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the Human Race(s), standards of beauty, & the BJD hobby

Apr 1, 2011

    1. This is kind of an offshoot of a discussion happening in a "news discussion" thread, but it pertains to the BJD hobby as a whole & not just the company being discussed in that thread, so I thought it would be relevant to bring it up here.

      I'm mostly looking at the ways that dolls with tan or dark brown resin colors/skin tones are represented & presented by BJD companies in promotional & sample photos. Most BJD keepers are very aware that the ability to change wigs & eye colors is a big point of interest for many people, so personal aesthetics aren't really within the scope of what I have in mind.

      Here's the situation: when BJD's are presented with tan or "ebony" (darker brown) resin colors/skin tones, they are almost always presented in promo shots with light-colored eyes that rarely occur naturally with these skin tones. I know that things like colored contacts, hair dye, & not-naturally-colored wigs exist for humans, so I'm not trying to assert that these unusually colored options should never be used, but I can't think of a single instance where a tan or ebony colored doll is presented with both dark hair and dark brown eyes, which would normally be what you'd see in real life with these skin tones.

      The more popular companies seem to have the ability to have well-lit dolly sets & use high resolution photography, not to mention the capabilities for "cleaning up" a photo that are offered w/programs like photoshop, so I don't think it's an issue of having a hard time photographing these.
       
    2. I'm not sure I understand the issue. You are upset that dolls are not racially correct?
      The way I see it they use different hair and different eyes to make it look more flashy. They sell a product and they know you as a buyer will fully customize it (or not if you choose of course).
      At least more of the dark skinned dolls I've seen actually have a facial build that fits the skintone.
      Also, dark hair and eyes: http://www.iplehouse.net/shop/step1.php?number=2171
       
    3. Hmm. Is this a race debate? There was a debate about that a while back if you click through the forum, I think.
      You do certainly have a point though. How many dark brown eyes are there on the market, as opposed to blue or green ones? Never mind there are far more brown-eyes humans. And I haven't often seen a wig with "African" styles of hair, such as an Afro, cornrows, braids, etc.
      The only thing I can think of in response is that, personally, I find lighter coloured eyes look more "alive" than darker ones, in dolls. I'm not really sure why that is- maybe they have more of a sparkle to them? Or perhaps the paler colours shift and change with the different angles, like human eyes? That could be why they choose lighter eyes.
      Also- and correct me if I'm wrong- but Asian standards of beauty tend to lean more towards the Caucasian "look". Paler skin, double eyelids, etc. Just look at how popular eyelid surgery is! Having lighter hair and eyes goes with that.
       
    4. I think that's doing the dolls depict them in order to encourage the collector, therefore, dolls, and in darker shades of resin can be different hair and eyes than the typical man. With the rest, think about, would you buy a doll that has beautiful green eyes and is "ebony" and the doll itself in typical brown eyes with black hair, as always ...
      It is true that companies sometimes make mistakes, personally it annoys me that they do African-American doll, which does not have African-American facial features. However, there are dolls that look very natural like: Ashanti from iple (of course as we get rid of the corporate makeup and do another).
       
    5. Personally, I don't think it's all that serious. Maybe they just think outside the box or maybe they just thought those eyes and that hair looked fantastic against her skintone. Regardless, though, this hobby is customizable to outrageous degrees. We can do what we want with our dolls and put whatever hair and eyes on them we want. Doll companies should be allowed to do that too. Plus they shouldn't have to take on the weight of such a large issue. Like, WHY does she have to have dark hair and dark eyes? True, as a race, we black people customarily have that unless we actively change it through contacts, dye, and weave. But, why does that mean a doll, a doll that can have ANY hair color and ANY eye color, HAVE to have dark hair and eyes? Why does she have to be what is deemed racially correct when no other doll has to be?
       
    6. Speaking as a Chinese person, and this is just my own preferences, but I am much more attracted to light colored eyes and hair than standard dark hair and dark eyes because I have dark hair and dark eyes myself (as do most Asian people). I prefer something different from the norm for me (the 'norm' being what I just described above how the majority of Asian people have dark hair and eyes), therefore I tend to give my dolls, which are based on my original characters, green or blue eyes. For me, it's not a matter of what's more realistic, but rather what seems more different and exotic to me. I wouldn't be surprised if there are other Asians who feel that light colored eyes and hair is more exotic than regular black hair and brown eyes too ~_~
       
