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Multicultural Dolls: Growing Diversity

Updated on August 29, 2017

Heritage Dolls and Diversity Dolls

I got my older niece a dollhouse, and now I'm considering an "heirloom gift" for the younger one. A doll, perhaps, but not just any one. I keep turning back to look at a particular one: a beautiful little Indian doll from Hearts for Hearts.

Dolls have certainly come a long way since my childhood! Sure, they came in different races then; here and there people were thinking about the messages they sent. But what did you see when you went in a store? White Baby Alive, black Baby Alive. White Barbie, black Barbie. They didn't tell much of a story. As for the dolls that tried to teach heritage... well, there was a whole world of collector's dolls, most of them depicting the most stereotypical clothing from long ago. They're not bad, but they're not all there is!

It's a different world on the toy shelves now. Cultural dolls are more likely to have different face molds -- not just different colors of plastic or vinyl. They often come with stories, and in some cases, at least, the stories are becoming more modern and more divergent.

Interested in cultural dolls -- to reflect your own child's features or just to add some diversity to the toy shelf? Here's my perspective: the perspective of an auntie, a teacher... and someone who never outgrew her fondness for browsing dolls.

Image by the author

Hearts for Hearts Dolls

This is the one I keep coming back to: Nahji from Hearts for Hearts. Callee is a bit young for the doll now, having turned four just last month -- the storybook themes would float in the air above her. Still, there are things about this doll that could make her a conversation piece in the years to come. (The henna pattern on the hand is a distinctive touch.)

Hearts for Hearts dolls represent different countries, and their clothing carries the flavor of the place, but it's modernized. That's appropriate, I think. After all, here in the US, most girls no longer wear aprons and sun bonnets. We shouldn't forget that time is marching forward in other places as well.

At fourteen inches, the dolls are a little smaller than American Girls -- closer in size to the Mandy dolls we might remember from our own childhoods. Fortunately, they're quite a bit cheaper than American Girl -- and a bit of the purchase price goes to support a better life for girls around the world. A representative recently put the figure at 6 1/2 %. The charity partner is World Vision.

Each doll comes with a storybook that challenges gender stereotypes and/ or shows the girl making a difference in the life of the less fortunate.

There girls hail from India, Ethiopia, Mexico, Laos, Belarus, and the Appalachian U.S. Some adoptive parents have selected Hearts for Hearts girls to give their little one a familiar face. Other families have chosen them to make their doll family more representative of the people in our world. Every doll in the series has a five star rating on Amazon.

Featured below is Consuelo from Mexico.

Dell: An Appalachian Girl

Hardship isn't unique to people of color. Here's another Hearts for Hearts doll: Dell from the U.S. She's a charmer, and she does have her talking points. Dell is Appalachian, and our family has Appalachian roots. In fact, little Callee's grandmother came from a shoes-only-in-the-winter family. And... by gummit, Dell looks quite a bit like Callee, from the coloring to the slightly wide set eyes and broad pert nose.

Still, as much as I like this doll, it's one I would be less likely to choose for Callee. The problem? Callee's too young to appreciate the heritage, and by the time she was old enough, the book would be lost. Dell would be at best a slight look alike and, at worst, just another doll like any other doll. Those little girls have a lot of playthings.

Hearts for Hearts Dell and Tipi

Image: Softness, Flickr Creative Commons. Shared under a CC 'attribution, no derivative works' license.

Two New Hearts for Hearts Dolls!

Two of the three new Hearts for Hearts doll are here: Zelia from Brazil and Lauryce from New Orleans. I've spotted their little faces on the Playmates Toys site, and suspect they (and their stories) will be widely available soon.

A Doll Baby for Christmas

Heritage Doll or Diversity Doll?

If you're considering a multicultural doll, is it to recognize a child's own heritage -- or to add some diversity to the doll shelf?

Which type of doll calls to you (most)?

The Doll Project - Improving the Quality of Life Through Dolls

The Doll Project is about multicultural ragdolls... and a lot more. Women in several world communities are improving their lives creating these dolls. They are also giving children some very special companions.

American Girl: Tackling African American History - First Addy, then Cecile

It's been interesting watching the American Girl company tackle racial issues. Their first African American historical doll was Addy, a little girl growing up in the Civil War Era. A pivotal era... an exciting plot. Addy escaped from slavery in the first book.

