Karen is a teacher and a writer. She teaches writing classes in small groups and has started teaching online.
South Asian Dolls for Children From India, Nepal, Pakistan, and the US!
To girls, dolls can be confidantes. They can also be a reflection of a girl's current and future self. These days, thankfully, dolls come in all the shades that people do. Depending on their faith and traditions, they may wear saris or abayas. You can even find tiny henna-etched hands.
Whatever a child's features or culture or religion are, there will be a doll that mirrors that. It is indeed possible to find dolls appropriate for little girls of South Asian descent: children from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal. It can be a bit difficult to outfit these dolls and bring their worlds to life, but there are artisans creating diverse fashions. I was intrigued to find doll clothes made in India and distributed (fair trade) by a company in the UK.
Let's explore the world with some charming little guides: dolls.
South Asian Gotz Dolls
The German doll company Gotz makes at least two dolls that appear to have South Asian features.
- Cosy Aquini Asia. The South Asian baby doll Gotz Cosy Aquini Asia is designed for ages three and up and so comes close to being a "first doll." She is readily available in the U.S.
- Hannah. There is also a beautiful "big girl" play doll, Hannah, who was introduced in 2012. She's a ball-jointed twenty-inch (well, almost twenty-inch) play doll that— sigh—is a little more expensive than American Girl. At almost twenty inches, Hannah is about midway between an American Girl and a Karito Kid in size. She's available on the UK site. She's a bit hard to come by in the states, though. I have seen her on eBay, but that's it.
A search of eBay may also yield a limited edition Gotz doll made for Pottery Barn. Prita has more than just the features. She also has the clothing for the part!
Hearts for Hearts Dolls From India and Afghanistan
Hearts for Hearts is a wonderful company. They partner with World Vision, making a small monetary donation each time you purchase a doll. This company has also created an online space where girls can go to learn how to affect change in their world.
- Nahji From India. Nahji is the Indian doll from the Hearts for Hearts line. It's interesting to read the reviews. One reviewer noted that she bought the doll for a friend of her daughter because she came from a similar background and that the two preschoolers had been pretending to host Indian wedding celebrations. Another said that her nine-year-old granddaughter had wanted it because she had a friend from India. Girls can also go online and find out about Nahji's life. Her diary tells about life on a tea plantation in Assam.
- Shola From Afganistan. In 2013, Hearts for Hearts added a second doll from southern Asia into the lineup. Here is Shola from Afghanistan wearing a style of headdress that will be familiar to many American girls. She is lighter in complexion than Nahji.
At 14 inches, the Hearts for Hearts dolls are much smaller than American Girls. There is now a line of basic doll clothes for the Hearts for Hearts dolls. If you are looking for additional street clothes to fit little Nahji, the Les Cheries dolls are about an inch shorter and appear to me to have a similar build. You might want to take a look and see if you think they'll fit.
Adora's Jasmine, an 18-Inch Asian Doll
Sometimes, companies don't tell you the doll's ethnicity, they merely describe the skin color and hair color and leave it to you to guess! Adora's Jasmine has generally been regarded as Asian. The shape of her eyes, her general appearance, speak to me not of East Asia but of South Asia. She is from the Adora Friends line. You can also find her as a Girl Scout, from Daisy to Junior.
American Girl's Sonali Doll in a Sari
American Girl doll Sonali is at least part Indian: her mother has Indian heritage. Sonali is an eighteen-inch play doll from the Girl of the Year series. These dolls can be hard to come by once the year passes, but you can sometimes find one at a reasonable price on eBay.
In this child-made video, Sonali models a sari. The video is set to "What a Wonderful World."
Semi-Custom Dolls That Have South Asian Features
If you are having trouble finding a doll with the features and color you're looking for, you might go with a semi-custom doll. I call it "semi-custom" because it hasn't really been molded to look just like your child, but the artisan has a lot of different face molds and components that can be combined to get a pretty good likeness. Apple Valley makes doll kits that can end up looking strikingly like real babies and children, including those who have less common features. They are made of play-safe vinyl but are larger than dolls that are marketed as first dolls.
You may want to buy from a dealer. That way, you can get more skin tones. My favorite is Brittany's Babies. The site does a good job of walking you through the process and seeing what options you have for a particular skin tone (and also what they will look like).
Barbies that Represent India
Indian Barbie dolls are not hard to come by. There have been at least two lines of Barbie dolls marketed in India. Here we see Expressions of India and Barbie in India.
So often when the big-name doll companies sell products in another nation, they sell generic white, blonde dolls that aren't representative of the population. For most of the time that Barbie has been in India, though, there has been some effort to make her look Indian.
There's quite a variety of Indian Barbie dolls, in features and costuming as well as in price. In addition to dolls that were originally designed for an Indian audience, there are dolls that were included in the Doll of the World and Princess of the World lines. This Barbie Princess of India doll, from the princesses collection, strikes me as more real than others who came before and after.
Curious about those Barbies? Here is a photo essay of the Expressions of India line and some notes about the product's history.
Fulla Barbie Is Muslim
Many people associate India with the Hindu religion, but there are people in India of quite a few faiths. I taught the children of an Indian Muslim family several years back. I remember the aunties arriving at the house in black abayas bearing gifts and the six-year-old's squeals of delight as she tore into a pink and purple package. I think about that when I see Fulla, clad here in purple. In some lines, she has floor-length clothing and an abaya. In others, her skirt is knee length.
Dolls' Clothes Representing Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and North and South India
What a find! These fair trade doll clothes are from India. They represent fashions from several different lands. Some are designed for sixteen-inch multicultural dolls, others for fashion dolls. South Asian fashions for sixteen-inch dolls include a Shalwar Kameez, Pavadai, Lungi, Sari, Kurta Pyjama, and a Rajasthani outfit. Some of the same outfits are available for Barbie and her pals. Barbie also has a Ghagra Choli!
The following is a blog post by a woman named Donna who has created her own Indian fashions for eighteen-inch play dolls like American Girl. There are quite a few fashions here, and they are simply stunning. You can find gagara-choli and kurta-salvar sets in rich fabrics and brocades.
Donna undertook the project to support Love and Grace Children's Home in India. She is now back from India. I don't know if she is currently making the clothing. You can contact her directly through the blog.
Let's Talk Dolls!
Indigo Janson from UK on August 11, 2012:
These dolls are wonderful and they have such gorgeous outfits too. It's hard to beat India and other Asian countries for beautiful, rich and colorful dress.
SquidooDolls on June 13, 2012:
I love the diversity of south asian dolls
dellgirl on May 18, 2012:
Really pretty choices you've got on your lens, I'm glad I stopped here.
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 17, 2012:
What a great idea for a product review article. East Indian, Nepal, and Pakistan dolls. How beautiful.
Camden1 on May 16, 2012:
I love that you can find ethnic-looking dolls now. My daughters are half-Chinese and I would have loved for them to have had dolls that more closely resembled the way they look!