    7. I'm the same way. I'm black and have dark brown/black hair and brown eyes. I would prefer to have purple/blue/green eyes and have red, purple, or blue hair. It's not for any racial thing or anything like that. I just like it and think it's pretty. I happen to think my hair and eyes are ridiculously boring. I wouldn't change my skin color for anything, though. XD
       
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    8. I buy a lot of dolls with very small, sleepy, squinty eyes, and more often than not the websites show them with bright eyes, usually blue or green or pale golden-brown. I discovered after attempting to change on of them out to dark gray eyes that this is very likely due to practicality, that even with high tech cameras it's just plain easier to photograph with lighter colored eyes. So it makes sense that the lighter eyes would have more contrast and show up brighter against darker resin. As someone else already mentioned, a high number of pale skinned people also have brown eyes as well and yet many pale dolls still have odd colored eyes. I honestly don't believe it's as deep and serious an issue as some would like to think and moreso a matter of what is practical and easier to display.
       
    9. Contrast. To actually underline the skin's beautiful colour. So that we want to buy the doll even more ;)
      Also, it doesn't seem to me that most companies go for realism in their promo pics. I have seen many "caucasian" - or simply light-skinned - dolls with eye colours that would never occur in a real caucasian (and probably not in any real human). Like neon pink or purple. Or bright red with a black pupil (albino pupils are usually red). Or lacking a pupil. Just as InkyBear has said, odd colours.
      I guess the "racial" features of the dolls are always very stylized, since their overall look is stylized (I am not talking about Minimees here). The dolls simply don't look like real people - even though they are a depiction of a human (-like creature), they rather resemble a fantasy painting than a photograph.
       
    10. That's very true. Look at Luts' pictures of El. In them, he has gray hair, pale skin, and black eyes. The effect, it has to be said, is rather discombobulating! And certainly doesn't show him in his best light.
       
    11. Many valuable points have been brought up in this argument, especially ranging around personal prefference for 'fantasy' colours of eyes. Or as to why dark dolls may be represented with having light eyes, with reasons ranging from, again, personal prefference, to contrast in advertising, to racism. Because in this thread it's under-represented, I will choose to advocate and explore the racism argument.

      But the catch is that this as an issue does not just extend to the doll hobby.

      'Whitewashing' is a term that was invented to coin the 'glamourization' of 'exotic' skin tones and persons (read: non-caucasian) to look either more caucasian, or to be visually represented by caucasians or those with caucasian features. Whitewashing is very common in most glamour industries; black performers such as Beyonce are photoshopped in advertisements and promotions to have lighter, 'more appealing' looking skin. Black models are given contact lenses to lighten their eyes to a more genetically uncommon colour. In the next adaptation of 'Cleopatra', Angelina Jolie is rumoured to be cast as the leading role, though historians have clearly denominated the egyptian queen as a woman with more African features and in all likelyhood, darker skin. Even in the recent film 'Avatar: the Last Airbender', based on a series in which the majority of the cast is asian, the only person actually cast as an asian (or of at least partial descent) was the villain. This in itself is a problematic message in the lack of positive representation of race in a natural, unaltered form.

      The doll hobby is likewise, another industry in which 'glamour', 'fashion' and 'attractivge imagery' has become prominent and trendy. Many will claim and validate that the reason they prefer dolls offered in lighter skin is because it is less common. Others will state that they enjoy putting blue eyes in dark skinned dolls for the reasons mentioned by Aralyne and malvagitabela, and that is a right for them to have justly done unto them.

      Is it more aesthetically pleasing to look at bright, vivid blue than dark, black brown? The majority of people will say yes. But what I would like to point out is that likely, another reason (other than the simple one stated above) even sub-consciously, for at least some people, especially advertisers, 'whitewashing' is done because 'whitewashing' sells better. That in itself could be a form of racism, or at least, the issue at hand becomes one of the appropriation of an individual's culture because it 'looks cool', an appropriation of someone's skin colour to glamourize a product, which lessens the integrity and value of the original idea, because it becomes a means in which to sell something. It can be demeaning to a person to consider an intimate part of themselves (that may hold history, meaning, etc) a dollar value, something to be commercialized.

      When the first truly dark skinned doll was released to the world, Iplehouse's Cocori, she had blue eyes (or light yellow, though I no longer remember), and was labelled in story to have a 'french father' as an excuse. With this as our first African-American female model to be released, we are taught through this, wether we are conscious of this or not, that blue is more valuable and glamourous to have, as an eye colour. That a black woman becomes something that others may want if her eyes are blue, or if her heritage is mixed. Many people opt for white skinned dolls over any other colour because it can seem the same way, but with skin tone instead of eye colour. It's become a part of our culture. We don't even necessarily realize it. Aesthetic prefference becomes sub-conscious.

