It's only befitting that Miss Black USA, the nation's premier pageant for women of color partner with the Queen of Ethnic Doll-Making, Karen Byrd. Miss Black USA is proud to announce this partnership to empower young girls of color to see themselves in dolls and Queens that look like them.
Miss Black USA CEO, Karen Arrington, an award-winning women's empowerment expert and global philanthropist applauds, Karen Byrd on the importance of instilling positive self-image in our young girls through her ethnic doll collection featuring ethnic inspired hair styles.
Karen Byrd is a mother, artist, natural hair enthusiast and business woman from California. In 2011, Karen created Natural Girls United, a one-woman business that gives makeovers to black Barbies by replacing their straight hair with natural styles, to have the look and feel of ethnic-inspired hair styles.
What started as a hobby has grown into a full-time business. Auburn dreads, charcoal twists, a honey-blonde 'fro — Karen makes them all!
Karen has always understood the need for our young girls and women to have positive images of themselves because it impacts self-esteem, confidence, and how we feel about ourselves overall. Her hope is that her dolls will help others to recognize their beauty and find joy in having locs, braids, kinky hair, curls, waves and more. Karen is working hard to show everyone that our beauty is amazing and worth celebrating.
Her Natural Hair Dolls have been featured nationally and internationally on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show, The Steve Harvey Show, BET.com, HuffingtonPost.com, Clutch Magazine, Upscale Magazine and more, and on natural hair blogs in France, Spain, Germany, and Brazil. Karen is looking forward to continuing to inspire young women and growing her business.
As a child, I remember playing with dolls that were beautiful. But they never looked like me. Their hair, features and skin tones did not match mine. I always wondered - if my Barbie doll is beautiful and it doesn’t look like me… does that mean that I am not pretty? This is a question I struggled with through my childhood into early adulthood. Even though I had an amazing mom that always told me how beautiful I was, all the images around me in the media contradicted this message. And seeing other young women in my community that did value their own beauty also did not help.
As an adult, while shopping with my own daughters, I was shocked to find that stores still did not have dolls that reflected the beauty of the ethnic community. There were a few dolls that would surface every now and again, but it was not very often. On the average, a young girl of an ethnic cultural background could not go to just any store and find a doll that looks like her. This is something that needs to change.
There has been a continuous problem in our community where we don’t seem to value our own beauty, history or heritage. It is something that has been a problem for a very long time. In articles, videos and news stories such as “Black Girls Want White Dolls”, “What a Doll Tells Us About Race”, “Black Doll White Doll & A Girl Like Me” - it is apparent that this is something that affects many children and adults; and that there is a need for positive community change.
There is a need for our young girls to be able to have dolls that look like them. It is something that affects their self-esteem and confidence, and how they few about themselves from an early age. There have been quite a few studies done (as noted above) that show that African American boys and girls often think of black dolls as bad and white dolls as good. Of course, this is not something that the parent is teaching their child. So why are they getting these mixed messages about good and bad skin color or good and bad hair? It all has to do with the images they see as they grow up. If a child is constantly looking at images, dolls, television, books and magazines - and only seeing beauty as something or someone with non-ethnic features and someone that has long straight hair - then they are going to assume that this is what beauty is. It is something that has hurt our young people for centuries. But each day we learn that it is important to show them and teach them that their beauty is indeed beautiful.
I have wanted to take on the project of customizing dolls hair, to have the look and feel of styles and textures of African American & Multi-Cultural (ethnic) women and girls, for a long time. From this came the Natural Girls United project that has now turned into a business, and is something that I hope will help to bring a positive view of what ethnic beauty is.
My goal is to have a doll line that ranges in skin tones from a light to dark complexions. I would like for there to be a variety of hair styles that represent the styles that can be seen in many ethnic cultures – Dreadlocks, Sisterloc’s, Loc’s, Afro’s, Braids, Twist, Cornrows, Curls and more. The doll's features should also represent the girls and women from ethnic backgrounds. Empowerment is a big driving force behind this line of dolls with customized hair. Each doll will hopefully send a message of hope. It is a goal to have dolls that are doctors, artist, businesswomen, athletes, teachers and more. A little girl should be able to look at their doll and say my doll looks like me and I want to be a doctor just like my doll when I grow up.