TO find a child who had never once played with a doll in any form would be a pretty hard task. Throughout the world the humble doll has become a childhood staple and a centre character in a youngster’s world of play and imagination.
But is it all fun and games? Household names such as Barbie have dominated the market for decades, yet recent years have seen a rise in concern from parents and campaign groups that ultra slim, blonde, pink-clad dolls do not promote the best body image and fail to accurately depict the different shapes, sizes, ethnicities and interests of girls today.
With this in mind I went in search of dolls that are banishing the high heels and short dresses in pursuit of a more diverse offering.
Irish company, Arklu, has been creating quite the stir since its inception in 2010. While company founders Ian Harkin and Lucie Follett got their big break that year when they created a Will and Kate doll to commemorate the royal wedding, it is their creation of Lottie dolls in 2012 that has really got parents talking.
With a vision to ‘empower children to be themselves’, Lottie dolls don’t wear make-up or jewellery, they are modelled on the realistic proportions of a 9-year-old girl and they come in a range of different skin, hair and eye colours.
Most notably, Lottie also has an array of outfits that cater for any interest your child might have - from ballet dancing and karate to astronomy and palaeontology.
But what do parents and children think of the dolls?
Sarah Tyler, 29 from Pontypridd, mum of daughter Grace, nine, said: “I would consider buying one of these dolls for my daughter, they’re more physically realistic than other dolls in terms of body shape. There are more variations in skin tone and hair colour which is more true to life.”
Jess Postians, 24, of Blackwood, said: “They seem more relatable with different hair colours and styles. I would pick these for my child over a superficial Barbie.”
When given the Forest Friend Lottie doll to play with siblings Demisha, six, and Donte Luxton, five, from Bristol, liked the smaller size of doll and the doll’s clothes and hair. Mum Danielle commented on the doll’s quality and that the hair seemed like it could handle a session of heavy brushing, which was very important.
Homegrown company, Bonnie and Pearl, based in Penhow, is also offering dolls that inspire imaginative play.
Created by Lisa Pearce-Bridgeman and Nicola Evans, and based on the dolls – named Bonnie and Pearl – they had as children, the firm’s vision is to create a best friend for a child that will embark on all the adventures a little one has, be they exploring the back garden or having dinner with the family.
These dolls stand at 19 inches tall, perfect for tea parties as I found out earlier this week, and have an almost nostalgic appearance. They look like traditional porcelain dolls and yet are very durable and well made. They come in different skin, hair and eye colours, and accessories range from bunk beds to school uniforms.
With imagination at the heart of its vision, Bonnie and Pearl certainly achieves just that. These dolls do not come as play sets with a prompt on the box as to what this doll likes to do, instead they are simply a companion that will go along with whatever the child has in mind that day.
The company’s website also offers hair tutorials to help youngsters style their doll’s hair, printout craft activities and a ‘doll hospital’ service. This is a nice touch and really adds to the idea that the doll is part of the family. If your doll has had an accident, say she got a little over zealous with the hairdressing scissors, you can send her to the doll hospital and she will return to your house looking as good as new, with a hospital gown and discharge papers.
Asked for her opinion of the doll, Mum Karla Brading, 28 of Merthyr Tydil, said: “These dolls have a more familiar and realistic shape. Their clothes are that of a child’s style which is cute. It presents the idea of a friend to your child; it could even help them feel connected to other children. I don’t feel other dolls such as Barbies offer anything as unique as that.”
A little further from home, in Hobart, Australia, Tasmanian artist Sonia Singh is also looking to change the face of the doll industry but she isn’t creating new dolls, she’s recycling old ones.
Sonia’s project, Tree Change Dolls, rescues dolls from tip shops and gives them a ‘lifestyle change – swapping their high-maintenance, high fashion habits for down-to-earth style’. In other words, she takes pre-loved Barbies and Bratz dolls and gives them a ‘make-under’, repainting their faces so they are make-up free and giving them a whole new wardrobe (Sonia’s mum knits the clothes).
While Sonia does offer up her creations on her Etsy store, the project is more of a social movement than a business. Her website actively encourages parents and grandparents to upcycle their own dolls with tutorial videos on how to remove factory paint, how to replace missing shoes and feet, how to restyle doll hair and how to repaint doll faces. She also offers downloadable knitting patterns at her shop’s webpage.
While there is much debate as to how influential a doll is in a child’s development the industry seems to be moving away from the singular type of make-up-laden, overly pink, glam doll of decades ago. In its place there are now more superheroes, more tomboys, more sportspeople and more career girls, resulting in a mix of toys to suit all different interests. Surely this can only be a good thing.
For more information about Lottie visit http://uk.lottie.com. For details on Bonnie and Pearl visit https://www.bonnieandpearl.com. And to learn more about Tree Change Dolls visit http://treechangedolls.tumblr.com.