It’s not an uncommon sight to see little kids with dolls. They’ll act plays with them and do all kinds of silly, yet cute things children do with dolls.

However, do you ever wonder if those dolls could be more than just regular playthings?

Do you consider how it influences their body image and self-esteem or you’re just content with their ability to keep your children occupied?

Believe it or not (I hope you do), dolls are an imitation of reality to kids. At such a young and gullible stage, whatever is fed to their minds is taken in hook, line, sinker until they grow to an age where they begin to question things.

Interactions with dolls could are regarded as a normal part of growing up. However, some people feel they could be part of what influences body image from a young age.

While they’re just play-buddies to the little ones, dolls are a child’s first impression of what is nice and acceptable. Can a doll’s complexion, hair type, body size, and overall appearance affect a child’s view on these subjects?

Let’s discuss further to see if dolls can influence the body image of our young ones.

How can dolls promote negative body image?

brunette and blonde Barbie dolls

Since dolls are going to be your kid’s companion for a few years, it’s not out of place to be concerned about how they’ll impact the child’s body image.

Multiple types of research have been carried out over the years to learn the relationship between dolls and negative body image.

Dolls with unrealistic appearances, like the famous Barbie doll created by Mattel in 1959 could be part of what causes body image issues.

This particular doll has raised serious controversy. People were concerned about her ridiculously thin arms, legs, and waist, and what this might say to little girls. Some even go further to blame Barbie dolls for eating disorders and body image issues.

Studies performed on young and adult women couldn’t exactly establish a direct relationship between playing with Barbie dolls and eating disorders or negative body image.

However, some studies suggested that women who played with Barbie dolls as children conformed more to societal feminine standards with a higher interest in physical appearance.

What does a negative body image look like in kids?

We can’t pretend like these times aren’t different from 2, 3 decades ago because they are.

With the advent of TV and social media, it’s easy to adopt to fake beauty standards and try to keep up. Kids from ages 3 – 8 can begin to form ideas on body image.

Our young ones need to be taught that there isn’t one perfect physical appearance. Hence, you should lookout for signs of negative body image and correct them right then and there.

They are usually expressed in statements like:

  • I want to be thinner
  • If only I could look like this, I’ll be perfect
  • I don’t like how my body looks
  • I want a lighter skin tone
  • People don’t like me because of how I look

As a parent, guardian, or older one, it is your responsibility to correct these negative impressions. Also, you shouldn’t add to the problem by perpetuating toxic ideas.

How dolls influence a child’s view on race

How dolls influence a child’s view on race

Growing up, I never had access to a black doll. I still haven’t set my eyes on a black doll even till now (except on screens).

Isn’t that weird for a black girl?

On the other hand, white dolls aren’t difficult to find. For decades, they were the only kind you could find. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a doll test around the 1940s. The test was conducted on black kids aged 3 – 7.

They were presented dolls having different complexion and asked to choose which race resembles them, and which they prefer. Most kids selected black dolls as similar to them but, had a preference for white dolls. This says a lot.

While they could identify a similar-looking doll, they attributed better qualities to the white dolls.

The study suggested that the feeling of inferiority might have been due to the segregation and prejudice black people had to endure in that era.

However, more recent research shows that doll preference doesn’t have a significant effect on self-esteem. Dr. Gray-Little performed a study in 2000 which showed that both black and white kids had healthy self-esteem despite what the doll test conducted in the past suggested.

However, the evidence which shows African-American children are more likely to select white dolls than those which resemble them remains valid.

The doll studies don’t assess self-esteem, but children’s views of race, identification and the implications of that racial identity.”

Dr. April Harris-Britt had this to say:

Dr. April Harris-Britt had this to say: “The doll studies don’t assess self-esteem, but children’s views of race, identification and the implications of that racial identity.”

She also added, “One of the ways children learn what is positive is through images in magazines and on TV and in the dolls they have access to.”

Final note

Summarily, what kids are exposed to growing up gives them a narrative of what society finds desirable and acceptable.

Why would teenage or adult black girls and boys want to bleach their skin? Why do black females prefer to purchase straight wigs?

The truth is mainstream ideas of beauty have influenced black communities in a not-so-positive way.

While the influence of dolls on body image isn’t so straightforward, you can help give your child a better narrative as they grow up so they are proud of their bodies, including their racial identities.

Osose Ihimire
Just a girl who loves learning and writing amongst other things.

Osose Ihimire, Author

Categories: Features


Kaló · February 23, 2021 at 10:19 am


Sisanmi Boye · February 23, 2021 at 11:17 am

I enjoyed reading this. Great job. I agree totally with everything. Growing up I didn’t have a black doll. I always wanted long straight hair. I’m a mother and I remembered when I started playing cartoons for my little princess and my husband kept insisting on searching for black cartoons. I searched but I didn’t like it. Why? Its because I wasn’t use to it and didn’t enjoy the sound of my fellow black people. After reading this article, I will start playing black cartoons once in a while for my baby no matter how terrible they sound. And yes this dolls causes low self esteem for young girls.
I watched a movie recently where 3 little Nigerian girls (age from 10-12) weren’t proud of their skin. They had soo many white dolls and wanted to be white. At that age they saved money and got bleaching cream. That’s just a movie yea.. But believe me these things happen.
Thanks soo much for this article. Weldon?

    Osose Ihimire · February 23, 2021 at 11:48 am

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. You’re right, cartoons do have an influence as well. Thanks a lot for the comment.?

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