Here’s one for niche marketing: ‘disability dolls.’
A girl’s relationship with her doll is complex, but one of the mechanisms involved in such a relationship is mirroring. The doll represents a smaller self that the child nurtures, and this nurturing is then inwardly directed. Mothers often worry about the idealised image presented by dolls – and especially the likes of Barbie, which has unlivable proportions. The worry is that their daughters will develop a sense of inadequacy – that they can’t ever measure up to the image represented by the doll; upon which their hopes and sense of self are projected.
So imagine what it’s like buying a doll for a child with Down’s.
Many years ago in Germany, [Helga Parks, who makes the dolls] says, she watched the face of her late niece, Angela, who had Down’s, light up when she was given a doll with facial features like her own to play with. Angela, who died at the age of 9, pointed to her doll and said: “This is me.”
Parks is also looking into starting a line of bald dolls, for kids undergoing chemotherapy.
The article’s byline (“Are Down’s syndrome, blind and chemotherapy dolls a blessing or just a sick joke?”) seems to be a beat up. Apparently some people upon coming across DownsyndromeDolls.com were offended, perhaps misunderstanding the purpose for which the dolls were produced. Still, it’s curious, and telling, what gives offense. Was it the shock of seeing a doll not modeled on the normative form that caused such offense? Or the assumption that any representation of Down Syndrome must naturally intend ridicule? Either way, it would seem that we might benefit from an examination of such reactions – especially as they relate to instances of the idealisation of the human form that dolls (but also the O-lympics or plastic surgery) represent.