Saturday, March 18, 2017

Doll Shows

Today, I went to the local doll show for the second time. Both years, I feel like I've got awesome deals for less than $30, plus enjoyed a museum-like experience of the wide variety of dolls others collect.

Tacoma/Puyallup doll show isn't huge, but large enough to spend about two hours looking at everything. (There's another row to the left)

When I attended in 2015, there were many UNUSUAL dolls:

stylin' hair

Poor Pitiful Pearl

A ventriloquist doll

Reborn doll

I love this redhead doll's wistful expression

Little Miss No-Name doll

teeny musical instruments!

assemble your own doll?
I didn't have much cash for the first show, and was pretty thrilled to make it in with $20 ($8 admission fee) and still get three dolls. I'd been looking for Rosie online- this show had two! Plus Business Pocahantus and a Liv doll were in a grab bin.

In 2017, there were less zany dolls, but still many good classics.

Classic Barbie and friends

Hundreds of Simon & Halbig dolls

This china doll interests me. She's not exactly warm and cuddly or highly detailed. I wonder what a young child from her time period thought of her. Somehow, being both simple and dramatic gives her a presence.  

amazing facial expressions - Himstedt dolls
Dolls I wish I collected:

These large Himstedt dolls (at least 2 feet tall, $300 and up) have gorgeous expressive faces. A women is working on selling her mother's entire collection. 


 This little wood doll is so cute and sassy, from her flapper outfit to her side-glancing eyes.

And of course, I'd love to collect American Girl dolls! I'm shy wandering around these booths by myself, but I was lucky to have a nice conversation with the woman who customized this doll. (It was not for sale, but she caught me rubbernecking for a view of her dolls on her walker.) She gave the doll a short wig, freckles, and darker lipstick. She's planning on fixing an old Molly doll next, who is in need of re-stringing and new hair. (She's going to become a redhead!)

If only... $80 for an Madam Lavinia (articulated curvy body). Beautiful.

I though the most unique doll at this show was this big-headed girl with a Strawberry Shortcake-like face. (Or is she more like Betty Boop?)

There are always a lot of dresses for sale with Very Large Prints. Intense. If you'd like to make and sell your own dresses, can I recommend this tasteful guide from Nethilia? Avoiding the Generidress.

There was a variety of black dolls.  This small set was attractive, but I can't tell if designs like this try to idealize plantation days. (I often see a lot of mistrel style dolls in antique stores, so certainly it could be worse.)

Black baby doll
I didn't buy any dolls this year, but found a few deals on vintage clothes, plus a homemade set of patterns for Monster High ghouls from Kristine Anns. She also threw in her "Sewing for Tiny Dolls" booklet for free when I told her I haven't done it before! She was so nice- ended my day on a nice note.
My purchases
When I came home, I was hoping to fit the black vintage dress on a curvy doll. It barely fits- and you'd better go over the head rather than up the hips! I'm happy with my purchases.

Blondie feeling classy

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why Collect Dolls of Color

I am white women. I collect dolls of color. I try to do it for good reasons.

I grew up with Barbies. My sister and I only had one black doll- a 1990's Steven (black Ken). In our stories he was married to our one black-haired doll, a Kira. (She could be interpreted as Asian/Pacific Islander.)

No adult told us those two belonged together, or that Steven shouldn't date the white blonde dolls. (And we were certainly not taught that dolls of color were bad or ugly.) I was raised to be "colorblind," but when you never talk or think about racial issues, bad messages can be sent accidentally. These are often subconscious messages, or schema.

Accidental Race Lessons

  1. White is normal.
  2. White is beautiful.
  3. White is good.
I know these may sound over the top, especially if you are a white person raised like me. Give me a chance to break it down. I'll use myself as a prime example, but hopefully I can show this happens. (Perhaps you had a different life experience, and the adults in your world always went out of their way to show positive representations of people of color. Hooray! But here's why other white people have accidental prejudices.)

Dolls have been used since a famous 1940's experiment to show children's perceptions of color. Here's a video compilation of some contemporary tests:

In these videos, both white and black children identify black dolls as unattractive and bad, and white dolls as lovely and good. (A hard part to watch is a white mom realizing that her young child has absorbed these beliefs without her wanting that.)

1. "White is normal"

In my town, it was. In the stories I read, it was. I remember the first time a character in a book observed how unfair it was that she had to describe herself as black, otherwise the reader would assume she was white. (It was Cassie from the Animorphs.) I felt weird about that, but I didn't know how to solve a problem like that. At the time, it was good to start questioning my perceptions.

