Black Girls and the American Girl Doll Dillemma

Today a few friends and I took a field trip to the local mall. Our destination? The new American Girl store, two stories of little girl heaven. We planned to get there early on a weekday in order to avoid the lines that are common in the evenings and on weekends. Since we are all students, ten a.m. worked well.

I bought along the American Girl doll my daughter received for Christmas. Yes, we, her parents, were the folks who bought it for her. It wasn’t an easy purchase, mainly due to the price. For the doll, a stand, and a brush, the total came to about $160. That was the only gift she received for Christmas from us.

I never had an American Girl doll growing up. Honestly, I had no idea what they were until about a year ago when my little girl started talking about them. After doing a little research, I see they were big in the 1990s, but perhaps I was a little too old for them by then. In any case, I was totally in the dark about the dolls and likely when I was a preteen I wouldn’t of even shaped my mouth to ask for such a thing. Not at $100.

But I did it for my little girl. Living where we live, and where a lot of black girls live, there are no positive images of little black girls. No book series for the young reader. No engineering sets. A whole lot of nothing. And her talk about her white dolls being more adorable than her blacks ones was breaking my heart (I’d never bought her a white doll, but other people had.) And many of her friends already had at least one of the dolls. I’m not usually one to do what everyone else does, but I recognized the cultural capital inherent in the dolls. Just like Bey Blades and Pokemon are today’s popular toys for the kids in my son’s circle, American Girl is the “it” toy for my girl and her friends. And given it was her only Christmas grift due to the cost, I didn’t feel like I was spoiling her.

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My Daughter Has Short Hair

When my daughter three-year old daughter was born, she was a baldy.  It didn’t phase me at the time.  In my eyes, she was one of the most beautiful little angels I had ever witnessed in my life.  I didn’t look at her that first time and think to myself “Aww man, she’s bald.”  All I knew was that I loved her, and she belonged to me.  And all was well in the world.

Robin was a long and healthy baby.  She was curious about the world, opened her eyes two days after she was born, and was even holding her own bottle at 2 months old.  (I have the pictures to prove it.)

But with all of her growing and becoming, her hair just didn’t seem to grow.  As she grew older and taller than most her age, it became more and more apparent that her hair was not growing at the average rate.

So, what was I to do?  I didn’t want to instill negative implications in my little girl, just because her hair was shorter than everyone else’s.  But I also knew how important having hair would mean to her, as she looked around at the other children in her daycare, or even in our church.

So, I took on the challenge of paying extra special attention to each hair follicle.  I massaged her scalp, applied oils and creams, and even went as far as giving her a silk scarf of her very own.  Each time my husband and I looked at her, one of us made sure to tell her how beautiful she was — and why.  And I prayed “Lord, please don’t let my daughter feel bad about her short hair.”  It consumed me.  I didn’t want to be a bad mother, and ignore my daughters needs.

Then, something happened.  Something that would change not only the way I think about myself but how I think about hair.

I was watching Caillou with my daughter one evening,.  Caillou is children’s television show where the main character is a 4-year old little boy.  A little boy with no hair.  And it hit me.  Why didn’t the producers of the show give Caillou any hair?  Was he sick?  Did he not have hair in the first episode, and they just didn’t think to add any later?  I had to look it up on the internet.  I mean, the boy had NO HAIR!  Not even a few wisps like Charlie Brown.  Someone had to have noticed it before.

Well, it turns out that Caillou has no hair — because he doesn’t have any hair.  The producers of the show originally intented for Caillou’s character to be younger, but when it was brought to the US, they decided he should be older, and still be bald.

When children were asked why they thought Caillou had no hair, they replied “Because he doesn’t.”  They didn’t see him as lacking anything valuable, just that he was a little boy with skin on the top of his head.

As I read it this, it occurred to me that maybe Robin didn’t think of herself as having short hair but that she was who God created her to be.

“What a fool I was for worrying about how long or short her hair was,” I thought to myself.

There’s nothing wrong with having short hair, anymore than long hair, or curly hair, or straight hair.

So, from that day on the Internet, I decided I would change my attitude about hair and celebrate it in every length, shape and form.  Yes, I still take care of my daughter’s hair, and teach her proper hair management.  But my motivation isn’t to grow her hair before she realizes how short it is — as if short hair is a handicap of some sort.   I just want my daughter to learn and continue to embrace who she is.

Maybe one day, she’s rock a short cut because she enjoys it.  And that is just fine by me.

Christine is a wife, mother of two, and a business woman.