Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

April 22, 2016

A Feminist Doll Makeover - Craftivism Inspiration

You might have already heard about Tree Change Dolls - reclaimed dolls with a more realistic makeover - but I only recently stumbled upon the work of Sonja Singh.  She takes previously-loved dolls with unnatural, overly made up painted faces and turns them into natural looking dolls!

Tree Change Dolls

Here's an example of the incredible transformation:

How to Remove Makeup from Dolls and Repaint the Faces

The makeunders are quite labor intensive: Sonja first removes the painted faces, cleans and sometimes repairs the dolls, re-styles the hair (sometimes actually thinning out unnaturally thick hair), repaints more realistic faces, and then her Mom knits and sews wholesome garments.  Sonja even makes new shoes and accessories for the dolls, which are more eco-friendly than their former plastic duds.  In her pursuit of realism and authenticity, she even adds skin imperfections to her dolls and mixes up a natural looking shade of white for the eyes.

Feminist Doll Makeunder

Unsurprisingly, every time she lists a batch of these transformed dolls in her Etsy shop, she sells out immediately!  

Because, as she points out, she isn't the first person to re-paint the faces on dolls, she generously shares videos of her process.  That's right - even though she relies on these dolls to make a living, she shows others how to do it themselves!  She has a video tutorial for how to remove painted faces from dolls, another video sharing tips for restyling doll hair, and even a video that demonstrates how she re-paints more natural faces on her dolls

Sonja is a feminist inspiration because not only is she working to change the way children grow to understand social constructions of beauty, she doesn't safeguard her techniques and instead encourages individual people to give dolls makeunders themselves.  As an avid thrifter and lover of second-hand finds, that these dolls are reclaimed and repaired makes me love this enterprise even more.

The next time I hit the thrifts, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for an obnoxiously overdone doll to breathe new life into for one of the littles in my family, although I definitely do not posses the face painting skills Sonja has mastered!   

Inspiring Feminist Craftivism: Dolls Made to Look More Natural
Natural Looking Doll Makeover
Feminist Toys for Kids

Reading her story and pouring over photos of her incredible doll makeovers just made my day because it's just so amazing to read about people changing the world with their talent.  I see feminist implications for her work, and I feel inspired and uplifted.  I wanted to pass on the good vibes in case you hadn't heard of Tree Change Dolls either!

Check out Sonja's Tree Change Dolls on Etsy, Instagram, Facebook , Twitter, or Tumblr.
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18 comments

  1. Wow! I love this so much! Thanks so much for sharing!!

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    1. So happy to hear you liked this post! Wasn't sure if it was old news to everyone but me, lol, but I thought this was the greatest thing I read about all week!!

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  2. This made my day too, thanks! And the made-under dolls look so much prettier too :)

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    1. I'm so glad to hear that!! And I agree - they are so much prettier when they look like real, natural people!

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  3. I have been following Sonja for some time now and adore what she does!Thanks for posting this.AriadnefromGreece!

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  4. I love this so much ! Thankyou for sharing ! Also 'makeunder' should be added to the dictionary! Love that word! :)

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    1. I agree, I definitely love that word. Would you consider trying this, as an avid DIYer?

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  5. I just love this. So great to make these dolls look less "pretty". Just a wonderful idea!

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    1. Sometimes I'm blown away by how creative people are - this idea is just so inspiring!

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  6. This is Awesome!!!

    A few years ago, my 10-year-old daughter was selling some of her My Little Pony ponies at our garage sale. The lady who bought them admitted that she paints them and changes them to make them look "freaky". My daughter just about had a heart attack and immediately went and pulled all her ponies from the garage sale table. It is so nice to see someone that is making toys look pretty.

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    1. Oh my gosh, your poor daughter! Sometimes it's better not to know where our stuff goes when we pass it on, lol. I always think my things are bring treasured somewhere, and I'm embarrassed to say that makes it easier to let go...

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  7. I've followed Tree change dolls from the very beginning & loved them instantly. They look so real, like children I know! That's what I love so much about them. I do think it's funny that you call them 'feminist' dolls though.....she's done boy dolls as well. She didn't start this to make a feminist statement but to make a doll for her daughter that looked like her daughter. I love that so much more!

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    1. I truly don't know if she identifies as feminist, but the challenging of socially constructed ideas of beauty (especially unrealistic ideals), in such a creative way, is inspiring to a craft-loving feminist like me. I see activism (at the very least, the potential for it) in this brilliant idea. That she provides a makeunder for "boy dolls" is wonderful! (Feminism is so widely misunderstood as pertaining to women only.) I love that she wanted to make a doll for her daughter, but I personally love the larger, positive impact a project like this can have on children's self esteem and body image, regardless of her intentions or politics.

      I love that there's so much to love about these dolls and their realistic new looks!

      Have you been able to purchase one of her dolls? I know they fly off the shelves, so to speak...

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    2. There's a lovely youtube video of Sonia and her husband, who says he is quicker to call himself a feminist than she is. However, the reason she had time to do this is that she was "given a redundancy" from CSIRO -- which is Australia's national science agency. So she's already been working in what is historically a non-traditional area for women. It's clear that she does this work primarily to please herself, which is why each has a unique personality. The clothes her mother makes are similarly enchanting. And yes, I've been tempted to try this, though I have no room for even one extra doll in my house right now and no youngsters to give them to. The thought of "freeing" a captive doll from her superficial paint job is really enticing.

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    3. I hadn't seen that video, I spent all of my time watching the tutorials, enraptured! I think people just have issues with the label of feminism. I think more feminists need to speak up and help with rebranding ;) I read an article recently about women identifying as feminist in secret!
      I did know about her former employment, which I thought was cool! It's interesting she did that kind of work and also has such a creative side too.
      I looked for dolls the other day and the thrifts were picked clean, so I too might have to just enjoy her work.

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  8. I love this! I have a two year old daughter and I try to be very careful with the kinds of toys and books and movies I expose her to. I don't even like to use the word "pretty" around her and whenever someone tells her how pretty she is I usually add "and smart and kind and fun..." They think I'm crazy, but I kind of am so that's okay!

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    1. It must be so challenging to raise little girls today. It sounds like you're doing an amazing job. I can just imagine her growing up, feeling smart and confident!! For what it's worth I definitely don't think you're crazy :)

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