I'm just getting around to checking out last month's Disability Blog Carnival. The first entry I clicked on was called "Trache-ing Elmo". The thought of this made me laugh even before I read it because I have seen VanGoghGirl "alter" many of her dolls to suit her own aesthetic. Her toy room is cluttered with scenes of doll carnage. Barbie never stood a chance with my kid.
My niece is an Elmo fanatic. She has several of the plain plush dolls, the battery-powered one that does the chicken dance and even the Tickle Me Extreme Elmo that can fall to the floor and then raise itself back up to the standing position. I can't tell you how many times I've had to tuck Elmo in or talk to Elmo or apologize to Elmo for something I said in his presence. I don't really mind though, it's all a part of being an auntie. In the process, I've developed a fondness for Elmo over the past couple of years. As far as muppets go, he's really a complex character, so I really wanted to hear about the plans that Hannah's mommy had for her doll.
At this point, Elmo has been accessorized with some of Hannah's old walking equipment but, as the title suggests, he may soon be fitted with some ultra cool body mods. I'm not going to give everything away here so you'll have to visit her blog if you want to get the whole story.
On a serious note, when I read her post, I thought about how, when I was pregnant, I made the decision that I would only purchase dolls who were "people of color" (e.g. non-white). I wanted my daughter to be able to surround herself with toys that added to her self-esteem. I wanted her to see that color is beautiful. I figured she'd see more than enough whiteness in her lifetime without me having to contribute to it. When she's playing mommy with her dolls, I want them to look like her. I never really told my mother-in-law, who is white, about my feelings on this but instinctively she has never purchased a doll for my daughter that didn't at least have a nice tan.
I'm lucky or, I guess I should say, privileged. These days, even though most dolls on the toy store shelf are still white, more non-white dolls are being available for purchase. If I visit two or three toy stores, I can usually find a couple of Black or Latino dolls to choose from even though Asian ones are still fairly rare. Even though I have serious issues with the body types and clothes that some of them are dressed in, VanGoghGirl can at least have dolls that closely match her skin tone.
However, when it comes to dolls that depict people with disabilities, parents are still pretty much out of luck. The American Girl doll line features a wheelchair and a cast that you can put on your doll's leg but that's it. I think I've seen a Barbie doctor set with a few bandages and arm slings but nothing more.
This situation makes me reflect on the ways that even people who belong to marginalized communities can still be privileged relative to other marginalized groups. I can afford to ignore the unavailability of dolls featuring body non-conformance because there are enough people with children that look like mine for manufacturers to consider it worthwhile to make dolls with tans and/or curly hair. Do I make as big a deal out of the unavailability as I would if I had a child with a trache? Admittedly, no. Should I? Yes. I guess that means I have some changes to make if I want to be an ally to parents with children who have certain disabilities.