You will often read about African parents struggling to find appropriate dolls for their little girls (or boys) to play with, and even when there are darker skinned dolls available, they often lack features that resemble African children. This may not seem like a massive problem, but play is a very important stage in human development – when a young child is playing with a baby doll, she is mimicking being a mother, and if children are only exposed to white dolls, it may influence their perceptions of what it means to be a black African mother. The same applies to ‘fashion dolls’ – if all a little girl sees is beautiful white dolls, she may start to think, “What’s wrong with me?”. It was issues like these, and a lack of appropriate dolls in the market place, that led Nonhlanhla Mthethwa to develop Baby Thando, a doll that is modelled on Mthethwa’s niece’s facial features. In addition to resembling an African baby (as opposed to a white baby that’s been dipped in paint!), Baby Thando also has a voice box that enables her to talk in the vernacular – making her even more relatable to the average black South African girl.
Molemo Kgomo is another South African mother that realised there was a gap in the market for African dolls. Kgomo didn’t want another black version of a white doll, but rather wanted her dolls “to celebrate African features and to represent South Africa’s diverse cultural identities”. Ntomb’entle dolls celebrate African beauty with big eyes, dark skin, and short thick hair. The dolls are also dressed in the most wonderful traditional African outfits, a further celebration of African beauty!