“As a child…we didn’t have a choice of what a doll looked like,” says Mary Eubanks, CEO and owner of Children of America Dolls. “That always lingered in the back of my mind. Why wasn’t there more diversity?”
This lingering uneasiness is what led Eubanks to create Children of America Dolls in 2010. “It is important for children to see themselves reflected in different avenues in life,” Eubanks says. This lack of diversity served as a catalyst for her to start her company. “Children of America Dolls…come much closer than any other doll line to the representing the differences in American children,” she says. “In America, there are certainly other groups, but I chose the largest groups first.” Children of America Dolls have four dolls to choose from: Brianna, who is African-American; Andrea, who is Hispanic-American; Mia, who is Asian-American; and Ashley, who is Caucasian-American.
“It is important for little girls to have dolls that look like them because it sends a message [about beauty standards]. Along with [dolls], all of the other ways that children learn things from television and movies, seeing themselves or someone who looks like them in those avenues reinforces their self image,” says Eubanks. On the flip side of that, she says, “The lack of [diversity], with only one group being shown intuitively says: ‘That is the goal; you need to look like this.’ ” This is precisely how she remembers her own childhood. “I grew up thinking that the epitome of beauty is to have blonde hair…[the dolls] didn’t speak to me directly, but I internalized [that message] because of my environment.”
These sentiments were shared by First Lady Michelle Obama in her June 2014 speech at Dr. Maya Angelou’s memorial service. “The first time I read ‘Phenomenal Woman,’ I was struck by how [Dr. Angelou] celebrated black women’s beauty like no one had ever dared to before. Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace,” said Obama. “In that one singular poem, Maya Angelou spoke to the essence of black women, but she also graced us with an anthem for all women—a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty.”
“And, oh, how desperately black girls needed that message,” she adds. “As a young woman, I needed that message. As a child, my first doll was Malibu Barbie. That was the standard for perfection. That was what the world told me to aspire to. But then I discovered Maya Angelou, and her words lifted me right out of my own little head.”
The message that the First Lady and Eubanks have is clear: Young girls need positive examples not only for behavior, but for body image as well. “It is very important for African-American girls that they start out in life with all the positive images that can be introduced to them,” says Eubanks. Since one of the first things a little girl gets is a doll, she explains, “It is important that the doll nurtures their self-esteem in a positive way,” Eubanks says. “I believe having a doll that has some of their features is very important for their self-esteem because it is telling them, ‘I’m OK. I may look different, but I’m pretty or cute in my own way.’ ”
Eubanks hopes that young mothers take “every opportunity they have to give their children toys, as well as opportunities and experiences, that are positive pertaining to their ethnicity and diversity.” Parents today, those of the same generation as Eubanks can, in turn, learn to reshape their definition of beauty. Says Eubanks, “[Parents], too, should learn to accept and be positive about their own diversity because children learn more from seeing than they do from hearing early in life.”
To learn more about how to obtain a Children of America doll visit: http://www.coadolls.com.