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(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) -- Crystal Kaye's work designing dolls to represent women with skin-pigment loss is drawing grateful responses from women across the country who are thrilled to have a doll that looks like them.
“I get messages from women saying that they’re in tears. Women in their 40s and 50s, crying because they’re so grateful to have something that mirrors them,” said Kaye of Kansas City, Missouri.
It all began about nine months ago when Kaye took a porcelain doll that her daughter was about to throw away.
Kaye, who already had an online store she calls Kays Customz for selling her handmade jewelry, stripped the doll down to make it her next canvas.
She started by designing a doll representing black women with albinism. Then she moved on to painting women with vitiligo.
Albinism is a condition in which people are born with little to no melanin. Vitiligo characteristically causes milky-white patches across the skin from a loss of melanin. Vitiligo affects an estimated 65 to 95 million people worldwide, although because of underreporting the actual number may be even higher, according to the Vitiligo Research Foundation.
Photos of Kaye's first dolls got thousands of likes and shares on Facebook, but the response to images of her creations with vitiligo was overwhelming, she said.
She has now had orders for over 150 of the dolls.
“It started as a hobby and spun into this,” she said.
Kaye designed a doll with a skin patch on her face in the shape of the African continent, an example of her positive portrayal of the skin condition.
Some women with vitiligo have asked Kaye for custom dolls that look like them.
Finally, a face like her own
“I always wanted a doll that looked like me,” said Que Chunn, a 38-year-old mother and nurse from Nashville who was one the first to order a custom doll from Kaye.
Chunn said she was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 14. Because of what the condition did to her appearance, she said she was bullied and called names.
She learned of Kaye's work after family and friends saw the dolls on social media and tagged Chunn in the posts.
Kaye used a photo of Chunn to design a doll for her, then shipped it off.
The doll was sent to Chunn’s home in Nashville instead of the P.O. box she uses when traveling to different areas of the U.S. to serve as a nurse.
But Chunn couldn't wait.
She drove to Nashville and raced to her mailbox. “I couldn’t do anything but cry. It was beautiful. Every expectation and beyond,” Chunn said of the moment she unwrapped the doll to see a face like her own.
She keeps her doll in a glass case in her bedroom in Atlanta, where she is currently positioned as a travel nurse.
“It’s a good thing that she’s doing for this community,” Chunn says of Kaye's work for women with vitiligo, “We are never recognized.”
People with vitiligo now 'have a voice'
Tiffanie Wiley, 29, was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 7 and the condition was only on her fingertips.
After it spread to other parts of her body, she started to get bullied at school.
Wiley said began wearing makeup when she was only 10 “as a favor to others.” But after her high school graduation, she said she started to embrace self-love.
She has since become a motivational speaker aiming to reduce bullying and increase tolerance through what she calls her #IAmGreat movement.
Stumbling upon Kaye’s doll art on Facebook, Wiley reached out for a custom order of a doll sporting an “I am great” slogan.
Kaye had the order done in a day.
“It was the first time I saw something that looked like Tiffanie,” Wiley says, referring to herself. She said the intricate details of the doll amaze her, the spots around her nose, the markings on her ears. “The things that most people don’t notice,” she said.
She now takes the doll on her motivational speaking engagements around her home in the Louisville, Kentucky, area.
The doll "gives you confidence ... because you see it and it’s beautiful,” says Wiley. “I am proud to have vitiligo.”
Tiffanie Wiley echoed the same sentiment saying, “I hope people understand that Kaye has opened a window for people with vitiligo to have a voice.”
Now many different people are ordering the dolls
Kaye says that she is now getting many different kinds of requests, including for dolls for burn victims from around the world.
“I want to do everybody. I want to do a doll with psoriasis, with eczema, anything that people haven’t seen before on a doll,” says Kaye, “I really want people, no matter what they look like or are going through, to know they are great and beautiful."
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