By Sheryl Estrada
Photo by Shutterstock
From the appreciation of natural hair to examples of future professions, diverse dolls, and an animated TV program are two examples of providing young Black girls with positive representations of themselves at an early age.
Angelica Sweeting of Miami, Fla. wants her two daughters to appreciate their natural hair, which is a necessity as Black haircontinues to remain in the national spotlight. In Texas, a measure to deregulate the hair braiding industry in the state passed the House in April, and passed this month in the Senate. In March, the TSA agreed to conduct trainings for agents throughout the country, with special emphasis on hair pat-downs of Black female travelers in response to discriminatory hair searching complaints. Last year, the U.S. Army proposed a controversial grooming regulation, which gave specifics on hairstyles including braids, twists, cornrows and dreadlocks.
Sweeting decided she needed to create a natural hair doll to encourage self-acceptance and diversity.
At the age of three her daughter, Sophia, began struggling with appreciating her natural hair.
“The Angelica Doll was actually more of a necessity,” said Sweeting’s husband Jason in a YouTubevideo describing his wife’s line of dolls called Naturally Perfect Dolls. “We were driving along one day, and from the backseat we hear that Sophia is no longer happy with how she looks.”
Sophia wanted to look like straight-haired white dolls she had seen and played with.
“She wanted yellow hair and white skin,” said Sweeting.
Sweeting said she searched “high and low” for a doll that would look like her daughter and have hair like her, then decided to create her own.
Angelica Doll. Photo via YouTube
“As I began to develop the Angelica doll, I realized that I have been influenced by society’s standard of beauty for as long as I can remember,” Sweeting said. “Here I am at 27 seriously just starting to walk in my natural beauty, in who I am. But I want this to happen earlier for young girls. For all the young girls with kinks and curls, with wider noses and fuller lips.”
The Angelica Doll is the first in a line of Naturally Perfect Dolls. The doll has natural hair so it can be styled and washed. Sweeting said she tested the hair for eight months, including blow drying, using curl wands and creating Bantu knots.
“We wanted to ensure it would withstand a young girl’s curiosity,” she said.
Sweeting created a Kickstarter campaign to generate funds to create more dolls.She plans for Naturally Perfect Dolls to include a full spectrum of flesh tones and range in hair texture. She plans for future dolls to also represent various careers, such as journalism, public relations, software development and engineering.
An example of inspiration for young Black girls through animation is Doc McStuffins, an animated TV series for ages 2-7 that gives girls exposure to careers in medicine. The main character of the series, Doc, is a Black girl who plays doctor to her stuffed animals and broken toys out of her backyard. Young actress Kiara Muhammadis the voice of the lead character. The show, created by Chris Nee, began airing on Disney Junior stations in March 2012 and has just been renewed for a fourth season. In 2013, it generated approximately $500 million worth of revenue from toys, dolls and other merchandisea record for a toy line based on a Black character.
Interestingly, the subject matter of Doc McStuffins has also inspired adults.
A group of female African-American physicians were inspired to begin a “movement” they coined “We Are Doc McStuffins.” Seeing a reflection of themselves in Doc, the group grew to form the Artemis Medical Society, which now boasts a membership of over 4,700 women physicians of color from around the world.
Doc McStuffins is a winner of a 2015 Peabody Award in the Children/Youth category, and an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Program.