This is going to be short and to the point. There is a difference between dolls and action figures. The end.
Okay, not entirely the end, but almost.
When Julie and I first decided to create a line of action figures, I attended ToyFair as a first-time toymaker in 2014, with one single prototype in hand ,and talked to people about what we were doing. People were nice, but thought we were a little nuts. Many of the conversations during most of the early days of IAmElemental followed a familiar pattern:
Smart person: “I love your dolls.”
Me: “Action figures.”
Them: “What? Oh right. (knowing nod) So, about those dolls.”
I just attended ToyFair again, this time merely as a somewhat more informed and only slightly more knowledgeable industry observer and product-development cycle survivor. (It’s a real condition, believe me.)
The conversations were mostly the same.
Dolls are dolls. They have hair you can brush, and clothes you can change. The play implied with them will vary based on their design, but it is usually of the caretaking, nurturing variety, (like with babydolls) or of the fantasy-lifestyle play variety (think Barbie doll in her many, many personas). Action figures, on the other hand, are designed for action. They are articulated. They stand. They are fierce and the play implied is of the save-the-world, kick-ass variety.
No matter how you dress up a doll (sorry Barbie Power Princess) it’s still a doll. Dolls are great. They are an important toy in the creative toolbox of kids. More girls and boys should play with dolls. They are not action figures though.
We are unaccustomed to girls and boys playing with small female figures that are NOT dolls. It is habitual to call female figures dolls. I would like to see us try to open up the language of play, and allow room for more than one type of paradigm in our minds when talking about the tools of play. We can break the habit of assuming girls will only play in “doll mode” and wouldn’t be interested in playing in “action mode”. At the same time, we can break the habit of assuming that if we give a boy a well-designed female figure to add to his current world-saving narrative he is playing with a doll.
Different toys imply different play patterns. Think not only about the specific toys you choose to gift, buy and play with, but also the language you use to describe them.
And, if the armor fits, it’s an action figure.
*These views are mine, and mine alone and are not the reflection of IAmElemental or my Co-Founder. In January 2015, I stepped back from the day-to-day running of IAmElemental to go back to the beginning. Where ideas spark. I retain a deep satisfaction in seeing an idea that should be in the world become fully formed and take flight. Check out the amazing things that the small but mighty IAmElemental team are doing under the leadership of Co-Founder and current CEO Julie Kerwin. Truly changing the way girls Play With Power. Now, those are honest-to-god action figures.