A box arrived from a company called Brown Eyed Dolls. Inside were two Barbie-sized dolls with natural hairstyles. Over the next few weeks, the NaturallyCurly editors had fun putting their hair in pineapples, styling their hair to look like them for the day, giving them Deva Cuts and even doing the LOC method on their curls.
It’s been a frustration of mine for years that there aren’t any dolls with curly or coily hair. It leaves young curly and coily girls with the impression that they’re not good enough. When Mattel launched a line of black Barbie dolls in 2009, they all had straight hair, something that created controversy with the brand among the natural hair community.
"I'm emphatic about a black child having a doll that reflects who she is, " said Debbie Behan Garrett, author of "Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collection and Experiencing the Passion." "When a young child is playing with a doll, she is mimicking being a mother, and in her young, impressionable years, if black children are force-fed that white is better, or if that's all that they are exposed to, then they might start to think, 'What is wrong with me?'"
A few entrepreneurs have emerged to fill the void – people like Karen Byrd who launched Natural Girls United two years ago, whose dolls come with Kinky Afros, Curly Afros, Afro Puffs, Braids, Locs, and Twists and the dolls made by blogger Beads Braids and Beyond.
Now there’s Brown Eyed Dolls, created by Margaret Fitzpatrick. When she called to see if she could come to visit the team in Austin, I was excited to meet her. I’ll admit I was surprised when this woman with straight blonde hair and blue eyes arrived at our offices.
What inspired her to create a company called Brown Eyed Dolls? Growing up on Chicago's South Side, Fitzpatrick says most of her friends were black. “Friday nights found me at my friend Phyllis's house, sitting on her living room floor while her mother ‘did’ her hair,” Fitzpatrick recalls. “It was a great ritual that stayed in my memory.”
It always seemed strange to her that she had dolls that looked like her - well, actually, no one really looks like Barbie! - but Phyllis and her friends didn’t have access to dolls that reflected their beautiful skin tones and hair textures.
Fast forward a few decades. She got a call from her son around the holidays. He worked for a company fulfilling Christmas wishes for children in the community, and he was the appointed shopper. He was shocked as he stood in the doll section of huge toy store that there were no Barbie-type dolls with natural hair. After so many years, Fitzpatrick thought that there had to be some dolls available with curls and coils. “But after we did some research we saw that while there are fashion dolls with beautiful natural hair, they are primarily for the adult collector (or parents who are willing to pay $100 for a doll for a 5 year old!),” she says.
That’s how Brown Eyed Dolls began
She found a supplier in China that was already making cute Barbie-sized dolls of color that had somewhat curly hair. But the hair just wasn’t right. It was straight at the roots, mushrooming out into a mass of curls - not exactly a realistic look. She took the plunge and put in an order for her first batch of dolls. But creating natural looking hair for dolls turned out to be a major challenge.
“The first batch of dolls I received ended up with terrible hair,” she says. “There were many tears of frustration and wondering what I had gotten myself in to!”
There was no budget to scrap the dolls and start over, so she got 400 new doll heads. But when the replacements arrived, they had the mushroom hair!
“It took a lot of negotiation with the supplier to get the hair right,” Fitzpatrick says. “They just didn't understand what was the big deal. I told them, the hair is the whole point of these dolls. Getting dolls that have beautiful hair that they can relate to was the whole point of the project!”
A few weeks later, she finally received the replacement heads with the correct hair. With her daughter, they cut off the heads of 400 dolls and reattached the new heads and trimmed the hair. The dolls would be ready! She launched her web site and began selling them.
After seeing articles that American Girl was cutting back on some of the dolls of color – there is one “Truly Me” dark-skinned American Girl doll - she decided to create a line of 18-inch curly and coily dolls similar to American Girl dolls called Curly Girls United! She has spent time creating prototypes, again working hard to get the hair textures just right. She is getting ready to launch a funding campaign through Indiegogo.com to bring these dolls to market.
“I want to created to create a line of dolls that reflects the experiences of so many little girls in every ethnic group,” Fitzpatrick says.
I think it's a wonderful trend that children are growing up with dolls who look like them rather than having to settle for dolls that reinforce one standard of beauty.