The second African American historical doll, Cecile, offers quite a contrast. Cecile is antebellum, but she's a girl of privilege, a French-speaking child living in New Orleans' French Quarter. The contrast in heroines, I believe, was no accident. Here and there there had been criticism of AG for having the sole representative of black history be a slave.

In the College of Education, I read a lot of literature -- children's and adult -- about racial injustice. These stories are vital, but when not balanced, they can be narrowing instead of broadening. Sure, I knew that not all pre-Civil War African Americans were slaves. I had no idea, however, that there were families of privilege in the deep South. I learned something. I applaud the American Girl company their choice of those two very different little girls.

Cecile and Marie Grace

Lesson Plans for AG Cecile and Marie Grace

American Girl introduced two characters at the same time: two residents of the French Quarter, one white, one black. They turn expectations on the head. It's Marie-Grace, the white girl, who starts out as an outsider: a non-French girl, "an American".

The girls' friendship is forged against a crisis: an outbreak of Yellow Fever. Together they volunteer at an orphanage. American Girl stories may be neatly packaged -- with some sugar-coating at times -- but you've got to hand it to them: There's careful attention to themes. They're trying to make a difference. Here's a set of lesson plans released by American Girl. They touch on some big themes: friendship, diversity, prejudice, community service.

Mini Dolls and Paper Dolls: Cheaper American Girls

Can't afford Cecile and Marie-Grace in their full (18-inch) glory? Ah, me neither! But I have given some thought to giving the mini-dolls to my nieces: one each. The two together come to just a little over $25... which is also the magic number for free shipping. It's either those little dolls, or Nahji... decisions, decisions.

The cheapest American Girls -- cheaper even than the minis -- are the paper dolls. I have a particular affinity for paper dolls. I recently gave my older niece a set of American Girls paper dolls. (It was a bit hard to part with them.)

Callee's Cecile Doll

Canadian Girls

Part of Maplelea's commitment to multiculturalism is to make their Canadian Girl product line bilingual. Canadian Girls represent modern children, but some, like, the newest, Leonie and Saila, are very in touch with their heritage. Saila is Inuit. Leonie is a French Candian girl from Quebec.

Karito Kids

There's quite a few similarities between Karito Kids and Hearts for Hearts dolls. Both represent half a dozen countries. Both come with storybooks that hold a hidden lesson. Both allocate a small portion of the money to charity. Karito Kids World Collection, though, are premium 21 inch dolls. They have distinctive face molds that attempt to accurately display ethnic diversity. They carry a hefty price tag. I have been seeing new dolls for a bit less on eBay, though.

2013: Karito Kids are getting harder to find. The official shopping website has been down for some time, though another website remains. Doll Diaries reports they had to close shop. I will continue to post dolls I find.

Modern Mainstream Dolls... in Many Colors

Mainstream companies are also doing a better job of reflecting ethnic diversity in their toy lines. Some -- like BFC Club and Only Hearts -- are (relatively) inexpensive collectible dolls. Pre-teen dolls from these lines represent the many colors and ethnicities that we find represented in modern American society. They wear the kind of clothing that kids typically wear for school or play.

Barbie has also taken on many new tones and looks in the S.I.S. line. Again, this is a modern American doll (one with a penchant for designer clothing).

Mixis Dolls: Representing Mixed Ancestry

Many of us are of mixed ancestry. My heritage is primarily German Jewish on my father's side. On my mother's, it's "American melting pot": Most of her ancestors were European; at least one, though, was Native American.

Mixis dolls are fashion dolls, comparable to Barbie. There are some important differences, though. Each one represents a woman of mixed ancestry and has features of two different ethnic groups (though not necessarily two races).

Also share your suggestions! (What should Callee and Chelsea get for Christmas?)

Share Your Thoughts

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I published a lens about Vietnamese-American artists and in the process found a link by another lensmaster that specifically talks about Vietnamese Dolls. You might consider adding it to your Doll Pages.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      A great lens, on an important subject! And thanks for having the interactive section. If you have time, visit my lens on Heidi Ott Dollhouse Dolls, which includes ethnic dolls.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Tough one! I do like these dolls, the world is getting smaller after all, we should be aware of each other.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      7 years ago from Vermont

      I love these multicultural dolls. My daughter (now 44) requested an African American baby doll when she was 4, to join her other dolls and be more like her playmates in real life. I loved playing (carefully) with dolls from Germany that my mother had from her childhood. Nothing beats teaching respect for cultural diversity and peace through play.


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