As today happens to be Martin Luther King Day in the United States, I’d like to write about the fact that images on doll clothes sewing patterns available in the US today do not accurately reflect the demographics of our nation.
Before Caucasian people came to North America, only Native American people lived here. To this day, Native American people and mixed-race Native Americans live in the US — my husband and children are among these.
Yet images of Native American people are scarce–if not completely absent– in sewing patterns. Mattel has designed Native American dolls, as have other companies, but the images of dolls on my sewing patterns are almost exclusively Caucasian.
If you want proof, just look back at all the blog posts I’ve done on the “Old Patterns from Chelly’s Collection” category. (Click on that link to see them.)
I did find the pattern pictured in today’s blog post among my collection of old patterns. And the doll pictured in the upper right-hand corner could pass for a Native American. She could also pass for an African American. It’s almost like the pattern artist tried to create a “generic ethnic doll” or something.
But all of the other dolls pictured here are Caucasian. They’re mostly blond-haired, blue-eyed dolls. In fact, take a close look at the “generic ethnic doll” for a second. Her eyes are blue too!
And as I thumb through my collection of doll clothes patterns, I find this is the case with all of them. Patterns published in the 1980’s and 1990’s have almost NO dolls of color pictured on them.
Yet I was able to find this sweet little gem among some of my oldest doll clothes patterns. And take a close look at the back of the pattern (shown below). Do you see the date?
This pattern was published in 1968… the year of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination!
Somehow, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a doll pictured on the cover of this pattern reflects people of color. Perhaps it even reflects the perspective of the artist who illustrated this pattern’s cover art. Was he or she moved by the events of the 4th of April, 1968? Did he or she sense the suffering of African Americans who waited too long to be treated as US citizens?
It must be noted that African Americans make up 13% of the entire ethnic population of the USA today (US Census Bureau). Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin make up another 18% of our population. That’s about 30% of our people who are rarely represented on sewing patterns.
And here’s something to think about… If you sell your doll clothes or patterns online, you may be selling to a worldwide market, not just a local market. Are the photos you take of your dolls marketing to people of color? Or do you limit your doll photography to images of Caucasian dolls because that’s what’s in your doll collection?
According to Wikipedia, 59% of the planet’s human population lives in Asia. How many Asian dolls do you own? Africans makes up another 17% of the planet’s population (Wikipedia: “Demographics of the World). Which leaves me wondering… does your doll collection reflect the ethnicity of your Instagram followers? Does it reflect the ethnicity of your Twitter or Facebook or… well… you get the picture.
I’m not trying to stir up trouble with my regular followers, but I believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
From what I can tell, we’re not there yet.
What message do we send our children and grandchildren when we only purchase them dolls that are Caucasian? Do your children and grandchildren have dolls that represent other ethnicities besides their own? Do they only own one of these dolls? Or do the dolls in their collection accurately reflect the people they will one day do business with?
Children learn how to be adults through their play. Will the children of today grow up to understand how to do business fairly with people who don’t look like them? And when they grow up, will they understand and respect people from a variety of different ethnic groups, cultures, religions, and countries?
That’s the question I’m asking today, in honor of Martin Luther King and all that he stood for. If you wish to comment, I only ask that you keep your comment respectful.
4 thoughts on “Why aren’t there more multicultural dolls on sewing patterns? Join the #SewingChat @ ChellyWood.com for #MLKday”
I really appreciate your thoughts. There is so much here to think about. I am of German American heritage and was born in 1950. My family gave me dolls of various different ethnicity including a couple of Black heritage dolls, Native American dolls [these were the small 8″ to 10″ dolls that were to be displayed but they let me carefully play with them and I treasured them] and dolls from Japan that were also display dolls but again I was allowed to carefully play with them. We did live in Southern California which was a multi-cultural area. But you are so correct, in that when I was learning to sew and bought doll patterns and eventually patterns for my own clothing, there were never any people of different ethnic heritages shown on the patterns. And I have patterns going back to 1963! Thank you for posting this. Marianne
I agree with you chelly. I have several African American dolls. I have a ROSA PARKER Doll. I have tried to get a doll from every country. I have over 300 dolls
and I am getting too old and no place to get anymore. I even have MOTHER TREASA. I love my dolls and I love their different clothes. I pray everyday for PEACE. The Cova 19 to go away. GOD BLESS YOU.
Keep praying Jeretta. Every prayer is heard. ❤️
I have always wondered why there were not many different African American pictures on the patterns