Thirty-eight-year-old Latashia Perry had a doll when she was 1, but she has a relationship with dolls now that she never had before. Perry recalls having a doll made of cloth with yellow and white hair.
“My sister and I would put t-shirts on our hair so we could pretend like we had long, straight hair that looked like our dolls, and that looked like the girls we saw on TV we thought were pretty,” Perry says.
Perry remembers having a Baby Alive, which was brown.
“But a lot of the dolls that were brown still had straight hair,” Perry says. “It was like it was OK to be brown – but it still wasn’t OK to not have straight hair.”
As a kid, Perry’s grandmother, Zenobia Carter, considered it of great importance that her grandkids had dolls that looked like them. Carter was vice president at what is now Chase Bank. Carter supported African American businesses and urged her grandchildren to watch shows that featured African Americans. Carter inspired Perry.
In 2015 Perry published her first book, Hair Like Mine. The idea for the book was developed when Perry’s oldest daughter was in ballet class in Grand Blanc.
“She was the only black girl in the class, which wasn’t any big deal for us at all,” Perry says. “She loved the class, at first, but then on the second or third day she wore her hair in two big ponytails. A little girl in the class told her her hair looked funny. She told us she didn’t want to go back to the class anymore.”
Perry started looking for books she could read with her daughter about hair and diversity. She did not like the titles of the books she was finding, which sometimes used the word “nappy.”
“People are trying to make that term more endearing now,” Perry says. “But I just didn’t like it. That’s where Hair Like Mine came from.”
In the book Perry talks about the differences in everybody. The little girl in the story is talking to her mom and notices there are differences even between herself and her mom. She also encounters twins and learns twins can be different, too.
Skin Like Mine was Perry’s second book.
“We have a 2-year-old and he is really, really light-skinned and our 8-year-old is lighter, too,” Perry says. “My husband’s dad is biracial.”
Perry’s 5-year-old starting asking why she was darker than her sibling, so Perry wrote a book about skin shades. Perry also created coloring books, puzzles, bags and shirts.
“My girls would ask why they don’t have puzzles that looked like them,” Perry says. “So I made some. They’d say they like a bag, but ask why the girls on the bag didn’t look like them.”
Imagination Like Mine was Perry’s third book. Perry also created the coloring and activity books Hair Like Mine and Dreams Like Mine, which is a coloring and affirmation book specifically for boys. A reading book called Dreams Like Mine will be published in the fall. Baby Like Mine is the newest book, featuring illustrations of Perry’s family, meant to show older siblings their families still love them when younger babies are born.
A friend of Perry’s later told her she saw Perry making a doll and asked if it was something Perry ever thought about. Perry told her making a doll was something she really wanted to accomplish. She started researching and found a company in the Philippines that made doll bodies. The company allowed its customers to choose their dolls’ faces and hair types.
“I loved the hair because it was easy to manipulate,” Perry says. “A lot of the Barbies have natural hair that’s rougher. I like my dolls because the hair is soft and the kids can play with it. I made the outfits myself.”
The dolls are available in a lighter or a darker shade. A limited-edition doll wore tennis shoes and a tutu. The regular doll wears a t-shirt that reads, “I love hair like mine,” plus jeans and heels.
Perry plans to participate in the “Sandy’s Land Doll Show,” an annual doll event that will be held in Detroit this fall, coined the largest of its kind in the Midwest. She has taken her books to the show in the past, and they were well-received. She’ll also host fun gatherings where guests can see the dolls and do other activities.
“When I started, my purpose was to empower brown kids to not get caught up in what they see in social media and TV, and to not believe we have to alter our appearance to be deemed pretty,” Perry says. “What I found doing readings was I had white and Asian moms tell me my books helped their daughters. I want to continue to empower all kids to be who they are and love who they are. I also want to get reluctant readers to read more because they see themselves in the books.”
Perry’s books are available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Totem Books, The Local Grocer, the Children’s Museum and the Flint Farmers’ Market. Hair Like Mine and Skin Like Mine have been translated into French and are sold at stores in Paris.
Editor’s Note: Learn more at 4kidslikemine.com