Monday, February 8, 2016

Represented In Toy Land

When it comes to childhood development, one of the most crucial elements beyond the basic necessities is playtime. Besides having funwhich certainly has its own importance, playing helps to spark the imagination, create self-worth and prompt higher cognitive reasoning. This often times underrated activity of our youth profoundly impacts who we grow into as adults and who we are as individuals. Understanding this fact, it is no surprise that the toys we play with can effect how we see the world. You can learn a lot about what a society values based on the playthings of it’s children.
Recently, there have been two toy-related news stories getting some buzz: Mattel’s new Barbie variations and Lego’s first disabled minifigure (click to read articles). These positive developments towards a more inclusive culture reminds us that change is not only necessary but actually possible. Some may dismiss these decisions as so called “political correctness”, however, it is important to realize that representation truly does matter especially for children. In our formative years as adolescents, we begin to develop unconscious bias surrounding things such as race, gender and disability. Allowing all different types of children to be represented works to counter prejudices and raise the self-esteem of children who are considered different.

For me, toys were an integral of my childhood, they helped me to create worlds and explore my imagination. One of my all time favorite toys growing up were Legos—little plastic bricks with endless possibilities. The announcement to include a figure that is a wheelchair user is very exciting to me, it acknowledges that disabled people are indeed an important part of this world. With toys being such a major part of my life, I believe that representation of this nature would have positively influenced my own journey of self acceptance. The idea to make children’s toys more inclusive of disability is a growing movement, supported by grassroots social media campaigns such as Toy Like Me

The Barbie doll redesigns are yet another example of positive representation, when it comes to how women and girls are portrayed. Currently, the United States faces a crisis of body image related disorders especially among it’s female youth, a vicious cycle reinforced by a culture of unrealistic beauty standards. The latest Barbie line will introduce 33 unique dolls with a variety of skin tones, hair colors and body types. Amid declining sales numbers, Mattel has decided to address the long standing criticisms of Barbie and take the iconic toy into a new era. Whether this shift represents social change or just a savvy business decision, it is an important step forward.

As times continue to progress, I hope to see more toy companies follow the examples of Lego and Mattel. Children are the future; how they play and in turn how they view the world will deeply affect the course of our society. Inclusion is more than just feeling seen, it is about creating an environment that values diversity instead of simply tolerating it. Representation is not an act of kindness, it is truly equality and justice. 

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