'We've been conditioned to believe that our hair is difficult. And our hair is not difficult. We're just being difficult on our hair.'
It's been said a million times and will be said a million more: representation matters. Over the past few years, we've seen an increasing number of toy manufacturers making strides in becoming more inclusive and producing a more diverse collection of dolls to reflect their diverse customer base. From gender-neutral dolls to ones that represent a more comprehensive range of ethnicities to custom dolls for kids with disabilities, the toy industry is slowly moving away from the same old generic, blue-eyed, white-skinned dolls that fit society's idea of "perfect." And it hasn't taken long for us to see the positive impact of this welcome shift on the development and self-esteem of children today.
One such instance was recently shared by the toy company Healthy Roots Dolls, which "creates dolls and storybooks that empower young girls and represent the beauty of our diversity." In a video that melted the hearts of many online, the brand shared the adorable moment a young Black girl fell in love with the company's 18-inch vinyl doll named Zoe whose hair is made of a specially designed fiber that can be washed, braided and styled like real hair. "This is what I want every black girl to feel when they see Healthy Roots Dolls," Yelitsa Jean-Charles, the brand's CEO captioned the clip.
The video struck a chord with many online, prompting several social media users to admit they wished they could've seen themselves represented in their toys while growing up. "Oh, this made me cry! I just wish you [were] there when I was a child. I have to buy for my children," commented one Instagram user. "Not just the little one, I could see the mom's 'little girl's' eyes too. Both of them fell in love. Your dolls are a healing experience for those of us adults that got wounded as kids," wrote another.
Speaking to Women's Health about what inspired her to create Zoe, Jean-Charles shared two pivotal moments during her childhood that changed how she felt about her hair. The first was singer Brandy's 1997 portrayal of Cinderella. "I would regularly watch Brandy as Cinderella and think she was so beautiful. Brandy had the braids. She was always on point," she shared. "But for most of my life I didn't feel that way [about my hair] and I often pushed back against the braided hairstyles that my mother would take so much time doing with my hair because I was like no, I wanna press it, I wanna straighten it, why can't it flow down my back, don't bump the ends!"
The second life-changing moment was when her 16-year-old cousin coaxed her hair out of freshly done braids into a big fro to match Scary Spice's hairstyle. Even as she learned to love her hair, Jean-Charles recalls feeling pressured to appeal to Eurocentric beauty standards. "We've been conditioned to believe that our hair is difficult," she said. "And our hair is not difficult. We're just being difficult on our hair." So when she founded Healthy Roots Dolls in 2015, Jean-Charles was determined to help young Black girls love their curls.
The company's first doll, Zoe, has hair that can be fully washed, detangled and styled so as to teach young children how to take care of their hair. Jean-Charles explained that the doll "simplifies that process for them so that they can understand and see how it works, so they don't look at their hair as a challenge but see the possibilities of what their hair can do... I tried to create a doll that I felt as widely as possible represented a group of children that don't often see themselves represented... I didn't want this to be another doll painted brown. It's giving them that energy. It's Zoe’s smile, her lips, the texture of her hair. A doll with curly hair like them that they can turn into a fro, that they can do braids on... that's what I really enjoy about it."