This was originally posted on my old blog on 5/27/14. I have edited it to reflect the necessary updates.
I collect dolls.
Eighty percent of my entire collection are fashion dolls. Ninety per cent of those fashion dolls are Black. This display case represents a SMALL portion of my collection. I haven’t counted lately, but I estimate that I have about 200 dolls–and counting.
People who come to visit our home literally stop in their tracks and stare at my dolls. Little girls get upset with me because I won’t let them take one home or play with them while they’re there. Even White women are mesmerized by the sight of my dolls.
I was an only child for the first 7 years of my life, and I spent a lot of time alone. Despite attempts to make me socialize, I had no friends my age and didn’t want any. My only sources of fun and entertainment were TV and my dolls.
After my sister Traci was born, Mom tried to make me share my dolls with her. That didn’t go well, because I don’t share well when it comes to things that I love. Eventually, Mom conceded to buy the same dolls twice, even when Traci and I became adults.
Yes, we had dolls as adults.
I was in my mid-twenties when I got serious about collecting. I wanted to document how the look of Black fashion dolls changed over the years. The dolls that grace my shelves today did NOT exist when I was growing up in the ’70’s. Mattel’s Barbie was unapologetically white. Other toy companies like Hasbro and Kenner did NOT produce Black dolls worth buying, according to my mother, may she rest. Most of the fashion dolls that I got in my single-digits were White or inexplicably dark (the Mego Corporation’s Cher, Wonder Woman, and Farrah Fawcett dolls completely messed up my mind!). Dark-skinned replicas of women whom I KNEW were White did not compute for me as a child. To me, those creepy things were neither Black nor white. I no longer have them.
Somewhere in there, I ended up with a Malibu Barbie doll. At six years old, I remember that Barbie’s blonde hair and tanned skin did not make any more sense to me than those dark-skinned replicas of white women. In my world, people with brown skin did not have blonde hair, and vice versa. Maybe that’s why real people with tans don’t look right to me today.
In any event, these were the dolls that Mom let me play with in peace. I was never sure of what my mother liked, but I was always crystal clear on what she hated, because she would NEVER keep that to herself.
Don’t ask me why, but my mother had also bought me a Malibu Christie doll. This is what she looked like fresh out of the package. Mom hated this doll with a passion. At the sight of this doll, Mom would do a half-hour diatribe about how dark Christie’s skin was, how that bright yellow swimsuit made her skin look even darker, and how Mattel intentionally made the Christie doll look “ugly” (her word, not mine) so that people would not want to buy it.
Despite my mother’s skin color issues, I never learned how to like or dislike someone because of their skin tone. To me, a girl was pretty because she was pretty–not because she had light or dark skin. I didn’t get at the time that my mother was calling the Christie doll ugly because of her very dark skin. Thank God I learned in that same year that my mother didn’t always have the right answers. She helped me with my reading homework one night, which got me laughed at by the entire class the next day. Live and learn.
Malibu Christie was never ugly to me. I had never seen big eyes, a bulby nose, full cheeks, and thick lips on a fashion doll. Christie looked more like me than all of my Barbies. My only problem with her was that her hair was bone straight–too straight to do anything with. I was a hairstylist in the rough, after all, and straight hair was boring hair.
This is what my Christie doll looks like today. She is several decades older, and she has been the reigning Queen of my collection. For years, I have covered her hair, because half of it had been snatched out from having curlers put in too tightly (I was six! I thought it would help!). I have recently re-rooted her with a full head of Natural hair, which I think gives her a timeless, Angela Bassett kind of vibe now.
My Queen, once reviled and unappreciated, now sets the standard for the rest of my collection. Over the years, I have purchased, inherited, and been gifted fashion dolls of every skin tone and ethnicity. I love them all, but I admit that I am partial to the dark-skinned beauties. I have a tendency to appreciate things that the majority tends to reject.
And while we’re on that subject, let me make an important update to this post.
In 2014, I pouted about not being able to buy a certain doll that I’d been wanting since it came out in 2010: Model #04 from the first Barbie Basics line. I was too brokety-broke to buy it when it was $9.99 in the stores, and I had to endure some pretty ignorant comments– from a Black woman!–about her appearance. Even with her Ebay value blowing up to five times its retail value, this beauty made some people sound just like my mother used to sound when I played with my dolls.
I just need to say that in December of 2016, when I could finally afford a luxury or two, I gleefully bought Model #04. She reminds me of Lupita Nyong’o.
These days, my doll collection is a more accurate representation of who I am and what I love. Since I have the time, I am making over most of them to keep my fingers busy (as if they weren’t busy enough!). Feel free to follow my makeovers and transformations. I am very proud of my work…and of all my beautiful dolls.