(TODAY) – It starts with a piece of fabric. But after seven hours of sewing, it transforms into so much more: A doll that looks exactly like the child who inspired it.
“It is so important to show those kids images of themselves,” Amy Jandrisevits, 45, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told TODAY Parents. “Dolls have a power we don’t completely understand.”
While having a custom-made doll is amazing for any child, Jandrisevits’ dolls are more than that. They are dolls with differences. For many children, receiving A Doll Like Me is the first time they have ever seen a toy that looks like them with a limb difference, scar, a birth mark, facial deformities, a tracheotomy or a cannula.
“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,” she said. “We are going to change the story.”
About four years ago, Jandrisevits made her first Doll Like Me when a friend’s child, who is transgender, was transitioning at the time. When the friend posted the picture of the doll on social media, another woman asked Jandrisevits if she could make a doll with a limb difference. She had been struggling to find a doll that looked like her child.
“There is a real gap in the market,” Jandrisevits explained.
To make sure the dolls are accurate, Jandrisevits spends a great deal of time looking at the children’s pictures. During the process, she starts feeling like she knows them.
“These dolls are loaded with so many emotions,” she said. “It is quite amazing to be allowed into people’s lives.”
And, the families share stories about the dolls’ impact. She received a video of a little boy meeting his doll. The boy has one smaller hand and one developed hand. When he saw his toy, he noticed their similarities.
“The little guy said, ‘My doll has a baby hand and I have a baby hand. My doll has a big hand and I have a big hand,’” she said. “He can look into the face of his doll and see that it is OK.”
She recently made a doll for Sophia Weaver, 10, who has Rett syndrome, Type 1 diabetes and severe facial deformities, who’s entering hospice care. Jandrisevits included everything that makes the girl unique, including her smile, colostomy bag and feeding tube. Sophia liked the doll so much she managed to hold it, which can be challenging for her. But the doll also means so much to her mom, Natalie Weaver.
“When Sophia is no longer here I will be able to hold something that looks like her,” she told TODAY Parents. “It means the world to me.”
Jandrisevits has made about 300 dolls so far and her email is filled with requests for more. Because each doll is hand sewn, it takes time to make the dolls. Her mom in California helps by making the bodies, while she focuses on the special details.
Still, she feels stunned by A Doll Like Me’s popularity. But she knows the dolls are making a difference.
“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.”