This
essay will explore and examine how a certain childhood object has changed over
time, place and/or culture, giving a timeline of images to portray this and how
these changes are related to broader contexts – constructions of childhood and
many themes such as gender, race and disability. The childhood object that will
be examined and explored will be a doll, more specifically, a Barbie doll.

Dolls
are the most popular toys for children, with it being something used worldwide for
centuries and they typically resemble human beings and they were made for our entertainment,
but in some parts of the world, dolls have been used for the use of religious
rituals and also magic.

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When
going back in history, it is evident to see we have come a long way in the aesthetics
and materials of how dolls were made back then as they were made with materials
which were available. These consisted of clay, ivory, stone, wax, wood,  bone etc.

One of the oldest
dolls found, dates back to 2000BC, which was discovered in Ancient Egypt and it
was a wooden paddle doll. (Figure 1) Dolls were typically made from ivory,
rags, clay and until the 1800’s, wood was the main material which was used for
making dolls and stuffed dolls appeared in the 19th century too. Not
many people could afford to buy/play with dolls. When near to the industrial
period, dolls were then made out of porcelain which gave them a more realistic
appearance, which enabled them to look matte and glossy with attached bodies
which were made out of composite, cloth, wood or leather. Soon, plastic
materials became available in the 1900’s and this resulted in dolls made out of
this cheaper and long-lasting material. Now in the 21st century, we
have electronic dolls that we can speak to and they will speak back with commonly
used phrases, we can dress them up in fancy clothes, style their hair, which is
almost bringing dolls to life. 

 

Figure 1

 

 

 

 

 

Below
is a timeline of how dolls have changed over time from the 1st
century to the 21st century:

 

 

 

 

 

 

As
a child, I would love to play with all my Barbie dolls and baby dolls, dress
them up, look after them, create storylines etc. and this passion derived from
watching my mother and aunties who I grew up with, as I would watch them care
for their babies. I picked up on how they would hold the babies, feed them, pat
them to sleep etc. and I too, would imitate this with the baby dolls that I
had. The fact that I grew up with many influential role models, supports Albert
Bandura’s theory that children observe and imitate the behaviours of those who
they look up to – this is known as the Social Learning Theory. In Bandura’s
experiment, an adult shows aggressive behaviour and normal behaviour to a bobo
doll in front of children – one half of the children were exposed to the
aggressive behaviour and another half were exposed to the normal behaviour, and
what Bandura found was that the children had copied the type of behaviour that
was exposed to them. Similarly, as I saw how my influential role models would
behave towards their babies, I implemented this same behaviour and similar
characteristics on to my dolls. (McLeod, 2016)

Playing
with dolls is a great way to develop language and cognition. Naturally, when
playing with dolls you create some kind of role play and give voices to each
doll and Lev Vygotsky believes that this can help boost a child’s language
development. When going back in history, playing with dolls would have been
very helpful for those who couldn’t afford to go to school, especially young
girls who weren’t allowed to. When they are playing with the dolls, they are constantly
verbally interacting with themselves/others and Vygotsky believes that play is
plays an important role on the development of language.

In
addition to this, Piaget believes that through the use of play, it enables
children to discover the world. Children are very imaginative and Piaget
demonstrated that children think in noticeably different ways than adults. As
dolls are constantly changing over time, so does the way children playing with
them. When dolls were first made, all a child could do was use their
imagination, but now with technology developing, children can speak to their
dolls with a response given back, they can record videos and take pictures
through their dolls – Barbie dolls allow this.

 Barbie dolls are the most popular dolls
amongst young girls and she was created by Ruth Handler in 1959 – figure 2. Not
only was the gender based doll there for entertainment purposes, but it was to
give out a positive message to young girls that they can be anything they want
to be. However, the doll gave an unrealistic body representation to young girls
as the doll was small in waist, very slim, big lips, pale skin, long blonde
hair etc. but as many girls fell in love with the Barbie doll, this can
dangerously lead on to them believing this is what every girl should look like,
as the doll is aesthetically pleasing to everyone and this can be seen as a
great ethical issue as it may force and pressurise girls to look a certain way
in order to feel and be accepted. The doll gives out the wrong impression of
what beauty should look like.

