All dolled up: Montreal woman's hand-altered realistic Black dolls are selling out
MONTREAL -- Growing up, a lot of Black and brown kids have a hard time finding toys that look like them—especially when it gets down to the details that really count.
Doll-makers, for example, might change a doll's skin colour, but they’re usually still starting with the same old mold: straight hair, Caucasian features, the same western clothing.
“I look at my daughter and personally, I don’t know any little Black girl who comes into this world with straight hair,” said one local mother, Orphanie Bégon-Leroy.
“It’s impossible. We all grow up with afro-textured hair.”
It was seeing the choices available for her daughter that convinced Bégon-Leroy to take matters into her own hands. But in the process, the South Shore woman ended up creating new options for a lot of other kids, too.
“The big toy-makers out there, they don’t think there’s a market for it,” said Bégon-Leroy of the dolls that she began to hand-alter.
“So they don’t produce as much as for the other, Caucasian, market.”
She began to take dolls that were made with darker skin and gave them a makeover, piece by piece, calling her new company Les poupées d’or or “Dolls of Gold.”
She replaces their clothes, their hair and darkens their eyes. The finished products sport clothing and jewelry from across Africa.
Seeing yourself accurately reflected during childhood is crucial to a person’s self-esteem, she said.
“It really affects the child on a deep psychological level,” she said.
“It’s important as Black parents we’re able to give toys that represent them, because representation matters.”
One customer, Laurence Sabiti, said the dolls really do call to mind the look and culture she knows.
“I wanted to teach my daughters to learn a little bit more about the African culture,” she said.
“It’s a doll, but it’s [made] with African attire and African earrings, which is very symbolic.”
But Bégon-Leroy says she was surprised by one turn her business took: white families began to buy the dolls, too. She was thrilled to see that.
“It’s really important non-Black parents take the responsibility to teach their children tolerance,” she said.
“That can be done through these dolls, that are actually tools to educate.”
Her next ambition for the company is to design her own doll molds with more African features, such as different noses and mouths.
And she says the same need is shared across many ethnicities and cultures—by Chinese families, Mexican families, Indian families—so she wants to collaborate with people of various other cultures to make the dolls they want.
It’ll have to wait for now, however: she’s all out of stock at the moment, working hard just to get out the next batch of orders.
Watch the video to see Bégon-Leroy's alteration process and some of the final dolls.