Sometime over the next few days a little girl in Paterson, N.J. will receive a parcel from Kansas City.
When she opens the box she will find a porcelain doll inside whose face looks just like hers - pretty and brown, with white splotches circling the big dark eyes. And just like on her own body, the doll will have big white patches on its knees and the back of its elbows.
Khori will recognize that the doll, unlike anything she’s ever seen in her eight years of life, looks like it has vitiligo, like her.
Khori’s mother, Crainysha Rutherford, bought the doll from Kansas City doll maker Crystal Kay, who over the last few weeks has created a worldwide stir for presenting a type of beauty rarely seen in the doll world.
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People are loving her vitiligo dolls.
The dolls have gone viral in a way that has left Kay rather breathless. She’s a single mom raising two children, one with special needs, cleaning houses and working two other jobs to get by. Now suddenly, because of a rash of media attention, a lot of people want one of these dolls she started making in what little spare time she had.
“I have people, women in their 40s and 50s, literally in tears about these dolls because they’ve had vitiligo for quite some time, and they’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
From the time she painted the first vitiligo doll a month ago and shared it online, the dolls have been featured in People, Teen Vogue, Mashable, Cosmopolitan, assorted mommy blogs, on ABC and in several international publications.
She can’t even read all her good press because some of the stories aren’t written in English.
Actors Tia Mowry and Mike Epps gave them a celebrity stamp of approval with shout-outs on social media.
“I’m still in shock,” said Kay, who is selling the dolls through her Kay Customz Facebook page and Instagram because she doesn’t have a website. “This has never happened to me. I never thought I’d be in the news for anything.”
Kay, 37, began making dolls just nine months ago when she took one of her 10-year-old daughter’s old Barbie dolls and updated it with a new hairdo, clothes and jewelry “to make it beautiful again.”
She started buying used dolls at garage sales, thrift and secondhand stores and giving them makeovers, too. She gave some of them faces she’d never seen on a doll to fill the void.
She painted one doll to represent albinism. She created an African-American “ginger” with red hair and painted-on freckles. The third doll she made, on Sept. 16, had vitiligo, with a splotch on its face in the shape of Africa.
Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin color in blotches, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is not life-threatening, nor contagious, but low self-esteem, as some with it can attest, is a common side effect.
About 1 percent of the world’s population has vitiligo, according to Vitiligo Support International.
Kay posted photos of the doll to the Black Artists Connected Facebook page, which has more than 230,000 members. Her post, she says, was shared more than 35,000 times, and the doll took off like a rocket from there.
Tiffanie Wiley, 29, who lives in Louisville, Ky., had never seen anything like it. She was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 7. When she started getting bullied in school her mother put her in thick makeup at age 10 to cover the blotches on her skin. Her mother didn’t want to give people anything to stare at.
For years Wiley felt like she “was wearing a mask to do other people a favor,” she said. But before she started her senior year in high school she wiped off the makeup and never looked back.
She went make-up free on her wedding day. “I loved myself and somebody else began loving me for me, too,” she said.
Whenever Wiley’s friends see anything related to vitiligo on social media, they tag her, and that’s how she found Kay’s doll. Kay painted the doll to look like Wiley, who posed with a photo of herself at age 7 and her new doll.
“And it really made me feel beautiful because I look at myself and I (see) vitiligo. But it’s pretty cool to see what other people see you as. So Crystal has really given me a voice to speak about vitiligo. She saw me,” said Wiley, who works for the Department of Defense.
“I can’t go anywhere now without people asking me about this doll.”
Wiley just featured the doll, nicknamed 2Tone, in a motivational video supporting her grassroots movement, “I Am Great.”
Some of the dolls take Kay a few hours to paint, others take a few days. Since they’re made of delicate porcelain they’re more of a grown-up collectible than a child’s take-everywhere pal.
“These are collector items, nothing to toy, tamper or play with,” said Kay.
She’s selling them, for now, for $75 on up. She’s admittedly stressed out by the sudden attention and orders she can’t keep up with, but hopes that one day full-time doll making can replace her three other jobs.
Crainysha Rutherford can’t wait to watch her daughter open the box that’s on its way from Kansas City.
She started a foundation in her daughter’s name, Vitiligo Princess Khori, that hosts an annual walkathon in their New Jersey hometown to raise awareness about the skin condition.
People around their town recognize Khori and have heard the grade schoolers speak in public about vitiligo, which helps shield her from mean comments and bullying, said her mom.
But that’s now, and she worries what the rest of her life will be like in a world that might not be able to see past the splotches on her daughter’s body.
Rutherford has seen the doll because she sent Kay a photo of her daughter to work from, but Khori doesn’t know anything about it.
“When I saw that doll I wanted to get her her own and I felt like I needed to support (Crystal),” Rutherford said. “I know it will be something wonderful for Khori and other people to see that everyone is beautiful.
“I can’t wait to get it just to see what her reaction is going to be.”