Why I will not be accepting Barbie dolls for my daughter’s birthday

My daughter is turning one year at the end of April and even if this sounds “Un-African”, I would like to state publicly that I will not be accepting little Barbie dolls as gifts on her birthday.

I have nothing against Barbie dolls per se. I just have a problem with the things Barbie will tell my daughter about her looks.

Perhaps the following tale about my daughter’s first days on earth will make this a little easier to digest.

She was hardly two days old when she a visitor in the hospital remarked:

“She is such a beauty….I hope she remains light skinned.”

I was too tired from twelve hours of labour to respond sufficiently to the statement but I have had a full year of recovery and I would like to break down all the things that were wrong with this warped comment. If only for the sake of my daughter’s self-esteem, especially now that I am fully aware that “Untinted” women like Verah Sidika are teenage girls’ idols.

When I was expectant, my only prayer was to have a healthy baby. Having watched my mother struggle to bring up my older sister who was a sickly child who and finally losing her to sickle-cell anaemia related complications, I spent nights fervently praying for a healthy child.

My wish was granted. Her cry was fiery. She seemed terribly displeased at her entry into the world (and with good reason, I came to find out two days later).

As I held her in my arms, I marveled at my little beautiful miracle. I have not stopped marveling ever since.

But a comment from one of my hospital visitors temporarily stunned me and led me to the conclusions that we, black people, are our own worst enemies.

Here is how I should have responded to my hospital visitor;

“That is the least of my concerns. Why not comment on the baby’s good health, her delightful dimples, and her glorious full head of hair? Would you prefer if I gave her back to the nurses would she turn out to be drake skinned?” I should have stared hard at the visitor and asked her never to repeat that statement in front of my child ever again.

As she turns one this weekend, I will clarify to each invited guest that I will not accepting little white dolls as presents for her. What will the white dolls tell her about her own looks? That she has to be blonde, blue-eyed and button-nosed to be pretty, for sure.

I would like her to grow up with the assurance that there is nothing wrong with her skin colour even though the world may see it differently. If my guests cannot find black dolls that look like her, then I will suggest they buy her books, or trucks, or pretty little dresses, things that will delight her but not set her on the path of questioning her skin colour and aspiring to “Untint”.

I one made a comment that I thought the phrase “Black beauty” is limiting. I still think it does. Why can’t we call dark skinned people simply beautiful? Saying “Black beauty”, in my estimation, is the equivalent of saying: “She is beautiful-for a black person.”

People, Lupita was named the world’s most beautiful woman, not the world’s most beautiful black beauty.

I know my daughter will come across people that will comment on her colour negatively. I know she will be accosted by “Bleaching experts” while walking along Nairobi’s River Road one day who will promise to “Remove her tint” but for as long as I can, I will protect her from this. And the first step is banning Barbie dolls from the gifts list on her first birthday.


Author: Faith Oneya

Lover of the written and spoken word.

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