      In a study of American girls who had been exposed to media influence, aged five and under (if I recall correctly), African-American girls were each given a set of dolls - one white, one black. They were then asked to choose between the dolls and to estimate which was the more pretty/valuable 'girl'. Most of the girls chose the white skinned dolls. Then they were asked which skin colour they each thought they had, and every one of them held up the darker skinned doll. The cognition between realizing 'the white doll is more pretty/valuable' and 'I have skin like the darker doll' was damaging to the girls' sense of self worth and beauty, and not just because it was pointed out. Lack of representation in media means that girls will emulate whatever it is they see of themselves in it - even if, as a working role model, a girl can only relate to a heavily photoshopped Beyonce with skin lightened five shades brighter. Think about the messages of value media, and therefore advertising, in the industry sends. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to see that, even in the doll hobby, how the repeated sales of dark skinned dolls with light eyes, could at least be interpreted as racist, if it is not sub-consciously so in itself.

      To solve an argument as to how to market dark-skinned dolls while still being respectful would be difficult. If a strategy of releasing dark skinned dolls with dark eyes and beautiful, thick, curly hair was employed, that doll in question (regardless of how it would do on the sales shelf) could easily be argued as a racist interpretation by an advocate. Simillarily, if we continue to release dark-skinned, blue eyed dolls, a company will be accused, eventually, of racism. When it comes to releasing dolls with dark skin and their presentation by a company, what is the correct strategy to employ? How do we appeal to all levels of consumerism, all levels of morale, without offending? I think this would be a more appropriate debate for this topic, though, as it's been discussed, racism as a topic has been debated at length, already, on this forum.

      -

      I apologize if I offend anyone in making this post, especially towards those who are not caucasian. I am white, and involved in several political/moral debate communities. I do not excuse any offense that I may have caused, but it was not intentional if it is there;t is my own personal moral to make sure that I attempt to neither 'whitesplain' things, or to advocate for others when it is not called for. If this topic is not seen as an issue by you, I cannot play the 'race' card. If it is, please instruct me on how I can support you in this argument, as it is your own, not mine, and I know considerably less of it than you do. With all my respect and consideration.
       
    12. Thank you, Splynterhayde, for getting where I'm coming from & saying many things that were/are on my mind.

      I'm personally aware that, as a person of color (of Mexican heritage), features like mine are often not represented in Western Media as those of a person who is interesting, attractive, valuable, heroic, etc. I see this changing slowly, but it has a way to go. As you mentioned, I pretty much see an extension of this aesthetic in the BJD hobby.

      As I touched on before, I believe that individual doll keepers are entitled to style their dolls as they see fit & for whatever reasons they like, but I think it behooves all of us to be aware of how our perceptions of beauty are formed & informed & to think of this when we consider what we find appealing.
       
    13. That would be my sentiment, exactly. Many of us live under what are historically racist influences, though they are so common, and subtle, that we often do not realize them for what they are. But racism is more than saying offensive words. It's the alteration of perception of an individual based on skin tone. In my political communities, this meaning is extended further by saying that racism can only be used by the race in power (ie. white people) because all of us, as white people, continually live off influence and perception that our skin tone is more valuable and therefore gives us more meaning and (or, epsecially) more opportunity than an individual who is not white. White people are at the top of the pecking order and will continue to be emmulated and catered towards, even sub-consciously, and regarding aesthetic, especially, though often, our intentions as individual people are much more innocent.

      But in order to understand what is a problem and why, we need to understand where it stems from. Thus, the lengthy exposition and psychology in my last post.

      As always, I apologize at length for 'whitesplanations' and for any comments deemend inapporpriate or offensive.
       
    14. I can get where this is coming from. I'm white but I have brown eyes (and brown hair). When I was little, Sailor Moon was one of my favorite shows, and yet despite it being set in Japan, the number of characters with brown eyes is abysmal. Even Rei who has dark eyes.. I think they are actually dark blue rather than brown. And anyway when I was young, I felt weird about it when I wanted to emulate a certain character because it was so obvious that brown eyes were being thrown out because they were uninteresting and not valuable, like it would lessen the character to have brown eyes...

      And that's something which lives on to this day, I still regard my eyecolor as being not as beautiful as other colors (even though my friend with blue eyes says that it's gorgeous). It is purely media, because realistically, there are probably more people with blue eyes around where I live than brown so it's not as though the region is mostly brown-eyed.

