My interest in religious dolls continues on –although it’s expanded a bit.
A few weeks ago, I made a trip Toys R’ Us in Times Square, hoping to get a first-hand look at these religious-themed dolls that I’d been reading about. I didn’t find any at the "center of the toy universe", as the signs in the store modestly proclaim, but I did notice something that struck me as very odd: there were very few dolls that weren’t lilly white. In fact, contemplating the doll department made me feel like I’d rocketed back to a demographic reality circa 1955. Dolls, it seems, come in three racial palettes today: white, white with a very deep suntan, and Dora the Explorer. Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic group in this country, but you’d never know it in the toy store.
Considering that it’s been 15 years since Mattel and its bellwether doll Barbie made its first serious multicultural push, and considering that it’s 2005, and that children are far less likely to be white, non-Hispanic today than ever before, and considering I was standing in the flagship store in the middle of one of the most diverse places on earth — this struck me as seriously weird.
So now I’m interested in figuring out why dolls are so out of step with, well, all reality? Don’t know the answer yet, but thought I’d start finding out by talking to the people that are trying to make dolls that are more reality-based. So, yesterday I spoke with Noor Saadeh, who along with her husband created Razanne, the Muslim Barbie.
Razanne was born in 1998, Saadeh told me, from her office near Dallas. (Saadeh, by the way, is a native of Wisconsin, and a convert to Islam.)
"We saw that girls were getting Barbie dolls, with the long hair and bikinis, and my husband and I were sad about it, because we felt it was not good role modeling. We thought we’d put something together, manufacture an alternative to Barbie. So we put a prototype on the market, in a simple long dress covering her, and a scarf. We wanted her to reflect the diversity of Muslims worldwide, so we had one Caucasian doll, one Mid-Eastern/Near-Eastern/Asian doll, and an African doll, so we had those three hair colors and skin types. People were really excited about it, and happy to see a little doll that looked more like mom, and accentuated the concept of modesty, which is very important to us.
"Islamic diversity isn’t shown much," Saadeh added. "I mean Barbie put out a doll a few years ago–it was a belly dancer. That’s the typical idea of a Muslim girl, in a harem."