It's Not Just a Doll to Her - On Representation

My mom bought a doll on clearance when we went grocery shopping. My dad cleared it away from the mantel one day, and she immediately started searching for it. Frantic.


“Where is it? Where’s my doll?”


“Why, was it a gift for someone?”


My mom got embarrassed then. “No, it was for me.”


I didn’t ask why, just wanting to help out. We searched the house, and when I finally found it and handed it back to her, she sighed in relief, clutching it to her chest. “It’s just a doll.” I said, the words slipping out before I could reconsider.


She looked at me, still sheepish. “I never had a doll before. Couldn’t afford it.”


Ouch. The words hit me, and I actually got silent for a bit. “Oh.”


“…I know it’s stupid.” She continued, head down low.


I hugged her. “No, come on, don’t be silly. It’s not stupid. It means a lot…”


She flipped the box over, really looking at the doll again, smiling. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a doll that looks like me. Even when I was still in Indonesia, all the shop windows showed dolls that were blonde and pale. Maybe it’s changed now.”


Then she pointed to herself, running her hands through her hair. Hair that I always used to mess with and admire when I was younger. Her face, free from makeup.


My heart hurt then. My mother is more beautiful to me than any doll.


My mom continued beaming at the doll. “Her skin is mine. Her hair is mine. I’m missing the flower braided through it, though.”


I took out my cellphone and clutched the doll. “We’re taking photos of this. Now.”


I rooted through the house until I found a large plastic flower to braid through her hair. She smiled and we took pictures all along. She got more confident with every shot. When we finished, the doll went on the mantel.


She looks at it every day. I do too. It makes us all smile.  


Representation matters if you’ve never seen yourself before. It can change lives.