Work is all about play for doll creator

Jodi Norgaard doesn’t mince words when describing her memories of playing with dolls.

“My sister and I had a few Barbie dolls and we were so awful with them. We cut their hair, dyed it with food coloring. We tortured our dolls,” she says.

The irony is Norgaard would grow up to become a doll creator. Her Go! Go! Sports Girls line of athletic dolls, which portray a positive image for girls and encourage creative play, earned the 2009 Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Platinum Award. It’s an honor toymakers work toward their entire careers. In all, the dolls, which are sold online and at specialty stores throughout the U.S., Denmark, Sweden and Norway, have received 11 awards from organizations that advocate for children.

The Glen Ellyn mother of Peter, 17, Grace, 15, and Ben, 12, says she grew tired of seeing women objectified. It really hit home when her daughter Grace, who was 10 at the time, picked up a doll that resembled a prostitute and asked, “Is this supposed to be for me?”

Norgaard found herself looking at the doll, with its full figure, belly button rings, crop top and high heels, and then back at her daughter, who was wearing a sports uniform.

“I actually bought it because I had to show my husband this crazy doll,” she says. “It’s really sad that we have to tell girls what they need to look like. We need to teach our girls about who they are on the inside, what they can do with their brains, and what they can do with every gift they’ve been given.”

That night, she told her husband Steve, an attorney, she wanted to create a positive-image doll.

Tennis Girl, the first doll she designed based on what real girls look like, made its debut at the 2008 U.S. Open. It sold out in six days. Norgaard quickly expanded the line to dolls that play basketball, golf, soccer, softball and participate in dance, gymnastics, running and swimming. Each doll has a backpack, appropriate athletic equipment and an inspirational message embroidered on its tummy.

Cheerleader and volleyball dolls hit the market in June, and books are on deck for later this year.

The dolls encourage good old-fashioned play and, to Norgaard, that’s what creates happy childhood memories.

“It’s about letting their mind be creative versus stimulated by a computer or electronic game,” she says.

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