Local students host Black baby doll drive to foster sense of belonging in children

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 5:25 PM EST
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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - Studies show good self-esteem is linked to academic success, and experts say representation is important for every age.

Self-confidence starts to form at a very young age, even before social media makes its mark. Many say when children see toys and characters in a variety of skin tones, they’re able to better understand themselves and others.

That’s why students at Mary Baldwin University are hosting a Black baby doll drive for local families. The drive annually serves around 300 children.

“A lot of kids around here don’t have a lot of access to Black baby dolls because of the demographics,” said MBU student and event supporter Mylanah Twyman.

Twyman said she didn’t have many Black dolls as a child, and she knows many local kids are in a similar situation. Being able to give a child that validation was very important, she said.

Another student and supporter, Caitlyn Russell, didn’t have Black dolls either, and she said the issue was highlighted when she went shopping for the drive.

“When we were going out to get the dolls that there weren’t any in this area. I feel like that really pressed the issue,” Russell said.

Teaira Jordan, MBU student and event supporter, mentioned a 2014 study that showed big retailers price Black and white dolls differently, saying that might be a reason parents can’t buy them for their kids.

“I wanted to make sure other girls were able to see things and play with things that look like them, so that they could associate and not have that identity crisis over only playing with white dolls as a little Black girl,” Jordan said.

The three women agreed that representation matters, even to young children.

“When you’re in school and you’re growing up with all these people around you and you don’t see dolls or toys that look like you, it makes you feel smaller than everyone else,” said Twyman.

They said their baby dolls set the standard for how they’re supposed to look. When children only have white dolls, it creates hurtful expectations, Russell said.

“Having white baby dolls kind of sets the standard, like, that’s how you should look. Even if they don’t take it as ‘[my features] don’t matter,’ they’ll try to change it. Then we lose certain attributes and certain features that are unique to our race,” Russell said.

Since confidence starts building early on, toys are often the first thing to make its mark on a young person’s mind.

“As little girls, the first thing you see is your baby doll. That’s what your parents give you. It’s not TV. It’s a baby doll. So if you have a baby doll starting out at a young age, maybe three or four, and you see it looks like you, then you’re going to associate yourself with that, like, ‘oh, ok my features are beautiful because I have a doll that looks just like me,’” Jordan said.

The ability to give that confidence to another girl is amazing, they said.

“Not having it when you’re a kid and you’re able to give it to another kid, and that’s really special to me,” Twyman said.

You can bring donations to the Spencer Center on Mary Baldwin’s campus until Friday, when the drive ends. The event is annual, so they’ll open donations up again in November 2022.

One of the students donated a doll with Vitiligo. (WHSV)
One of the students donated a doll with Vitiligo. (WHSV)(WHSV)

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