Almost every little girl has fond memories of playing with Barbie dolls up until the point she realized Barbie doesn’t quite look like her, or any other woman she knows. For some girls that realization simply meant it was time to put away childish things, for others that moment marked the beginning of internalized ideals about beauty that they’d struggle with throughout adolescence and possibly even into adulthood. It’s because of the possibility of the latter, that Viola Davis won’t even let her 5-year-old daughter Genesis play with dolls.
The actress revealed that fact in an interview with Essence when asked about black women’s never-ending quest for self-acceptance and what she’s teaching her daughter about self-love.
“I don’t give her Barbie dolls, to be honest,” Viola stated. “The only sort of ‘dolls’ that she could [have] are superhero dolls; she just got [one] in the mail. Mostly she plays with small animals. I don’t want her to begin to create images throughout her life featuring women that do not look like her at all that she puts too much value in. I’m trying to do as much as I can to train her up to love who she is as much as I can. Then I tell her there’s no real outward beauty because she’s six. Right now the one thing my husband and I do, she’s got recite this mantra. She says the two most important parts of her are her heart and her head. She says that every night. I want Genesis to know that her values are within.”
Though Barbie has made strides toward being more inclusive, expanding their line to include seven different skin tones in three different body types earlier this year, the dolls are still all about fashion, hair, and beauty. And while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, more girls would be better served if they had mothers like Viola who made a concerted effort to help them develop their inner values first, teaching them that how they dress and style their hair is just an outward expression of who they are within.
Thankfully, it’s not just her own daughter’s perception of beauty and excellence that Viola concerns herself with. She said she feels a responsibility to be a role model for all little girls of color.
“It’s important that they see someone who looks like them and someone who’s living their authentic life. Someone who’s owning their story. I see it a lot of times even on television shows where people are giving a spiritual lesson that they haven’t learned. We’re out-stronging each other. That’s what we do as black women. Everything is about being strong. Everything is about overcoming. Everything is about not letting anyone see you sweat, not owning up to your vulnerability or your weaknesses or your failures. I don’t think that you can live a life for two minutes and say that you’ve never failed or you’re not struggling through something or you’re not getting ready to. If you’re saying that, then you’re 100% lying and the people who are looking up to you who are struggling, you’re not helping them. You’re making them feel less alone and more ashamed than ever. Sharing my truths unapologetically helps connect us as women of color, as women, as people.”
Nowadays, thankfully, Barbie isn’t the be all, end all when it comes to doll options, which is particularly refreshing for girls of color, as designers have begun crafting dolls more in our likeness from hair texture to body type and skin tone. But, again, with that emphasis on physical appearance, it’s not hard to see why Viola would choose not to even introduce the potential for idealism on her daughter, even with a doll that might closely resemble her child.
What do you think about Viola’s aversion to Barbie dolls? What’s your stance when it comes to your own daughter?