On top of my dresser, in pride of place, is my dolls house. Painted onto the arch above the doorway is my family name, and purple flowers have been made to look like they are creeping up the side of the house. I was given this shruken-down world for Christmas 2014 to replace the beautiful but somewhat worse for wear house that my Nanny had passed down to me when I was about four. Over the years I had spent hours masterminding different scenarios for the family I’d created a home for; the same with my barbies – the box full of barbies and their clothes that we’d found in a charity store for only £2. Looking back, I realise how many of the situations I played out mirrored or exaggerated events and fears I was facing and discovering within my own life. Dolls were fundamental in how I learnt to process and understand the world; in a similar way, the stories I played out became the stories I wrote down which became my love of writing – essential to how I relate to, process and understand the world nowadays.
Currently I don’t play with my dolls house very often, but every now and then I’ll open up the doors and make sure everything is still nice and tidy. Sometimes I’ll pick up a figure and start to make it walk and talk. It’s never long, though, until I start to feel ridiculous, which in itself is ridiculous given that even if I was afraid of someone judging me for wanting to play with my dolls, it’s not like anyone is watching. The same nagging sense that I am being childish; that I’m too old for this; that I need to stop spending so much time inside my fantasy worlds comes sneaking up on me whenever I go up to the counter with my Star Wars action figures that I enjoy collecting. I enjoy collecting them because I like Star Wars, they are the perfect size to hold in your hand (there’s a really good documentary on Netflix about this called ‘The Toys That Made Us’), and they make fantastic geeky decorations for my bookshelf. Whenever that feeling comes knocking I can’t help but think when did I become too old for this? When did childishness and creativity become insults and why? Who decided that the best way to live was to be constantly immersed in reality and face all problems with logical, conscious thought? That’s not right.
Nevertheless, it’s one thing to decide something isn’t right and that you aren’t going to conform any more, but it’s quite another thing to actually follow that through. For me the solution came in the form of baby steps. Sometimes I believe it’s actually more beneficial to take giant leaps instead, but on this particular issue baby steps seemed the best option due mainly to the fact that – for me at least – this isn’t just about whether to indulge in my desire to collect action figures and maintain a dolls house, no, this is part of a wider issue of not caring what other people think and learning to be confident/comfortable with myself. So, baby step No.1: leave dolls house in full view when friends and family come to visit. This led to another unexpected step of holding conversations about said dolls house and my companions’ memories of their own experiences with dolls. On more than one occasion I have found that others are just like me, wanting to play with the house like they used to when they were younger. Sometimes this prompted us to opening the doors and having fun; there is no shame or embarrassment in this. Role-play can be beneficial to everyone plus it’s actually much more common that you’d think – take theatre for example. In an attempt to move away from role-play and other such childish indulgences, we continue to create the very same stories on a much larger for others to see live in a building for exactly that purpose. We all know how theatre can be cathartic, and I say so too is make believe.
Beyond my own experience as an imaginative child, dolls have played an important part in history over many centuries and in many different contexts. A doll buried in a child’s grave in the Itkol II burial ground in the Republic of Khakassia, in southern Siberia from 4,500 years ago may be one of the oldest dolls still surviving. It is made from Soapstone and suggests that the idea of a doll has been a part of many cultures, and that the comfort we get from such toys goes beyond the fact that we are taught to enjoy them as children. Puppets and dolls later became a central feature of the condemnation of ‘witches’, shown in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ for example. One of the most interesting uses of a doll was in Mamie and Kenneth Clark’s experiment in the 1940s, the conclusion of which later went on to be instrumental in overturning the ‘seperate-but-equal’ laws of segregation in the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. In the experiment African American children would be shown a white doll and a black doll (really a white doll painted brown since no appropriate dolls were manufactured at the time). The children were then asked questions such as which doll did they prefer, which one was good or bad, and which one looked like them. The overwhelming response was that the white doll was better, and upon being asked to identify which doll looked like them some children would start to cry. Through this experiment, Marie and Kenneth were able to reveal the devastating affects of segregation on an individual.
As you can see, dolls have played an important role in our history and I believe they can play an important role in our development. Never be ashamed of your interests, they are yours and they matter.
Keep Smiling. X