Changing the Face of Dolls

An inventor and mother solves her own problem by creating a much-needed toy—for her daughters, and for kids everywhere.

Photo by Angelica Sweeting

My parents were anti-Barbie. I don’t remember a discussion, but their stance was clear: The doll made girls feel bad about their appearance, and it was not welcome among the Colorforms and Lincoln Logs and board games of our home. We were a houseful of (mostly) girls—four sisters, one lone but adored brother—and though this was way back in the 1970s, my folks were on the right side of this argument. Of course, the ban just made me and my sisters maniacally crave Barbies, sending us wild-eyed to basements of classmates and cousins where we could get a fix. When a Malibu Barbie finally made her way into our lives—she was given to my sister Noël by a fellow second-grader as a birthday gift—we were beside ourselves with glee (even though, let’s face it, Malibu Barbie is not anyone’s first choice). I’m not sure what sort of damage was wrought by our complicated relationship with Barbie (and Ken and Skipper). But later, when our daughters were hit by varying degrees of American Girlitis, that early programming to rail against an industry hell-bent on presenting one ridiculous image of beauty was ignited. That brings me to Angelica Sweeting, an inventor and mother who—inspired by her daughters—is literally changing the face (and hair) of dolls. I read about Sweeting’s hugely successful Kickstarter a while back, and wanted to let everybody know about her product, the Angelica Doll, available now to arrive before the holidays. She makes me wish I still had a little one young enough to buy a doll for.

DC: I think we all invent the best stuff when we’re trying to solve our own problem. Tell us about the problem that inspired you to create the Angelica doll.
Angelica Sweeting: My daughter started to hate her beautiful kinky curly hair, skin tone, and facial features because she didn’t look like the dolls and characters that she constantly sees on TV and in the toy aisle.

How old was she when this happened?
Just three.

Oh no!
Honestly, seeing my daughter’s struggle with her beauty at that age was completely terrifying for me. I could not fully understand how a child so young could be so aware of her outer appearance and could disapprove of it. At first, my husband and I considered burning every doll she owned. But that wasn’t the answer and we didn’t want to shut her out from the world.

So you came up with this doll. And a mission.
Yes. The Angelica Doll was created to help open the eyes of young girls to the complete spectrum of beauty.

How’s the response been from kids?
Kids are initially in a bit of shock when they see the doll. Shocked because they have never seen a doll like this before and also in shock because the doll actually looks like them!

Were you into dolls as a kid?
I was the ultimate tomboy, actually. My two daughters are the epitome of girly, and this is a whole new world for me!

What were you up to before you created the Angelica Doll?
I was working with a nonprofit as a grants manager, but I’ve I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship, and my skills from the corporate world have really helped me here.

Do you have other products in the works?
Yes! We’re actually super-excited about what’s next for our company, Naturally Perfect Dolls. We’re in the process now of creating a Latina doll, an Asian doll, a biracial doll, and a doll of darker ebony hue. Diversity in the toy aisle is top priority of us, and we believe that every young girl should be able to see her own unique beauty reflected.

That’s awesome, important work. Do you see other products out there meant to help parents in their efforts to raise kids to feel good about themselves?
I’m starting to see some books that do, but it’s crucial that we see more in this space. Children are living in a world with an unattainable standard of beauty.

Grownups too!
Yes. As I began to develop the Angelica Doll and give serious thought to the things I wanted to do for young girls, I realized that I had been influenced by society’s standard of beauty for as long as I could remember. Here I am, 27 years old, and I am honestly just beginning to walk into who I am, my natural beauty. I want this to happen earlier, not only for my daughters but for your daughter, your niece, your sister, and for all young girls around the world.

Hear, hear! I’ll bet parents really appreciate what you’re doing.
The feedback from women and men of all races and ages has been great. We’ve received an overwhelming response, with one clear message: “Finally!"