Whenever Mushiya Tshikuka went into a toy store, she couldn’t help but notice that none of the dolls reflected the look of her two daughters.
“All the dolls were either bald or they had wool hair or they had straight hair,” the star of WE tv’s Cutting It in the ATL, 36, tells PEOPLE. “They just didn’t look like them. I remember going to one of the bigger doll companies, and the black doll that was there was representing a slave. I was like, ‘If this is the only representation of dolls that exist out there, then they’re not going to play with dolls.’ ”
However, as her daughters — Kasai, 7, and Keleshe, 5 — got older, they began asking for dolls and receiving them as gifts.
“People bought them dolls, and I would throw them away or I would return them because I understand the psychology behind the toys that children play with — they want to become like what the dolls look like, and my daughters are black with kinky hair,” says Tshikuka. “I didn’t want them to say, ‘I want to be a white girl with straight hair.’ ”
It was actually her daughters and her older son who helped come up with the idea to create their own doll.
“We were in the store one time and my little girls and my son were like, ‘Why don’t we just make one?’ So we did,” Tshikuka says. “I did a lot of research and I worked it on it for so long. I was so excited that my kids had an idea to solve this problem, and they voiced it, and then they held the doll in their hands.”
When it came to the design, Tshikuka wanted to ensure the doll’s features reflected those of her children.
“I wanted that looks like a little beautiful black girl,” she says. “I wanted to make sure her skin was dark. In our community there are so many dark-skinned girls with self-confidence issues because dark skin is frowned upon. I wanted her to have kinky hair like my daughters’. I wanted to make sure she had a nose that reflects our nose, high cheekbones and full lips.”
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And so the My Natural “Keleshe” Doll was born.
“It’s important for this doll to exist because it’s important that dolls represent the full spectrum of the people and the beauty that exists in our society,” says Tshikuka. “It’s important that every child can see a representation and a reflection of themselves in the dolls that they play with.”
In addition to being a doll to which black girls can relate, Tshikuka hopes it can be a learning tool for those of other races.
“My little girls are black girls who made a doll that looks like them, but this doll is not just for little black girls,” she says. “Black girls have played with white dolls for years, and they understand white hair and white skin, and it’s important for white little girls to understand the black girl, the black skin, the black hair. It’s important for everybody.”
So far, her doll has been extremely well received by people of all backgrounds.
“My biggest surprise is that it’s not just black women buying these dolls for their children,” says Tshikuka. “I have a lot of Caucasian women buying these dolls, people in all countries. We realize that so many families have had the same problem.”
And her two daughters finally have a doll to play with that has their features.
“They’re obsessed!” says Tshikuka. “They go everywhere with the doll.”