Like the smurfette principle, when I had 10 white dolls and just one doll of color, that one doll is othered. She has no personality, no defining characteristics other than skin tone. She might be considered special or exotic, but she doesn't get to be ordinary or fully human. (In many stories, the best friend is a person of color. This makes the hero look good and not racist. But the POC rarely gets to be a hero.)

Let's invert the lesson. With many dolls of color, it's normal. They can have different personalities, hobbies, jobs, families, and lives.

2. "White is beautiful"

This one is tricky. 

In the 90's, the average Christie (90s black Barbie) doll was the same mold as Barbie, same nose, lips, and perfectly straight long hair. Only the color is different, but the western beauty standards are the same.

I've never been told that black people are ugly. But I have grown up with people saying, "I'm just not attracted to black people." I was accidentally taught that wide noses and full lips aren't beautiful, and that only a certain set of curves on a women are pleasing. (Or worse, women of color's bodies are sexualized, with bigger curves implied promiscuity.) Only smooth hair or spiral curls are good, black hairstyles are "unprofessional" or "political."

Seeing the beautiful in all skin tones, all body types, all the different noses and hairstyles and lips, can start with art. Beautiful women of color in paintings, in movies, and in dolls, changes perceptions without ever saying a word.

3. "White is good"

Why did the children in the video think white dolls were good? Sure, white characters are the heroes in their cartoons, white people are their teachers, police, and city leaders... White is used in everyday language as metaphors for cleanliness and purity... and in our culture, the idea of beauty and goodness overlap (villains in cartoons are ugly). It's honestly hard to pinpoint one thing- there are hundreds of little messages whispering to you that define what you think is good.

Doll manufacturers seem to consider it risky to make dolls of color. "They don't sell as well," it's argued, and a company must focus on profits. They don't admit what power they have- they tell kids what to want. Nethilia does an excellent discussion about this on her blog, American Girl Outsider:
This pattern of white character after white character is racist by American Girl. And they don't have to do it on purpose for it to be racist. Racism is not burning crosses and back of the line and "I'm better than you because I'm white." Racism is a institution in this country that gives whites privileges and respect over any other race--nowadays, in very subtle ways that it's hard to open other people's eyes to and make them see. It's whiteness as normality and everyone else as the other. And you don't have to intend for it to be racist for it to be racist. -Nethilia

When doll manufacturers promote white dolls and fall back on old excuses for why they do it, we go along with it. But that isn't good enough. Representation matters. Sell dolls of color! Buy dolls of color! We believe people of color are good when we see them, hear stories, live into those stories. Let's teach new lessons.

Islander is Normal - Black is Beautiful - Latinx is Good 
Asian is Normal - Native is Beautiful- Middle Eastern is Good

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Painting doll furniture

Dear Mattel: 

Everything does not need to be pink and purple. 
Also, your sculpture/designers do amazing work. It deserves to be seen!

-Love, Ginger

Fear not, plastic can be repainted. I found a wonderful clawfoot bathtub for $1.50 at a thrift store. (My husband says it's called a slipper tub, as in Cinderella's slipper, describing the higher back.) How beautiful it would look in normal colors! 

You need:

Barbie furniture
steel wool
spray paint
super glue
protective plastic or newsprint
optional: beads to replace missing knobs
optional: clay or tape 
optional: paint thinner

I disassembled the tub just by pulling hard or banging against something hard. (The tube was harder to remove- I wedged a tiny screwdriver from a watch repair kit along the inside to break the hold)

I cleaned the tub and scrubbed it with steel wool. (I think it would have been wise to remove the little painting with paint thinner, but I didn't think of that then.)

Spray paint will give you an even finish, and sticks a bit better to plastic. There's a technique: start the spray off to the side of the object, sweep across, and end on the other side. If you spray directly on the object, the paint will pool and look uneven. Spray a few coats, let in dry 30 minutes, spray a few more... until coverage is satisfactory. (My husband did the spraying- he's also using a fancy paint meant for repairing real bathtubs.) 

This project also needed a second color: silver for the clawfeet and the spigot. It was amazing seeing the beautiful detail on the feet begin to show. Using clear purple with sparkles had hidden the excellent mould for the feet.

Spray paint is strong enough to blow over light pieces. We used some clay to hold the clawfeet in place. Later, the clay lifted the tub up for drying.

I let the tub dry overnight before re-assembling with super glue. The original knobs for the spigot were missing, so I glued on three clear jewel beads to replace them.

Now, Angel can have a relaxing bubble bath. Try out this easy project to improve furniture!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Peacekeepers Review + Male Bodies comparison

Finding a good articulated 12" doll is an ongoing challenge, and when it comes to male bodies, action figures can be a good solution. GI Joe is the most famous action figure, yet they are hard to find new or in the 1/6 scale size. Older GI Joes are collectable and can be unaffordable for casual collectors like me, who simply want a diverse doll world.