      And I do think this comes out in my dolls. Do my dolls have brown eyes? No. Do I have any plan for brown eyes..? No. And that actually makes me kind of sad since I'm just perpetuating the thing then... but I can't get over the fact that brown eyes are boring and that I want blue eyes in my dolls (but is that because I think blue eyes or more beautiful or just coincidence cause blue is my favorite color?).

      So to rarely see brown eyes in a white skinned doll even, let alone brown skinned, doesn't give me any particularly reason to think that brown eyes are beautiful, but rather underlines my feelings that they must not be.

      Though I do also think it's because brown eyes don't glow like light colored eyes.. so they just aren't as common in the doll world where that glow is relied on to bring life to the face.


      However, all that being said, I dont think the Asian companies mean anything by it... As far as I know, their history regarding Africans is not like Western history, so they might not even realize its such a touchy issue...
       
    15. I don't understand why Western ideals of beauty and "white-washing" are even a topic? These dolls are made in Asia. They're not made and marketed for Americans/Westerners, they're made and advertised for Asians, with Westerners just tagging along. The people in charge of setting up the doll promo shoots are also Asian, and contrary to popular belief they don't do a whole lot of white-washing in Asian countries because they have their own ideals of beauty (some of which are yes, influenced by caucasians these days, but many of them are very much their own).

      There is a huge contact lens industry in Japan (and likely Korea and China too). Asian girls and boys like to buy unnatural (and I mean like, pink and purple) contact lenses and wear them every day - not because they want to be white, but because they want to have a more "interesting" and catchy eye-colour. That's just considered pretty and exciting, and even to some extent unnatural, which makes it all the more obvious and desirable. Hell, even I went to some websites that sell contact lenses because while I have pretty bright green eyes as far as natural things go, I wanted something brighter to push it into the unnatural and eye-catching territory. It's not because they want to make them look more white or whatever, it's because they're really bored with centuries of brown eyes and want something different. Also, hair colour is a lot easier to change than eyes, so it's no surprise that abnormal eye-colour is so desirable. There really is no other subliminal message to it.

      I personally just go with what looks best with the sculpt and the character. So if the character is darker-skinned, they're going to have something darker. If I want to emphasize something unnatural about them, regardless of intended race, they're going to have wonky eyes because as said previously, eyes are assumed to be the one natural/unchanging thing about the person and any kind of "abnormality" (for lack of a better term) about them would translate itself onto the character.
       
    16. This seems like a really interesting discussion.

      I don't feel like I have that much to add, but something that I do want to mention is with these dolls, it's kind of an odd situation: we can talk about representations of race, 'accuracy' in that representation, the attitudes that seem to have shaped that representation, but in the end, because paler skin colours are the default in this industry, dolls that are noticeably darker become conspicuous for their resin colour--and thus, it seems to me, this colour becomes in some ways even more objectified and commodified than it might otherwise be.

      Personally, I am extremely glad that there are some alternative options to the usual "normal skin" and "white skin," because really, the notion of any one type of skin colour being normative and therefore more desirable can be (and in my experience is) very damaging-- but it's still hard to get around the fact that there's a basic dependency on the superficial in this hobby.

      Everything about a doll: eyes, wig, outfit, sculpt and resin colour is sold and bought based on appearance. However, for individual owners, I think these things often (though not always) become signifiers of much beloved characters, and there's been a lot of interesting dolls that riff on the performativity of race, gender, and other kinds of identity roles-- so, while on one hand, I think there's something always already a bit insidious about the commodification of superficial traits that act as signifiers, I also think there's plenty of room for complication and subversion within the hobby as whole.

      And for those of you out there who just pick whatever doll colouring you think looks good and interesting-- fair enough! But I also feel that those of us who wish occasionally to look at these dolls as representations of something more than a formal arrangement of colour, ought to be able to do so, at least now and then, and hopefully not too much at the risk of becoming horribly reductive.
       
    17. And I do the opposite. I have blond curls and green eyes and most of my dolls have brown eyes and straight black hair. Dolls are only a reflection of reality if that is what the collector wants, for me it's a fun fantasy to mix and match whatever I want. And what about people with blue skinned dolls with green hair and cat eyes, certainly no realism there.

      I agree it's not an issue a doll company should feel the need to take on.
       
    18. Many abjds are pretty ethnically neutral looking -- they can be almost anyone from anywhere and this gives great flexibility. There are also more realistic ethnically specific sculpts and they are always interesting to see, but the more specific you get, the more flexibility you lose. That's why I like stylized dolls -- my imagination fills in the rest. Others prefer realism -- to each his own. One is not inherently better than the other. However, the abjd hobby started out with very stylized sculpts, so naturally there will be many of these.

