A Brazilian grandfather with vitiligo has turned a hobby into an advocacy project. The 64-year-old crochets dolls for kids who have the same skin condition as him, and other disabilities, to help boost their self-esteem and to inspire people of all races to appreciate and embrace diversity.
João Stanganelli Jr., from the Brazilian town of Bragança Paulista, has had vitiligo since the age of 38. When he had to take a step back from his career in the food industry to concentrate on his health last year, he picked up crocheting to pass the time, according to a report by People.
Initially, Stanganelli made rugs before moving on to a very special commission for his granddaughter, Isabella. Hoping to gift her something by which she would always remember him, Stanganelli crocheted a doll in his own likeness: its skin was carefully crafted to add different-colored patches of vitiligo.
Isabella was overjoyed and shared photos of the doll on social media. Before long, Stanganelli was receiving commissions for more handmade dolls representing a variety of visible differences and disabilities.
“The response is always positive,” Stanganelli told People. “I’m happy! [The kids] love the dolls and feel represented.”
In order to reach a wider audience with his diversity-forward creations, Stanganelli created an Instagram account to showcase his dolls and take commissions. As of March 2020, the grandfather has over 19,800 followers.
Sharing a photo on Instagram, Stanganelli proudly showcased four of his diverse creations; a doll with alopecia areata, one with psoriasis, one with atopic dermatitis, and another with vitiligo.
Stanganelli has since expanded his repertoire even further, making dolls of all different body types and representing a plethora of different conditions, including a doll in a crocheted wheelchair.
“I’m happy to be a good influencer,” he told People. “Stains on vitiligo are beautiful. What is ugly is stains on people’s character.”
Stanganelli took five days to pick up the art of crocheting, but the crafty grandfather’s hobby has reaped huge rewards.
He described people’s responses to his works of art as “rewarding” and “stimulating,” adding that he felt blessed, in particular, to be able to offer encouragement to kids with his same skin condition.
Vitiligo is an auto-immune condition that causes the loss of skin color in an unpredictable pattern, affecting any part of the body, hair, and occasionally the inside of the mouth. It occurs when the cells that produce melanin, the skin’s natural pigment, cease to function.
According to Cleveland Clinic research, the condition affects approximately 1 percent of the global population, does not discriminate against different skin types, and most often appears between the ages of 10 and 30.
Celebrities with vitiligo include model Winnie Harlow, American actor Jon Hamm, and stand-up comedian Joe Rogan.
Stanganelli told CTV News that though vitiligo hasn’t caused him “any inconvenience” personally, the condition can cause immense distress and self-esteem issues in people. He added that his customers and social media followers have assured him that his dolls have been “helping with their self-esteem.”
The dedicated grandfather admitted suffering a little for his art, however; crocheting, he told CTV News, can sometimes cause painful calluses on the fingers.
Far from being met with discrimination, Stanganelli’s efforts have received a lot of love and support from thousands of social media followers.
“God bless you, you are a great man,” one follower shared, as translated from Portuguese, on the grandfather’s Instagram page.
“Congratulations on your work and attitude,” wrote another. “I wish the world was 100 percent like that, like you!”
Stanganelli and his beautiful bespoke creations continue to champion diversity one doll at a time.