A piece of fabric, seven hours of sewing, and a completely customized designed from the beginning to the end can lead to a child feeling like they are seen, acknowledged, accepted, and wholeheartedly loved.
Amy Jandrisevits from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has dedicated her life to creating dolls that look exactly like the child that is going to play with them through her series called ‘A Doll Like Me’.
When parents tell their children that their differences, their scars, their distinct facial shape, their limb difference, their medical equipment, and the spots on their faces make them perfect as they are but give them a perfect-looking barbie doll to play with, the point is not driven home.
“It is a really hard sell to tell a kid, ‘You are perfect the way you are,’ and to build self-esteem that way but never offer them anything that looks like them,” Amy told Today. “We are going to change the story.”
And so, the former pediatric oncology social worker has been playing her part in shifting the narrative in a heartwarming way. “I make dolls for kids who will never see themselves on the store shelves. I like to think of doll-making more like a ministry or a mission than a business. Dolls are therapeutic, validating, and comforting… I am a doll-maker who feels that every kid, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, medical issue, or body type, should look into the sweet face of a doll and see their own,” she wrote on her GoFundMe page.
Her venture started around five years ago, when she made her doll for a friend’s kid, who is transgender. The child was in transition at the time and the parent later posted a picture of the doll on social media. That’s when another woman got in touch with Amy, asking if she could make a doll with a limb difference. Soon, Amy realized the need for these dolls and said, “There is a real gap in the market.”
The process is important for Amy and she truly invests a great deal of effort into each of them, spending a lot of time looking at their pictures. Eventually, she feels connected to the child almost like she knows them personally. Amy said, “These dolls are loaded with so many emotions. It is quite amazing to be allowed into people’s lives.”
According to the Today report which came out in 2019, Amy had made 300 dolls and watched the effect they can have on children and their families. She once made a doll for Sophia Weaver who has Rett syndrome, Type 1 diabetes, and severe facial differences. Amy managed to make the doll including Sophia’s colostomy bag and feeding tube. Sophia usually finds it challenging to hold things but when she saw the doll, she loved it so much that she was able to hold it.
Sophia’s mother, Natalie said, “When Sophia is no longer here I will be able to hold something that looks like her. It means the world to me.”
Amy never foresaw the dolls gaining the popularity it has today and it shows her how it’s adding something special to the children’s lives. “On a bigger scale it tells you how desperate we are for representation,” she said. “I’m changing the narrative one person at a time.”
For one doll, parents pay around $100 which includes the shipping. “When they can’t afford it, I find a way to cover it myself. It’s that important…if we truly want to talk about the overall health of a child, we need to promote a healthy and positive self-identity,” she wrote on GoFundMe, a page which she set up with the hope of receiving funds to ensure more children receive these dolls.
“I think that a doll is a tangible way to show kindness, ” she added.