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64-year-old with vitiligo crochets dolls with vitiligo patches for children like him

João Stanganelli Junior explained that his dolls are designed to help children feel "normal" and valued, no matter what kind of condition they might be living with.

64-year-old with vitiligo crochets dolls with vitiligo patches for children like him
Cover Image Source: Instagram/joaostanganelli

João Stanganelli Junior knows all too well what it's like to grow up in a world surrounded by a cookie-cutter image of what someone is supposed to look like. One where those like him rarely—if ever—feel represented and accepted by mainstream media and society. Although the patches of missing pigment on his skin have never bothered him much, he is well aware of the psychological impact vitiligo has on many who live with the skin condition; especially children. So when he saw an opportunity to bridge the gap in representation and help these children feel valued, he was more than happy to help.

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It all began when this Brazilian grandfather decided to take up a hobby after his semi-retirement from the gastronomy industry. Speaking to CTV News, Stanganelli revealed that he settled upon crocheting "as a challenge" upon his wife's suggestion and that it only took him five days of learning to make a doll with vitiligo patches for his granddaughter. Although the doll was simply meant to be something for his granddaughter to remember him by after his time, as pictures of his creation gained popularity online, requests for similar dolls came flowing in.

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"At first my fingers and back hurt a lot, today no more," Stanganelli told Bored Panda. "I’m not yet retired, I still keep up my old work with food, but much less intensely. At the moment I spend 90% of my time with the dolls. I have many orders." Customers have approached him with a range of unique requests for their children, from dolls with the same vitiligo patches as the child to dolls in wheelchairs and some with hearing aids. The crochet artist revealed that he's been "amazed by people asking for dolls" and felt "gratitude for the varied responses of adults and children."

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Stanganelli explained that his dolls are designed to help children feel "normal" and valued, no matter what kind of condition they might be living with. "My view of vitiligo seems to me to be very different from the general, I think it is necessary first that you have vitiligo, after this acceptance you choose what you want to do," he said. "I still quote Benjamin Disraeli: 'Life is too short to be small.' The spots I have are beautiful. What hurts me are the flaws in peoples’ characters."

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Stanganelli explained that although vitiligo hasn't caused him "any inconvenience" personally since he was diagnosed at 38 years of age, he's aware of the toll it takes on others. He said he's had many customers reach out to him to tell him how his dolls have been "helping with their self-esteem." As his work gained popularity across the world, he got the chance to make a doll for author Tati Santos de Oliveira, whose daughter Maria Luiza was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 3 years old. Oliveira revealed that she tried to find as much literature as she could on the subject after her daughter was diagnosed but was shocked to find anything of the sort.

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"When I learned of the diagnosis, I sought, in addition to treatment, publications for her to feel represented," said Oliveira. "I did not find in the market any work on the subject for children. Then it clicked!" Soon after, she penned A Menina Feita de Nuvens or The Girl Made of Clouds, a children's book about vitiligo. "The book tells the story of Maria Luiza and her special secret. She has spots made of clouds. It is a way to treat the acceptance of the disease with delicacy," the author explained. Stanganelli tells people about the book as much as he possibly can, saying that it is "a great information tool for parents and children about vitiligo, so I always make it known."

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