She had blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes. She looked nothing like little Aliya and Laila Crawley, who were affectionately called “pretty brown girls” since birth by their father Corey. Still, the then five-year-old and six-year-old sisters and their African American friends wanted her: the pretty white doll.
Shocked and disheartened by what should have been a fun birthday party at an American Girl Doll store, where even if little Aliya and Laila wanted to choose an African American doll, their only option would have been a freed slave. Sheri and Corey Crawley decided that they needed to do something to make their girls and girls around the country see that their brown was beautiful.
However, the incident in the doll store was only a small part of a larger issue the Crawleys were seeing in their daughters. After moving to a predominately white neighborhood outside of Detroit, Sheri began to notice that Laila was beginning to develop identity and self-esteem issues from being the only African American student in her class.
“She started asking me for products that she would see sold on TV, so if it was a Pantene commercial where she would see long blonde hair similar to her table mates, she would ask me to buy it thinking that it would change her hair,” Sheri explained.
Combining the concern of their young daughter’s growing identity issues and the incident at the doll store, Sheri and her husband decided to create a doll.
The couple morphed their daughter’s faces together to create the first ever “Pretty Brown Girl Doll.” While waiting for the doll to be manufactured, the Crawley’s established a hugely successful t-shirt line adorned with the slogan “Pretty Brown Girl Movement.” Over 500 girls attended a celebration to honor ‘Pretty Brown Girls’ and had real conversations about having self-love.
After receiving such high praise for the event and t-shirts, the Crawley’s quickly learned that their family was not the only ones dealing with issues of identity. People across the country began to call the Crawleys asking how they could contribute to the organization or how they could duplicate their mission in their hometowns.
Overnight, what started as a tool to remind their girls to love their own brown skin became a movement for every girl and woman across the country.
The outpouring of support made Sheri realize that the “Pretty Brown Girl Movement” was filling a big void. She noted, “That’s when we could see the need… there really is no formal platform that exists that addresses skin tone and self-esteem, particularly to girls.”
She went on to explain further, “Even though this is such an elephant in the room, everybody that’s a person of color goes through something related to skin tone. There absolutely wasn’t anything in place to facilitate a conversation about what this means to be a pretty brown girl.”
Not surprisingly, the movement is supported by 60% women who are looking to help out the young women in their lives as well as themselves. Many of these women exclaim, “I needed to have this when I was growing up and I’m going to wear my shirt in corporate America, and I’m a pretty brown girl and I need to tell myself that now!”