A few weeks ago now I was approached by a PR company to review a slightly unusual item, and it really set the cogs turning in my mind. I had mixed feelings about it. I was mulling over subjects like feminism, Body image, and child development over in my head.
All because of a doll.
This is a doll from project Mc2, aimed at young girls of around 6 years old and up, with the goal of making smart the new cool.
I firmly believe intelligence should be praised above beauty or appearance traits, and I do my best to behave in ways that my sister will benefit from. For instance, of course I will compliment her on wearing a pretty dress, but I actively try to praise her for academic success and show to her, through engaged discussions and rewards that being smart and succeeding (as best she can) is far more rewarding and much more laudible than simply being pretty, for example. The results have been amazing so far, when on receiving a glowing school report I took her to Waterstones to pick out some books of her choosing. She felt like she had earned those books, and actually chose to read over playing with her electronic devices, taking delight in reporting back to us on her progress with reading.
But back to the dolls.
On a fundamental level, this sounds wonderful. I have an 8 year old sister with an attitude of a young lady already, and I constantly worry about the pressures she is bound to face to fit in as she grows up; whether that’s what she wears, how early she starts applying makeup, how she will feel about her weight and body image…
I never felt this pressure as a kid… Did I?
So I played with Barbies. I loved Barbies! But even as a kid I harboured a healthy level of cynicism. Barbie was unrealistically proportioned, I knew. I just liked dressing her up. I liked role playing games. I never lacked imagination, and I used Barbie as a tool in my playtime.
My sister never had the Barbie phase. She’s a child of the digital age, where apps&games are designed to suck you in, utilising no logic, creating no emotional buy in or crafting any sort of storyline. So will a doll even appeal to her?
These dolls are supposed to kick start a young girl’s interest in science at an early age, to hopefully create a shift in the stats around women in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and maths) and jobs longer term, and I am a complete advocate of this movement and a firm believer in the benefits that these fields will see from having more women working within them.
Will these dolls really help, though? the language on the box sort of makes me cringe – it’s very Americanised and overly energetic. The character of this particular doll, Bryden Bandweth, who is an African American (in skin tone only, her facial design is very uniform with the caucasian dolls) is supposedly a tech whizz, and has a catch phrase of, “stand back, I’m trending”.
As an aside, although Social media plays such a huge role in our lives now, I can’t see how encouraging children to use it earlier in life can add benefit. It makes me feel anxious, as I’m sure it does to parents all over the world for reasons I can’t tangibly list.
I also found myself critiquing the doll in terms of how Barbie has been critiqued over the years for her unrealistic representation of body image to young girls. These dolls are still skinny with overly large heads, and as mentioned before, the different races/ hair colours are great, but in reality the facial differences are kept to a minimum.
If these dolls are supposed to encourage smart (versus what, I ask) I’m not sure that providing skinny dolls and dressing up gear is necessarily address that. Each doll does come with a science experiment, which I’d be interested to know if the children who play with these dolls actually do.
You can find out more about the project by looking at their website here.
I’d love to know your thoughts on the project and these dolls in the comments below!
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