What if none of the dolls your daughter is playing with look like her? What if they have nothing in common with her or many other girls?
Those are questions Jodi Bondi Norgaard faced when she created Go! Go! Sports Girls dolls a decade ago. The Chicago-area mom will be in Austin on Nov. 3 to inspire girls to follow their dreams, challenge stereotypes and be their best selves at GEN's We Are Girls Conference.
The conference for third- through eighth-grade girls and their parents offers sessions that empower the girls, inform the parents on what's going on with today's girls and inspire both. Norgaard is one of the keynote speakers.
Norgaard says she's always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She created her first business when she was 26. That business sold gift baskets of homemade baked goods, often to hotels for their guests. Oprah Winfrey became her biggest client, she says.
By the time she was pregnant with her third child, she sold that business, but she knew she would start another business. What it would be, she wasn't sure.
Then the inspiration hit. Her daughter was in her soccer uniform with messy pigtails when they stopped by a local toy store to get a present for a birthday party that was happening in 30 minutes. They looked at the doll section and saw a line of dolls that had short skirts, belly button rings and a ton of makeup.
"There isn't one parent out there who wants their daughters to look like these people," Norgaard says.
Where were the dolls that looked like her daughter: a soccer player in messy pigtails?
They weren't there. Norgaard would have to invent them.
For Norgaard, who says she was always into sports as a kid, she saw the discrepancy of what was marketed to girls and what was marketed to boys. Before elementary school age, the toys often were gender neutral, but then boys begin to be marketed toys that are about violence and aggression and girls start to be marketed things that are about being sexy, she says.
She remembers telling her husband after the birthday gift incident, "I'm so sick and tired of these negative images that are marketed to girls." She wanted a doll that encourages healthy behaviors and a positive body image.
It took about two years, from 2006 to 2008, to develop Go! Go! Sports Girls and have a first sale. They were sold at the U.S. Open that year, and the 500 she took there sold out.
With that success, she thought for sure the dolls would take off. She went to Toy Fair in New York in 2009 with her dolls. Over and over again, she was told by potential toy buying companies that they loved the dolls but that they didn't plan to buy any. "It's not fashion," they would tell her. "Girls like fashion."
"I was positive girls like more than fashion," she says. "I was creating change. ... 'No way am I going to make a fashion doll.'"
So how do you go up against an industry with huge players like Mattel?
Norgaard said she had enough sales to hang on for the next few years, but in 2013 she decided to give Toy Fair one more shot. "If it didn't work, I was going to throw in the towel," she says.
And then it happened. She met with two buyers from Walmart. They liked the idea of the dolls, but they also liked the idea of having a book to go with the dolls. In 2015, her dolls and their books hit the shelves of Walmart. Walmart helped walk her through the process. They told her, "We're not making any money off of you, but girls need to see it," she says.
The orders grew, and Norgaard knew she needed to take the business to the next level. She sold it to Jazwares, which handles toy lines from "Peppa Pig," "Roblox," "Minecraft" and Nerf.
Norgaard still is an adviser to the line and still has a 5 percent interest. They plan to relaunch the line in February and go back into Walmart, but they also want to look at Target and other stores.
Right now you still can buy some of the original dolls on Amazon, including Ella the runner, M.C. the dancer, Cassie the soccer player, Roxy the cheerleader and Suzi the swimmer. They typically sell for $27.99 for the doll and book.
When Norgaard is in Austin for We Are Girls, she says she wants to inspire girls to look for good role models as well as to "embrace their assertiveness."
She'll tell girls to watch out for phrases like, "You throw like a girl," "Boys don't cry," "You run like a girl," and, "That's a man's job."
"Small moments make big impacts," she says.
"We can combat microaggressions and stereotypes," she says. "I do believe things are going to change. We're going to start with this next generation."
For parents, grandparents and supporters of girls, when you have that choice of something to buy for a girl, Norgaard says, just because it's popular doesn't mean you have to buy it. "If you don't want it, you don't like it, don't buy it."
"If you think of the word 'sexy' in any product that is marketed to young girls, you should never buy it," she says. "It should be pulled off the shelves. We have buying power."