After questioning why she grew up with hundreds of white, blonde-haired dolls, none of which looked like her, DT, Art and Philosophy pupil, Faye Lok, began to explore gender and racial stereotypes and the impact of toys on childhood development for her DT essay. As well as pouring over related research and concluding that toy manufacturers are slowly waking up to this problem, she smartly presented her work as a typical ‘Barbie princess’ toy, printing her essay on the pages of the small booklet to accompany the toy she made in DT.

Faye has been a pupil here at Framlingham College since Year 10. Now in Year 13, she is relishing the freedom that her chosen subject gives her to pursue interests and issues which she is passionate about personally. She said: “As a child, I realised I don’t look like any of the dolls, in terms of body type or race. Growing up, my dad’s friend had a doll factory so he would always give me dolls, so I have hundreds from my childhood. I have some who have brown hair but they are all white and unrealistically thin. Even in Hong Kong, where we are the majority, we are not represented in dolls or children’s toys.”

She added that as part of the extensive research for her article she found a large portion of the public did not consider representation in toys to be an important issue and when she conducted a survey, she received responses which suggested that children do not notice things like race or gender roles and just play mindlessly. However, Faye decided to explore the issue further and looked at various studies and articles on the topic. She said: “I included part of an article from The Times in my essay, which says that ‘characters which look more like themselves help children build confidence and the foundations for leadership skills and seeing diversity in toys helps to nurture compassion.’” Faye went on to review studies conducted across the world about skin tones and body shapes of dolls and how that can damage children’s confidence in themselves.

She said: “I wanted to show through my article that children might not be as clueless, playing with dolls and not thinking about how it relates to real life or representing people, as people sometimes think they are.”

While Faye went into great detail to point out historical failings of toy manufacturers for representing minorities, she does conclude in her essay that things are getting better. She said: “Companies are trying harder. There is a series called ‘Role Models’, which is a collaboration between Mattel and National Geographic, where they have women, modelled on women such as Frida Khalo, in careers which women are generally not well represented in, like physicists and engineers.

“Also, in one of the Barbie lines, which is called Fashionistas, there are nine body types, 90 hairstyles and 35 skin tones. This has been the case since 2016, so things are moving in the direction of better representation. I think it’s good that we are all more well represented, and I hope it continues.”

Faye is in her final year here at Framlingham College and is applying to study art, building on the skills she has developed over the course of her education. She concluded that while she is excited to begin a career, she will certainly miss it here. She said: “I am planning to go to an art university. I want to go to London I think. I actually prefer the city as it is in Hong Kong, but I also love to be around the greenery here for education.”

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