Be Lovely, Bright Places

Look Out, Barbie. Here Come the Queens of Africa Dolls

The Barbie is, traditionally, very exclusive. The doll represents a very specific race and culture. In America, it is possible to find other races, like African American or Hispanic dolls, but their availability in other countries is very limited. The generic white-skinned Barbie with the blond ponytail is the one that most little girls seem to have on their shelves.

There is nothing terribly wrong with Barbie. In one sense, it is just a doll for a child to play with. However, each Barbie projects an image, and when a child plays with the blond Barbie, they often want to fit that image as well. This can be quite damaging to a young child’s self-esteem. The dolls can make children want to look different than how they are, and they can sometimes wish they had a different background and culture.

queensofafricadolls
Photo via Queens of Africa Dolls’ Facebook page

Several years ago, Taofick Okoya was looking for a doll for his niece in Nigeria. He grew frustrated when he found that he could find no African dolls. They were all white.

Instead of letting the dolls in a predominantly black setting continue to be predominantly white, Okoya decided to do something. In this way, Queens of Africa Dolls was founded.

Queens of Africa Dolls represent the ethnic groups of Nigeria and plans to branch out to represent other African ethnic groups as well. Like Barbie, the dolls are very pretty and well-dressed. However, these dolls can help raise the self-esteem of the girls who play with them. Girls can see themselves in the doll and thus be proud of their heritage and their appearance. Through the dolls, young girls are able to see beauty in their culture. It was important for Okoya to demonstrate that “black is beautiful,” and through Queens of Africa Dolls, he was able to do so.

queens of africa
Photo via Queens of Africa Dolls’ Facebook page

Queens of Africa Dolls offer a wide range of clothing for the dolls. Both modern and traditional attire are available. Interestingly enough, traditional clothing is more popular than the modern. This demonstrates how the dolls generate excitement in children about the traditions of their culture.

The company also writes books. The books use the dolls to tell stories of African queens. There is also a series about building characteristics like confidence that will help young girls to be more secure.  By educating these girls about the culture they come from, the girls then value it more and want to preserve it instead of escape from it.

Queens of Africa Dolls have been immensely successful. They have even outsold Barbie. The dolls economically benefit the community as well since the company centers around local employment.

Our perceptions of beauty are formed at a young age, largely based off of our surroundings and what we are told is beautiful. It is so important that children at this impressionable age are able to see that beauty is not restrictive to a particular skin color. The Queens of Africa Dolls have been able to establish how lovely different African cultures can be. One wonders how the idea of beauty would change if something as simple as a doll demonstrated greater diversity.