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Latin America Jamila Dispatch

Jamila Plays with Barbies!

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Rare examples of indigenous dolls Jamila found in a small village

Dolls are one of the few types of toys that can be found almost anywhere in the world. They also happen to be one of my favorite items to collect while traveling. Although I am twenty-six years old, I love dolls. I especially enjoy seeing the varieties of dolls that represent various people and cultures. In the United States, companies now manufacture dolls of different sizes, skin tones, and hair textures in an effort to represent the increasing diversity of the American people. Dolls now come in a wide array of colors. They do not conform to the peachy-pink-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed image of the past. I've even seen dolls with physical handicaps that are made to represent individuals who are physically challenged.

However, in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, I have noticed something interesting: the majority of the dolls that are mass-produced and sold in stores are not reflective of the people who live in these areas. In these countries, you will find a range of people with skin of all different shades of brown. Indigenous people of color make up a greater percentage of the population than do those with fairer skin. So far, I have yet to see an indigenous person who looks like any of the dolls that I have seen (or a doll that looks like any of the indigenous people I have seen). The vast majority of dolls sold in stores have golden-blond hair and light-colored eyes. What kind of sub-conscious message does this send to indigenous children about how society values their beauty?

Doll in shop
A typical doll available in stores

For individuals, especially children, to be successful in any aspect of their lives, it is important that they have a positive self-image. This positive self-image must be validated not only in the home but also in the larger society. Constantly seeing images that don't reflect one's own appearance might have a negative impact on one's self-worth. This is not to say that all dolls with blonde hair and blue eyes should be left off the shelves. Dolls of all colors, shapes and sizes are beautiful and should be available all over the world. I believe it is the responsibility of the toy manufacturers to make dolls that reflect positive images of the communities in which they market them. I finally did see cloth dolls for sale in Antigua that were produced by Mayan women in an artisan cooperative. The dolls were adorable! It would be great to see more dolls like these sold in stores throughout Guatemala.

Has there ever been time when you felt under-represented? How did you deal with it? Let me know your thoughts.


Jamila - Jamila Says Goodbye
Jamila - Jamila Plays With Barbies! (kids' version)
Abeja - Historical Headway: Let the Tragic Truth Be Told
Team - CIA Uncovered
Monica - Making a Difference
Abeja - Carrying Jesus
Kavitha - Deep in the Rainforest

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