Types of dolls and their aesthetics

On the strength of their appearance, dolls carry icons, signals and primary signs which can be:

  • interpreted collectively on the basis of general social consciousnessand dominant norms and codes of the culture concerned and
  • segmented and interpreted (decoded) individually in accordance with the individual user’s receptive capabilities.

In general terms, there are six basic types of doll - although there are a myriad of mixes and amalgamations to be found on the toy market.

  • people
  • animalpeople
  • animals
  • robots
  • aliens
  • monsters, mutations

The dolls and figures are generally produced as one of two profiles, i.e. either as:

  • a functional figureor as
  • a character

(and sometimes as a mixture of both).

These profiles are described in the following.

The first profile: The Functional Figure.

Named after a task or function (e.g. fireman, pilot), typically impersonal unless the child-at-play gives the toy a name or identifies himself in the figure. Usually the figure is neutral, unidentifiable and lacking in identity. It is characterised primarily by its functional characteristics. ANIMALS and/or TOOLS/IMPLEMENTS are associated with the functional figure - specifically the figure’s own tools, implements and props.

Children aged 3-5/6 years are especially interested in the figure’s functions and implements in connection with concrete, realistic role play. This age group is engaged in learning which functions relate to which specific roles.

Einsiedler et al (1985, 1986, 1989) indicate that 3-6 year olds are in fact only susceptible to social stimulation in connection with concrete toys and figures which have realistic functions and which replicate real functions distinctly.

The second profile: A Character.

A named doll (e.g. Batman, Barbie, Luke Skywalker, Lord Zedd) which has not only a personality but also an identity and charisma.

The doll’s appearance indicates the doll’s special characteristics with which the child is often familiar on the strength of the protagonist’s significance in a story, TV programme, film or comic strip. Of course, the character also has his/her own implements and props. However - in contrast to the functional figure which is synonymous with its own tool/implement - animals, implements and inventory supplement the personality structure of the character doll.

A note on the two doll profiles:

From the age of 5-6 years, children require a doll to have an identity - without which the doll is merely a functional figure with an anonymous functional role.

Girls in this age group focus their attention on dolls in a variety of feminine dream universes or on the young adult woman’s career opportunities and existence. These will be described in detail later in this chapter.

Where boys are concerned, they focus on figures and dolls which they can fit into very violent, physical games of win/lose, victory/defeat (in which the concept of masculinity can be explored and tested). Play with these dolls usually requires the participation of several persons-at-play and a great deal of space. This too will be described in detail later in this chapter.

Again, Einsiedler et al (1985, 1986, 1989) indicate that toys, dolls and figures with a more complex structure stimulate children from the age of six upwards to play abstract fantasy play and to experiment with alternative social structures.



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