My love for dolls goes back as far as I can remember. As a toddler, my mother would carefully show me the vintage Barbies she’d been collecting since middle school. I remember being instantly entranced by all of the mod mini dresses, Go-Go boots, and jackets and wanting it all for myself. My obsession began — even though none of those dolls looked like me. My mother worked hard to provide me with toys and books that helped shape my identity as a black girl in America, but, frankly, there was very little diversity in my play things — many of which were hand-me-downs of her play things. That's not to say I didn't have black dolls growing up. There were a few — and I remember them all more distinctly than the others. First came Addy, the original black American Girl Doll. I connected with her story and her hair. I emulated my mum and grandmother, placing Addy on my lap and carefully brushing her strands from roots to tips. That was the first time I felt like a toy fully represented who I was. I had other black Barbies, but none of them embodied natural hair in a truthful way; they were simply carbon copies of their white counterparts, painted with a shade of chocolate. And those representations of beauty in my dolls — of sleek, straight, never tangled hair — came to define my own perceptions of beauty. I used chemical relaxers and wore straight weaves, because I didn't see my own coils as desirable. Only this year, with the rise of the natural hair movement, have I begun to love and accept my own hair.
those representations of beauty in my dolls — of sleek, straight, never tangled hair — came to define my own perception of beauty.
And that's exactly why Naturally Perfect dolls, the brain-child of Angelica and Jason Sweeting, are so important. The four dolls come in varying brown skin tones with hair textures that range from loose to tight curls. The dolls’ hair can be washed and styled like human hair, and the Naturally Perfect Instagram account offers hairstyle inspiration and tutorials for moms, dads, and daughters to practice styling.
The Sweetings said that the inspiration for the dolls stemmed from their daughter’s similar desire to look like her straight-haired, non-black dolls. “We are creating Naturally Perfect Dolls to let girls know that they are beautiful,” the Sweetings state on their website. “Our girls need to see a reflection of their own unique beauty."
According to Glamour, Naturally Perfect isn’t stopping there. The company revealed plans to release dolls wearing Hijabs in the near future, and more after that. That representation is crucial for both the development of young women, but also for society at large that still clings to outdated, Western beauty standards. (And sends young women home from school and job interviews because of their hair — hair that should be celebrated.) I only wish that I had a Naturally Perfect doll when I was growing up, but I rest in knowing that I'll have the opportunity to give one to my future daughter — just as my mum shared her dolls with me.