Emma Cayley from Devon, said she was was tired of the “unrealistic body image” portrayed by mainstream dolls like Barbie and Bratz, which are played with by children, including her own daughter Sophie, six, and son Oliver, nine.
Cayley explained the ‘damaging’ effects she believes the dolls can have on children: “Fashion dolls like Bratz, Barbie and Monster High, are potentially damaging to the young girls who play with them, as they aspire to emulate the impossible to achieve body shapes and perfect features.”
“Not only that, but they’re also damaging to young boys,” Cayley continued. “As it offers them a particular vision of what feminine beauty is or ‘ought’ to be.
Inspired by other doll artists in the US and Australia, the 42-year-old started her own business: Devon Rescue Dolls.
So in early 2015, Cayley, who is a Professor in Modern Languages at the University of Exeter, started experimenting with repainting dolls to have individual features and a more ‘natural look’.
Her dolls each have characteristics not usually featured on Bratz and Barbie dolls such as freckles, glasses and smaller eyes, and they don’t wear makeup.
Cayley also teamed up with the #ToyLikeMe campaign and started making dolls with disabilities, birthmarks, cleft lip and palate (open and post-surgery) and alopecia.
And her work doesn’t end there, she also regularly takes the dolls into local schools to do workshops and discuss issues of gender and diversity with children.
Cayley is currently in the process of creating a pack of materials to be made available online for teachers and she wants to encourage girls to create their own dolls.
“Anyone can make-under their own dolls,” she explained. “Grab some nail polish remover (with high acetone content), and acrylic paints or watercolour pencils/pastels, and experiment. It’s great fun and worthwhile.”