64 year old João Stanganelli Junior is challenging the social stigma of what is normal through his latest hobby, crocheting. João developed a skin condition called vitiligo in his 30’s. The skin condition reduces pigment in your skin and creates white spots. About 1 to 3 percent of earth’s population contracts this condition at some point in their life. Vitiligo is physically harmless aside from an increased sensitivity to the sun, but the condition has created social stigma and psychological stress for the afflicted.
João started crocheting when he semi-retired from the gastronomy industry. He and his wife began crocheting as a way to stay active and engaged in their community. While João found that the work hurt his fingers and back at first, he no longer experiences any pain and enjoys the steady rhythm of crocheting. One of João’s first projects was a doll for his granddaughter. He created this doll with vitiligo patches, so that she would always remember him, and then João realized that creating dolls with skin conditions or other physical differences could help a lot of people.
He began making many more dolls including a doll with a wheelchair. His goal in creating these dolls was to remind children that no matter what conditions they live with they are important, valued, and normal. João even made a doll for Tati Santos de Oliveira, an author whose daughter was diagnosed with vitiligo at the age of 3.
When her daughter was diagnosed, Tati tried to learn more about the condition and found that information and products for children with vitiligo was severely lacking. Through her experience, she decided to write the book A Menina Feita de Nuvens or The Girl Made of Clouds. This book tells the story of Maria Luiza, a girl with a big secret. She has spots made of clouds. Through this book, Tati helped promote understanding and exposure about vitiligo, advocated inclusion, and fought the social stigma associated with vitiligo.
João seeks to do the same with his dolls. His dolls brought so much joy to many children that João decided to take his dolls to social media. He shared pictures of his dolls on Facebook and Instagram. Through the creation of these dolls and promotion of them João is helping redefine the term “normal.” He is showing children everywhere that just because you look different or have a disability doesn’t mean you are worth less than anyone else.
For too long children have looked for toys that represent who they are and found that the market was only promoting one type of person. When children see these “normal looking” toys or dolls, they are taught that there is only one right way to look, dress, or act. This is so incredibly harmful to the mental health of children as they begin to think they aren’t normal and that something’s wrong with them. João is helping kids, parents, and society as a whole realize that there is no normal and there’s nothing wrong with being you as you are. The problem isn’t the children; it’s the toys.