It’s Just a Doll: Why Representation Matters

As I sat down to write for this week I had an entirely different idea in mind, that was until I looked down at the little calendar icon at the bottom corner of my screen and couldn’t help but to gasp a little in excitement. At the puzzled faces of my friends I had to explain myself, it was July 22nd which meant that the previous day had been the release of Disney’s first Latina princess and I had missed it. I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela and spent most of my early childhood there, obviously surrounded by Disney movies and Disney Channel shows, constantly building up ideas of what life in America would be like and it was overwhelmingly white. Now imagine how different it would have been if instead of seeing images of the Tipton Hotel in Boston or Kim Possible’s suburban neighborhood, I could have seen a place that looked just like my home. That’s what TV shows and movies like Elena of Avalor do, they give little girls something to identify with, something to hope for.

 

I firmly believe that our times are remembered and defined by the media we consume and as our world becomes ever more interconnected and dependent on growing technology this statement becomes increasingly true. The late 1800s are characterized by world-changing literature, criticizing elements of our society until a change was achieved. The late 1950s are remembered for the class and prestige of Old Hollywood. What will our time be remembered for? The question of representation is and forever will be ever evolving and will always be prudent as our society continues to evolve and redefine itself. It’s not just about the doll or the princess it’s about the message we send out to our children. The reason Barbie became so popular after her release in 1959 was because at a time when women were breaking out of the roles of conformity and domesticity of the 1950s Barbie agreed and she sent the message that you could be anything you wanted, a pilot, an astronaut, a doctor. Women who had experienced a shift of power during WWII only to have to return to domestic life in the 1950s wanted to teach their daughters that they truly could be anyone they wanted. However when all Barbies looked the same, portraying a picture of the perfect body, blond hair and blue eyes it also sent a message to our children: that looking like that was the ideal. As we continue to reshape our idea of beauty to fit the faces that surround us Mattel announced a new line of ethnically and body diverse Barbies to reflect the women of the 21st  century. Now suddenly, children have something they can identify with, finally the doll looks just like you and the message is not only can you be anything you want but you can also be proud of what you look like while doing it, Diversifying the media our children see is so incredibly important in this day and age because they are constantly surrounded by it, from the TV they watch to the magazines they see in newsstands. Diversifying media shows them that their culture and themselves are just as important as anyone else, they don’t have to be the stereotype of the sassy Hispanic cleaning lady or the loud obnoxious black friend, they are not the sidekick or the help they are so much more than that.
It extends even beyond the media that surrounds our children because in all reality our media is a reflection of ourselves, of our struggles and desires and it chronologies our changing times. If we are not representing all races and sexualities within our media then how can we ever truly reflect our times and our changing society, how can we ever truly reflect our culture and the struggles of all of us when we whitewash our film and TV casting.

“if that’s the only image you see of yourself in the media, you start to feel worthless. ” -Tumblr user chirikli on the representation of the “gypsy” in media & Romanian nationality

It’s not just a doll, it’s the message that we send to both children and adults, that they too are important and deserve to be congratulated for their resilience. That they too can reach whatever level they want and be anyone they want to be. That their culture and history is beautiful and deserves to be represented and celebrated. Every generation leaves a legacy in the books and magazines they print and in the movies they produce, will ours be a legacy of inclusion? Will ours be a legacy that recognizes the struggles of all of us and seeks to celebrate our diversity?

*pictures not mine

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