In
addition to this, in 1975, another doll was introduced and this was Barbie’s
sister and she was developed to represent female’s changes from a girl to a
woman. (Figure 3) You were able to rotate her arm and this would result in her
torso lengthening and her breasts would grow too. Again, this is giving an
unrealistic body image for young children as they will believe that is exactly
what will happen once you mature.

The
Barbie doll faced many criticisms due to the lack of diversity within the
dolls, so in 1997, the toy company Mattel, Inc, introduced ‘Share a Smile
Becky’ and she was a doll in a wheelchair that had Cerebral Palsy. (Figure 4).
This allowed the millions of children who had a disability to feel much better
about themselves as they were in a society where many people were forced to
look a certain way, but this raised attention to the fact that there are people
who may appear to look different from you, and that is okay and completely
normal. To add on to the lack of diversity, in 2015/16, Barbie gets Asian and
mixed race features along with 14 different skin tones, hairstyles, heights and
body shapes. Again, this would encourage many children who were from different
ethnic groups and were not as petite or small, to feel comfortable in their own
skin.

Even
though the Barbie doll once influenced children to look a certain way, the new
ranges now empower and encourage children to feel their best. One doll that was
introduced was the ‘Entrepreneur Barbie’ (see figure 5) and this was to allow
young girls to break all gendered stereotypes that were attached to females,
and become successful.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

        (Figure 2)                        (Figure 3)                                  (Figure 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Figure 5)

 The social constructionism theory relates to
the Barbie doll as this certain theory of constructions of childhood, socially
constructs girls to behave and look a certain way – to be girly, play with
dolls, dress up etc. and that boys are aggressive, play with action figures and
this is because society has set these rules for people as things have been made
for certain people. Social constructionism recognises how certain ideas or beliefs
are always located within history; they are ‘constructed’ over time, and
because of this, history has shaped the ways in which we think about things
today.  “To describe childhood, or indeed
any phenomenon, as socially constructed is to suspend belief in or a willing
reception of it’s taken for granted meanings” (James et al, 1998, pg. 27). Sometimes
such constructions also shape assumptions about what is and what is not true
when we think about children and childhood, which cannot often be evidenced and
the ways of knowing what is assumed to be true/real can be known as
‘discourse’. Discourse shapes how we live without us really noticing. So, an
example of discourse could be ‘dolls are for little girls’ ‘make up is for girls’
or ‘toy cars are for boys’, and the fact that history has shaped the way we
believe this, the social constructionism perspective argues that we can’t
exactly say these statements are true and we should not take such statements
for granted.

However,
things are slowly starting to become socially acceptable as boys have started
to wear make-up, girls wearing what they like and similarly this is portrayed
in the Barbie doll herself as she has changed and developed herself as well as
breaking gender stereotypes – due to the development of Entrepreneur Barbie and
Ken Doll as this allowed and encouraged boys to play with these dolls too.

In conclusion, it is evident to see how much a simple
doll has changed over time in regards to its appearance and the purpose of the
doll, through the use of longer lasting and cheaper materials and technology.
Back in the olden days, a doll was made out of materials such as wood and clay,
where as now, our dolls look much more realistic and life like – such as a
Barbie doll. Through the use of play with a doll, this can be seen as very
beneficial to a child’s language and cognitive development as Piaget and
Vygotsky believe that when a child is constantly speaking during play, it will
develop both cognition and language and both can help a child to discover the
world more. When looking back at history, young girls weren’t given the
opportunity to get an education, so playing with dolls would have been a great
influence in developing their cognition and language in some way. In this day
and age, dolls – Barbie dolls to be specific, are seen to be more of a girly toy,
even though there is male Ken doll, and other figurines that are made specifically
for boys. This is due to social constructionism – history has shaped the ways in
which we think about things today. Even though the fact that a Barbie doll may not
be considered a girly toy to most people today as views are constantly changing,
there is still a view in many people’s minds that Barbie dolls have a strong connection
to little girls only. However, as mentioned above, these views are slowly going
away as children are now more freely to do what they want and play with what they
like, and what once wasn’t considered the norms, these ideas have gradually become
accepted in today’s society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference
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