I occasionally saw toys that attempted to represent kids with differences on display at clinics. There were dolls with hearing aids, stuffed animals wearing braces, and others. I never saw any with a limb deficiency or a prosthesis like mine, and I was glad because I was mortified at the thought of my parents getting me a disability doll.
I’m not sure I gave it much thought at the time. I was an introspective kid, but when it came to the toys I liked, I mostly went by feeling. My feeling was pretty strong that I didn’t want anything “special.” I knew that I felt just like other kids. I felt totally normal, and so I felt I should have the same toys from the same stores as other kids. Not special ordered through a clinic.
I didn’t want to talk about my arm or answer questions about it. Like most kids, I wanted to talk about the things I loved, the things made me me. My physical difference felt like a distraction from the me I was inside. Why would I want a toy that emphasized it?
I still understand those feelings, but I’ve thought a lot more about it in the years since I stopped playing with dolls. I’ve considered issues of representation and identity as they relate to the media kids are consuming and the toys that kids are playing with on a much deeper level than I did when I was eight. I’ve thought about what it means to have one’s identity erased from public view, and I’ve felt the thrill–yes, I do mean to use that strong of a word–of seeing a usually invisible part of myself represented in the media. Not to mention, I’ve had enough people say “That’s weird” when I say that I was born without an arm to know how important being visible really is.
It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to blend in or erase parts of myself to be considered normal. I just had to move past the obstacle. I’ve said before: sometimes talking about things makes them less of an issue. That certainly has been the case for me.
It is because of my childhood feeling of wanting to avoid being special that I am excited about Toys Like Me. I felt normal, and I wanted normal toys. So let’s normalize me. Let’s normalize all sorts of different bodies and experiences for our kids. Makies, a company that makes customizable dolls, is taking suggestions. What do you want to see? Let them know.
Perhaps if I’d had a doll like me when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have spent so long trying to be invisible.