Almost a year ago, I wrote a story for 3Dprint.com about The Makies a line of 3D printed, personalizable dolls. The dolls, which were first introduced in 2012, captured the imagination of kids and adults alike as they marched off the production platform in endless variety. They have also recently gotten attention because of their response to the Toy Like Me campaign.
The idea behind the Toy Like Me campaign which has gone viral on social media (just check out #toylikeme to see the impressive buzz it generates) was started by two deaf mothers as they sought to diversify the models of self that were provided via toys for their children. There is a validation of self that exists as a foundational part of The Makies dolls that made them the perfect place to start.
Children and adults alike recognize that what is considered beautiful and good is packaged and re-presented to us in movies, books, bands, and, yes, toys. Finding yourself outside of what is continually presented as the norm creates models of difference and value that we internalize as children and then practice in the world as adults. The very possibilities for individual customization means that Makies’ owners could engage their playtime self-representatives without being asked to strip away the identity and nature of disability. In other words, these dolls aren’t ‘special’–they are simply another individual.
It may seem trivial to some, but having a doll that wears hearing aids or has a birthmark reinforces the message of that child’s shared humanity. Play is where we learn empathy, where we learn how to receive information about the world around us and how to actively participate in its formation. Take away the ability of a disabled child to represent themselves in that and you not only harm that child, but you teach the other children that disability is something that must be excluded not only from being communicated but from being seen at all.
Makies will now offer accessories for their dolls to match those of, perhaps, the dolls’ owners, such as hearing aids and mobility assistance devices. The team at MakieLab is excited about what this opportunity represents.
“It’s fantastic that our supercharged design and manufacturing process means we can respond to a need that’s not met by traditional toy companies,” said Matthew Wiggins, CTO of MakieLab. “We’re hoping to make some kids – and their parents! – really happy with these inclusive accessories.”
If we think back to 1967 when ‘Colored Francie’ was introduced as a dark-skinned version of Barbie, we can see the complexity involved in introducing a doll that represents an outsider’s perspective and the social pressures that led to the creation of a wider array of ‘types’ of acceptable appearance. Dolls and society seem to follow a similar path of desegregation and it’s not likely that’s a coincidence. However, ‘Colored Francie’ was heavily criticized because it was merely the exact same Barbie but with dark skin; she had no recognizably African American features, indicating a lack of understanding on the part of her designers. In 2009, Mattel introduced the So in Style range which featured a more recognizably African American set of features.
The ability of customers to customize their dolls helps work against the difficulties presented in these efforts and harnesses individual expertise in a way that focus groups and mass production could never access. It also represents a recognition of difference as being greater than just the dichotomy between those who walk and those in wheelchairs.
The folks behind Toys Like Me aren’t content to rest on their current accomplishments, but have issued a call to others to follow The Makies’ lead:
“Makies…have answered the Toy Like Me campaign call and produced the worlds’ first doll with a facial birthmark!! And that’s not all,” they noted on Facebook, “they’ve also made the UK’s first deaf doll complete with hearing aids and signing hands and one with a mobility aid…but it’s not over yet! Toy Like Me won’t rest. If small companies like Makes can respond, what are the big girls and boys doing? Come on LEGO, Playmobil, Mattel Barbie, 770,000 UK children with disabilities (and millions more beyond) need positive toy box representation now!”
Let us know what you think about these inclusive toy designs in the Toys Like Me forum thread over at 3DPB.com.