When Odyssey woman Lisa Williams heard a young African-American girl on a CNN segment tell Anderson Cooper that brown skin looked “nasty,” on her dolls, she knew she had to do something. Once she wiped away her tears, of course.
Williams — or Dr. Lisa as she’s affectionately called — could hardly guess at the time the impact she would have for young multicultural girls everywhere, not only with her Positively Perfect doll line but with her positive self-esteem message and her books.
Williams was already a success by any measure. She was the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in marketing and logistics from Ohio State University (hence, Dr. Lisa). But with her doll line she has created a cottage industry of sorts, and her influence with multicultural children has bloomed.
Early on, while teaching, Dr. Lisa noticed a difference in the multicultural girls in her class. She sat down with Odyssey Media and told a story of how these girls were different. “I started to notice that girls were suffering from low self-esteem…they would open up in my office, but rarely spoke in class.” She set out to change that through a book called Leading Beyond Excellence: Discover How to Achieve Leadership Significance and Your Personal Dreams with 7 Practical and Spiritual Steps, which focuses on helping women and girls, in particular, “live their best life,” as she puts it.
After conducting interviews with influencers at Walmart, Home Depot and others for the book, the idea caught the attention of executives at Walmart who believed in her mission — and urged her to present her message in children’s books to address the problem early on. But she hesitated. “Oh no, not me,” she says. After all, what did she know about children’s books? But after careful thought, she knew this was the best way to effect positive change for young people. So she set about finding an author and illustrator. And like Leading Beyond Excellence, the books were a huge success.
But the relationship with Walmart wasn’t over. The folks at Walmart had another idea. And it caught Dr. Lisa completely off guard. They wanted Dr. Lisa to create dolls in the image and likeness of the characters in her books. Again she hesitated, knowing nothing about making dolls. “I said no…not once, not twice, but three times.” But she had a moment of epiphany of sorts after she saw the CNN report.
And so together with Walmart, she launched her unique Positively Perfect dolls. They began from scratch — a method others knew nothing about. “What they did was, they simply took a popular Caucasian doll, and they painted it brown or tan, and put red lips on it, and said, ‘Here you go, here’s an African-American doll,’” she says, which “wasn’t authentic — it was not representative of the beauty and brilliance of our children.”
But Dr. Lisa would do so much more with these dolls. Like every endeavor in her life, she set to work it with passion — to more than create dolls. With them, she would build self-esteem. Positively Perfect dolls have multiculturalism in their blood — they have curves and sassy appeal unlike any others — and they’re not posers.
Her devotion is palpable — her optimism infectious. “They’re works of art. All of their faces are unique — they’re truly sculptures,” she says, adding, “We do custom-blended skin tones too.”
The line has steadily grown to meet demand. “We’ve grown to over 100 dolls today,” she says enthusiastically. “And we have them for all walks of life…dolls that are gamers, computer science engineers, entrepreneurs…so a child can see themselves obtaining all of their dreams.” It’s a dream no doubt come to life for children who want to see themselves represented — and who will no longer see skin tone in a negative light.
For these reasons and so much more, Odyssey Media salutes Dr. Lisa and Positively Perfect dolls — just as we close out Black History Month for 2020.