their children as they had.
Dolls especially matter because they are representations of human beings. Because they are toys, they are often thought of as unimportant, but that's certainly not true to the child who has lost their favorite one. And science shows that the types of dolls we play with have a very real and significant impact on the children who play with them.
As I wrote when I covered the Lammily doll (a normal-sized Barbie alternative), "Study after study has proven that playing with Barbie dolls has a direct, measurable, and profoundly negative effect on the mental health of little girls. This study shows how playing with the doll negatively affects self-esteem, and this one disturbingly shows how playing with Barbie changes the kinds of future jobs little girls consider for themselves (post-Barbie, the landscape narrows considerably)."
So I think most of us can agree that we need better dolls: Dolls that look like kids and dress like the kids who play with them. (Does that seem crazy? Because it's really hard to find those dolls).
A small new venture, Tree Change Dolls, is filling the void for sweet, normal toys, one at a time. Artist and mother Sonia Singh, who is based in Tasmania, Australia, gives discarded Bratz dolls found in secondhand shops "makeunders," including repainting their faces and crafting beautiful new kid-appropriate clothes for them.
She's had a huge reaction in the two weeks since she first posted the "before and after" looks on her Tumblr page with articles covering her project from all over the world.
She writes, "This experience has reaffirmed for me that the special and lasting nature of our connection to childhood toys is universal. I am looking forward to see what happens from here."
So far, just a couple of the dolls are available on eBay, but Singh plans to make about 15 or so each month and will sell them on Etsy. She will donate 20 percent of the final sale price to support the work of the International Women’s Development Agency. She is starting a new small business around the dolls and has gotten a great response.
“I think girls do relate very closely to their dolls and it’s nice to have one they can see themselves as, that’s what I think anyway,” Sonia told Australia's Mercury newspaper.
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