Cross-posted at Love Isn’t Enough.
Brandy B. let us know about an interesting article by Isis the Scientist at Science Blogs on the apparent whitening of a children’s cartoon character for the Christmas toy market. PBS’s cartoon, “Super Why!”, includes a female character, Princess Presto, who has the power to spell. Here’s what she looks like:
Yet the plush doll version of Princess Presto (who is supposed to have one White and one African American parent) looks significantly different:
I found another Princess Presto doll online as well:
I did find one set where she looks more like the original:
Isis the Scientists says that in comments to an article on the topic at the Orlando Sentinel, someone claiming to represent the company says the plush doll looks more like the original in person than the pictures online and says the following:
…The hair on the doll is more purple than black and this was an aesthetic choice…The placement of the facial features was intentionally tweaked to make the embroidered beanies look cute, so there is a slight difference from the onscreen character. The alterations were similarly made across all characters in the line, not just Princess Presto. There are almost always slight differences when translating the onscreen characters to off-air product especially with regard to colors because we have to use PMS or CMYK color choices for products.
Isis says BS — that having seen an actual version of the plush toy, it looks like it does in the photo, with very light skin, and that aside from that, other manufacturers seem to be able to make African American dolls just fine. And saying you changed things for “aesthetic” purposes doesn’t explain why you thought her existing characteristics were insufficiently aesthetically pleasing. Of course, we also don’t know for sure the person writing the comment was from PBS.
I tend to side with Isis here: the idea that technical limitations prevent making a more accurate representation of a dark-skinned doll is…sketchy, to say the least, and makes me think PBS needs to partner with a better toy design firm. And the choices about what the Princess Presto doll should look like in doll form put PBS in the position of appearing to think that a mixed-race character needs to be whitened to sell. PBS’s dolls exist in a marketplace where we’ve seen controversies about African American dolls being literally valued less than White dolls, and whatever their supposed reasons, it’s hard to get around the fact that all of the choices made in the name of aesthetics added up to a doll that looks awfully White.