I have recently purchased several "World Peacekeepers" dolls. They are available at Big Lots for $13 or $20. I haven't seen them anywhere else yet, and their website doesn't seem to sell online.
I recently purchased a doll made to resemble a black or Latino man. There is also one Asian option I have been unable to find so far.

Power Team Elite: World Peacekeepers Action Figure 
Action Figures is just a silly name for "boy" dolls with "boy" themes: fighting, guns, police, rescue, etc. The wikipedia article on GI Joe says that they came up with the term Action Figures because "boys wouldn't want to play with dolls." I'm not as interested in protecting fragile masculinity, so I will be calling them dolls, and inviting anyone to play with any kind of toy they want.

My husband and I have a joke about this- he has always wanted to use his architecture education to make a super-detailed doll house for our future children. When asked, "What if you have boys?" his easy answer is: "Action figure house! He's action-making breakfast! He's action-washing the dishes!"

Peacekeepers resemble G.I. Joes in their form and intentions. Peacekeepers is a name I find bitterly ironic... So I'm going to call him Jacob for the rest of the review. Jacob has a medium light skin tone, and a small mustache and goatee. His face is calm and his hair short.

Jacob comes with an impressive array of accessories: wide brim camo hat, large and small automatic guns, belt, kneepads, boots, dog tags, medical supplies? and some sort of viewing scope? 

Jacob wears army pants and a black fleece top. I think this could be used for a variety of other outfits. Many "action figures" are unable to change their clothes. Personally, I feel that clothing change makes him more of a doll. (Also, more interesting and more realistic!)

Jacob's articulation is amazing: the box brags that he has over 30 points of articulation. I can only count 17, but it may be referring to the multiple directions each join can move. His elbows and knees are double-jointed, and his upper thighs and biceps have a twisting joint. 

He can be posed in a wide variety of natural forms.

And his talents include both types of splits: side to side or front to back.

I was a ballerina in a past life.

Jacob can also handle absurd poses and is too fun!

Jacob's gloves are not removable, a sad limitation to his flexibility. His hand are both curved to hold his accessories, and his left hand has the pointer finger raised.

Jacob is my favorite of my action figure dolls. Center: a Mattel doll with 15 joints, including an unusual joint in the fingers. Right: a Hasbro action figure with 14 joints. I am uncertain if this Hasbro is a GI Joe doll or not. (Both dolls were purchased at thrift stores.) The Mattel doll is a man of color, the Hasbro doll appears to be a white man with an unusual orange tan. Although excellent articulation is fun, I prefer these dolls clothed. Their exaggerated musculature feels inhuman to me. I do find it interesting that they have nipples, unlike the dolls below. 

Jacob compared to my "doll" collection- primarily designed for girls rather than designed to be "action figures." My King doll is missing wrist articulation, a favorite for personality. He has an unusual waist articulation. Center: Fashionista Ken (with a re-bodied head) is a favorite that I often seek out. Right side: Monster High and Ever After High dolls, with slim bodies and good articulation. They are also known for their expressive hand molds. I just noticed that the Ever After doll has broader shoulders than Ken, perhaps to balance his oversized head.

Lastly, Jacob with my poorly articulated dolls, 90's Steven and 90's Drew Carey. Their five-point articulation is not special, but Drew has a unique body shape, and Steven has darker skin than any of my other male dolls.

The new "Made-to-Move" Barbie body compares well with Jacob. They have almost the same type of articulation in each joint, although the joints don't move quite the same. I noticed a difference in the hips especially. (My new doll Dru is a Fashionista "Leather and Ruffles" head on an "Orange Shirt" made-to-move body.)

Dru and Jacob have a posing contest

Yoga time

Jacob's body is slightly easier to manipulate and balance. (His larger feet help a lot.) My least favorite part (other than the gloves) is the cheap plastic feel. I also don't enjoy the way it looks, with fake muscles, nipples, and the strange pelvis. 

Dru looks more human, and she's slightly better at creating a natural looking pose. I like the plastic used for her body better as well, both texture and for photographing. 

Dru is better at touching her face
Overall, I'm impressed with the Peacekeeper collection. I enjoyed their unique faces and ages- unlike Mattel's repetitive Ken face. Their facial hair, rugged jaws, noses, and hairlines add personality to my collection. I always enjoy a lot of accessories, although of course someone more interested in military supplies may be extra delighted by their details and usability. I hope to find more of their interesting props for police and firefighters. Hopefully they will add hospitals and other interesting careers to their list. And some female dolls with unique or rugged faces would make my dreams come true!