      As for eye and hair combinations, most people are going to go with what suits their doll's character or what they think looks good. Since dolls are not restricted by things like DNA, owners can really go wild -- and there is understandable appeal in that. There's a lot of fantasy in this hobby, and not everybody wants to be realistic. I have dolls with light colored eyes, dark colored eyes, and one with taxedermy reptile eyes. Who gets what color sometimes depends on the character and sometimes what I think looks good in that particular doll, but often has little to do with ethnicity or race. If a doll doesn't have a set character I try different eyes and wigs until I find what I think works for the doll. It has nothing to do with feeling that certain traits are somehow inferior nor is it making any kind of statement about race. However, my dolls that have unnatural hair colors do reflect my very strong desire to dye my hair funky colors which I can't do because of working, so sometimes there are specific reasons -- they just might not be what you think they are ;)

      Also as someone else pointed out already, these dolls are made in Asia. Their primary market is Asians -- we come in second place. Therefore trying to apply US issues surrounding race doesn't necessarily work. Another thing to keep in mind is that dark skin dolls are much harder to make. There is a higher failure rate, and they can be a bit more touchy about things like sunlight than a NS doll would be. NS polyurethane dolls tend to be the easiest to keep nice, and that can factor in to what people are buying as well.
       
    19. I understand what the OP is trying to say, but personally I'm just glad that there IS a company out there trying and succeeding at making such beautiful ethnic dolls. My dad loves my Benny and was thrilled at how beautiful Iple made her and thought it was very honorable for them to do so; the fact that she has golden brown eyes (which aren't nearly as gold irl) wasn't even an issue.

      The only problem I have with Iple's eye and hair choices for Lahela is that they made my eyes hurt and, in the teaser at least, seem to overwhelm her skin tone and features...she kind of dissappears a la Cheshire Cat. Blue eyes and a darker hair color (a darker red brown would've worked) or even the red hair and darker eyes (or even the gold of Benny's) would have made her glow more I think. As it is now my eyes are drawn to her eyes or her hair but not the doll entire. Basically, as long as the color choices all work together to present and beautiful finished picture I am fine with companies using unexpected colors on their ethnic dolls. This is why I'm fine with my Benny's golden brown eyes and Erzulie's green eyes and the black/dark brown wigs they have them in on the site. That and it actually reflects part of my family. I have some aunts with light blue-green "cat" eyes and none of us have frizzy tightly curled hair either. Our hair is either fine and straight/wavy or thick, fine and curled. No coarseness here, lol.
       
    20. It's interesting to note that the dolls are made in Asia, however, I'm very aware that the dolls I bought from Korea were made by an Asian company. Really, though, this only emphasizes how much Western ideals of what is attractive have influenced standards around the world--which is undoubtedly part of why there are companies like those that make colored contacts (so that people with dark eyes can change their eye color temporarily), and there are even trends in Asia for Asian people to have cosmetic surgeries on their eyelids & noses to make changes that are meant to make them look more "Western". To think that these things have nothing to do w/"whitewashing" or with Western ideals of beauty is naive at best.

      When it comes to resin color, I know that part of the issue is that resin is hard to work with & that any color added to resin is hard make consistent, even, etc. But have you considered that, if darker skin tones were generally considered more valuable (that is: attractive) in people, then it would be more important to dollmakers to make dolls (resin & otherwise) that represented these skin tones accurately? Even in Western doll manufacturers, dolls of color are a relatively new market. They're getting more popular, but "caucasian" dolls still tend to outsell others.

      I'm not hating on Iplehouse by any means (several people have mentioned them); they're actually my favorite BJD company (see signature list of dolls at home). I just notice that among BJD companies in general--not just IH--it's rare to see dark eyes on a promotional photo of a doll that would likely have dark eyes in real life.

      I'm also not talking about fantasy dolls like what Soom has made themselves famous for. Their style is so out-there whackadoo that there's no use worrying about hair & eye color. Chalco is one of my "dream dolls" or whatever, but I can't worry about the part where his eyes are glittery silver when he also has antlers & a spare set of legs that end in hooves.

      The bottom line, really, is that Western standards of beauty have influenced just about everything at this point--even Asian doll companies-- & there's a subtle message when they show a dark-skinned doll & give them light eyes & that message is that a person with this skin tone can only be attractive or interesting if they have light eyes. I beg to differ.