Sonia Singh, a Tasmanian mom, started a doll project that’s gotten a crazy amount of attention. She buys old dolls (from second-hand shops mostly) and gives them make-unders that are mind-blowingly detailed. She takes the dolls and removes their factory-painted make up and redoes their face, with a much more natural look, and her mom knits clothing for each specific doll.
Recycling these used dolls was never meant to be social commentary, but it’s easy to see in the before and after shots that the dolls are just as beautiful with less make up. Video interviews with the makers and children playing with Tree Change dolls also make it clear that girls would love to play with dolls that look “the same age as you…more like someone they’d know.” The Tree Change dolls and the huge surge of media coverage that they’ve receives definitely brings up many different questions about how dolls are pitched at children and what affect they have on them.
I distinctly remember my own mother being freaked out by Bratz dolls because they wore ridiculous amounts of make up for a children’s toy and “didn’t even have noses.” This is a problem with other dolls too, from Barbies to Monster High dolls. The only alternative usually seen are cabbage patch kids or baby dolls—so either young girls are being prepped for teen years where attractiveness is the goal, or they’re getting practice for motherhood. While none of these toys are explicitly harmful, as many moms have discussed, the hypersexualized make-up and ridiculous proportions of the dolls aren’t realistic. There are enough messages being sent to young women about their bodies and how they “should” look, and there’s no reason for that to be proliferated through the dolls they play with.
While a lot of the celebration of these dolls has come at the hands of critiquing other dolls, it’s important to look at the messages that these critiques send as well. Yes, it’s ridiculous that almost all the dolls on the market before the Lammily dolls came out were either overly sexual and unrealistically skinny or extremely expensive (American Girl, anyone?). But it’s also not okay to call scantily-clad toys “slutty,” because that’s just a different expectation young girls are forced to deal with. It tells them that they should keep others from sexualizing them, while it’s actually everyone else that should stop sexualizing young girls.
Regardless of the feminist conversations milling around, Sonia is doing a phenomenal job in recycling these dolls and giving them a more down-to-earth, natural look. It’s great to see more variety and options, especially ones that look more like the little girls playing with them.
Cover image courtesy of Babble.