Barbie's proportions have drawn flak for playing with girls' body image. But on the other end of the spectrum are toys that may be too close to reality.
Sample this: in September this year, American Nickolay Lamm, creator of the "realistic" Lammily doll with her average, round body and even acne stickers, added period accessories to teach young girls about menstruation. The 'Period Party' accessory pack for Lammily now includes pad and liner stickers meant to fit in doll-sized underwear, a calendar and dot stickers to keep track of a menstruation cycle, and an informational pamphlet.
For one, there are no takers for these too-real-to-fun dolls in Lucknow. "I don't think dolls and toys are a good medium to explain concepts such as menstruation to children. A dialogue with your daughters is any day better," says Priyanka Sarkar, a homemaker who has two daughters under 10. She adds, "If ever I want to explain such things visually to my daughters, I'd rather use an iPad. There needs to be proper sex education and healthcare lessons in schools before we can label these dolls as 'toys'. Imagine what turns a conversation between four little girls playing with these dolls can take! What pets are to us adults, dolls are to children. We should keep toys away from such issues."
USE THESE DOLLS AS EDUCATIONAL AIDs
But the Lammily Period Party Pack doll isn't the first doll parents think is too realistic to be kid's play. In 2011, Spanish manufacturer Berjuan Toys came out with a doll called the 'Breast Milk Baby', designed for girls as young as two years. The doll would make suckling sounds when the child, who was required to wear a bib with 'flower nipples', would put it to her chest. Retailers, public commentators and politicians in the US and elsewhere were quick to express their disgust, and the doll, which was priced at $90, found it difficult to find sellers willing to put the product on their shelves. However, a representative of the company was quoted telling an international news agency, "We've had a lot of support from lots of breastfeeding organisations, lots of mothers, lots of educators." That is precisely what parents and teachers in Lucknow believe: dolls explaining concepts such a breastfeeding and childbirth must be positioned as educational aids, not toys.
Aashrita Dass, vice principal of a prominent girls' school in the city, says, "Instead of calling them 'toys', these things should be used and marketed as an aid for teachers and mothers to explain concepts of puberty, childbirth, etc. to girls. I don't think it will be a good idea to let children be with such toys. It's not a good idea to leave them to their own imagination." Swapnali Nagarkar, homemaker and mother to a 10-year-old girl, adds, "I wouldn't like my daughter playing with these dolls when she's alone. Instead, they can be used as educational tools in sex education lessons for girls in schools, but that too when the age is right. I personally wouldn't encourage a concept like this to come in the category of a toy."
Internationally too, parents have had similar reactions to such toys. In 2011, MamAmor Dolls, a brainchild of Adriana Guerra, a midwife in Canada, came out with a range of umbilical-intact, placenta-producing dolls, intended for children 3-years-old and above. Babyology, an Australian retailer of kids' products, featured the product on their Facebook page and were inundated with comments, both for and against the product. Comments ranged from "that's a little too confronting" to "I do not believe that children need to be exposed to the mechanics of the process of childbirth; there's nothing wrong with a cute story about a stork, and I don't believe that these dolls are appropriate toys". On the other side, parents also argued that the dolls "are natural, and a fun way to teach kids about birth".
TALK, NOT TOYS
Barbie's best friend, Midge, and her husband Alan, were reintroduced in what was called "The Happy Family Line' in 2003. A pregnant Midge came with Nikki, who was a tiny baby inside Midge's magnetic removable womb. This led to some controversy with some consumers saying that the doll was inappropriate for children, or that it promoted teen pregnancy. Another cause of worry for consumers was that Midge was shown without a wedding ring and was also packaged without Alan, but the company later fixed this. Says Vera Singh, a single mom to a four-year-old girl and an entrepreneur, "I'm slightly conservative when it comes to things like these. I'd prefer to talk to my daughter about it rather than just hand her a toy that explains these issues." She adds, "Even though she's just four, she asks me all kinds of questions even now. I make it a point to address all her queries, no matter how weird they may be, because that's my role as a mom. I wouldn't want a doll replacing that. A child is young and impressionable and a doll cannot communicate. Why enhance a child's imagination with these things?"
IT TRIVIALISES THE CAUSE
Shachi Singh, a child development expert, also feels that there are better ways than toys to educate children about puberty and related issues. "When a girl reaches puberty, that is the time when she stops playing with dolls, so the purpose is defeated. Teaching a child about concepts like menstruation and childbirth through toys trivializes the cause. Also, it is very presumptuous to believe that only girls will lay their hands on such toys. As gender educationists, we ask parents why boys can't be given dolls to play with or girls guns," says Shachi, adding, "Toys have to also be culturally aligned. We are living in a society where such concepts are not discussed in the open."
SOURCE - TOI