For Sandra Epps, founder of the Detroit Doll Show, a doll is more than just a toy you can play with and dress up. It is a reflection of beauty and value.
Epps displays dolls in diverse variations in her show to uplift girls and women by showing them reflections of themselves.
“The thing with growing up is people feel less valuable if they are absent of what is considered valuable.” Sandra Epps, Founder, Detroit Doll Show
“Image is everything because it’s healthy for children to see their reflection in their dolls as well as women to see their reflection in the products as well,” she says.
Epps knows the pain of being different. Diagnosed with lupus at the age of 14, her battle with the chronic autoimmune disease was so severe she almost died.
Losing her hair and weighing 200 pounds as an adolescent, Epps began to suffer from low self-esteem and struggled with peer pressure. This period in her life would later become the inspiration for her to create the Detroit Doll Show.
“Me dealing with my low self-esteem and not loving who I was at the time because of my body changing because of lupus, that’s where it all came from in terms of me wanting to do something to make a difference in other lives,” she says.
Epps kicked off the Detroit Doll Show in 2012 under her own business, “Sandy’s Land.” With the motto, “Love the skin you’re in,” she wanted her doll show to help women of all ages love who they are. The show features dolls of color from Hispanic and Indian to African American and others as well as different sizes and shapes so girls and women could see themselves reflected in their faces and bodies.
“The thing with growing up is people feel less valuable if they are absent of what is considered valuable,” Epps says. “If you are a child going into a store or you’re reading a book that doesn’t have characters that reflect you, you, in turn, feel less valuable.”
The Detroit Doll Show allows Epps to create an inclusive environment that demonstrates cultural awareness as well as empowers people through a diverse attraction of dolls.
This year marks the 5th annual Detroit Doll Show, which will be held Saturday, November 12 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History from 1-7:30 p.m. with an admission price of $10. The show features a variety of local and national doll artists who will be selling their work.
Deana Williams is one of them.
“Each one has their own personality and is truly a labor of love because it’s not manufactured,” Williams says.
With a passion for art, Williams started creating her line of homemade dolls, “Affirmation Divas.” She often goes to the beauty supply to buy hair to help bring each of her dolls to life.
She uses two different skin tones, a lighter and a darker one, when creating dolls to reflect individual diversity. She has created more than 50 dolls. This will be Williams’ second year working as a doll artist for the Detroit Doll Show.
The show’s ‘Love the Skin You’re In’ motto reflects its purpose to help women of all ages love who they are.
LaJeana Kennedy is another doll artist who will showcase her dolls at this year’s show. She has been working with Epps since the doll show started.
Attendance has grown year after year, starting out with a few hundreds and now is more than 1,000. Kennedy is proud to see how much success the show has gained.
“Last year you could look in the hallway and see a line wrapped around the museum,” Kennedy says. “It was so exciting. We were like, ‘wow.’ To see it grow in a small amount of time is really a testament to her (Epps) and her hard work.”
With programs consisting of a doll look-a-like contest for children and adults, doll-making workshops, arts and crafts and more, there is something for all ages. Authors of children’s books will also be present and there will be workshops on how to curl a doll’s hair.
The show is for more than just doll lovers and collectors. It is a message of empowerment for every little girl and grown woman who has ever felt insecure or felt as if they didn’t measure up to America’s standard of beauty.
“(This show is) for the girl who was a little different, who maybe was a little chubby or who just didn’t think she was enough,” Epps says. “We still go through some stuff. This shows those people you are enough. You are beautiful. There is value in you. That is what my show does.”