“I’m a complete nerd, and I wanted her to know that being a nerd is ok.”
I remember growing up in the 80s, and every Christmas I would ask Santa for a Barbie doll, even though I knew that by December 26th, my younger sister would have already ripped her up, as if to sell her for parts. I had multiple dolls, even a Barbie McDonald’s, with her bed, Jacuzzi, you name it, I had it. That was the highlight of my year. When I think back on the memories, there’s one part that’s missing. The dolls never looked like me. There were no brown-skin Barbie dolls that I could remember, back in 1985. Fast forward now, as a mother to an 11-year-old, I was adamant that my daughters’ memories would be complete with dolls that shared her skin tone. Since she doesn’t have a younger sibling, her dolls survived the heinous crimes that my dolls went through. We now have Princess Tiana, the black and brown Barbie, full-figured dolls, and you name it, we have it. So, as you can imagine, I was delighted to interview the creators of, ‘My Froggy Stuff’.
One of my most beloved shows is the ‘Muppet Show’. Kermit is the only frog I grew up knowing as a child, like most of us, along with his over the top girlfriend, Miss Piggy. But now we have the pleasure of adding two more frogs into our repertoire, LaToya “Toya” Broyles and Bella Broyles, the creators of ‘My Froggy Stuff’. They are the mother-daughter duo and creative minds behind the popular YouTube video series, ‘The Darbie Show’, plus loads of DIY and crafting videos. With approximately 2.3 million subscribers on YouTube, over 5000 followers on Twitter and about 72,000 friends/followers on Facebook, popular may be downplaying the mark they have made on social media.
Toya, the creative mother of Bella, started her journey as a blogger. As a wife to a husband in the military, her family was stationed in different cities and states. Toya had to find a way to stay connected with her family, including her parents who wanted to see their grandchildren. “My kids were small, so I was using YouTube to communicate with my parents and family members, so they could see the kids. We were playing with our dolls and toys and being goofy, as we usually are. Well, I didn’t make the settings private, but you must know this was 12-years-ago. I know much better now. We noticed other people started watching our videos and asking how we made certain items, so I began to show them, and it ballooned into this big thing. Bella at the time, was only 3-years-old and for her, it was fun with her mom.” ‘The Darbie Show’, was initially a tool Toya used to teach her daughter right from wrong and how to grow up as a well-rounded, confident, and strong young girl. The show consists of Barbie dolls in real-life situations, voiced by Toya and Bella. What began as life lessons, has turned into a YouTube sensation that is unmatched. “When I first started blogging, at the beginning of my internet journey, I did a children’s education blog with crafts. We named it after my son, who was a baby at the time. When he cried, he had these huge eyes, so we called him ‘Froggy Boy’. Well Bella loved the name and wanted to be a frog, so I became Froggy, he stayed Froggy Boy, and she became Little Froggy.”
As I learned more and more about Toya and Bella, what struck me was the cultural diversity in the ‘Darbie Show’ episodes, and how each doll is styled in up-to-date fashion. Bella stated, “The lack of representation for people of color at that time, is different than it is in 2020.” Toya added to her daughter’s remarks, “There was not a ton of things for little girls shown in a normal setting. If you saw an African-American, it was usually Afrocentric type of stuff and that was not our environment. I’m a complete nerd, and I wanted her to know that being a nerd is ok. We love Anime and sci-fi. You don’t see a lot of people of color into that. When we made the show, we made it off of things that we like and that are normal. This resonated with a lot of people. They wanted to see geeky black women doing stuff.” As a fellow quirky black woman, it was comforting to share a virtual space with two black women who were just like me. We laughed about our Marvel movies and even reminisced on the death of Tony Stark, in the ‘Avengers’ (this is not a spoiler alert – you all should have seen the movie by now).
After our bonding session in all things Marvel, we were able to dive into the elaborate set design of the ‘Darbie Show’. These are not just cardboard sets with cut-out prints for display, these sets are designed to accentuate the scenes and the, ‘My Froggy’ branding. What blew my mind was the fact that Toya has never had formal training in design, and Bella has taken only a few classes, while still in high school. Creativity and innovation in essence, is who they are. I naturally assumed that their artistry was one in the same, and I learned that is not true. Bella handles all the graphic design, while Toya is the crafter and the DIY master. Bella stated that she can’t craft to save her life. As a mother myself, I must admit that I want my kids to share in the things that I enjoy doing. I tried every year for my oldest son to be part of the yearbook staff, but he respectfully declined, each time. There is still hope for my daughter, fingers crossed. But as parents, we want our kids to share in our likes and our passions. I asked advice from parents with artistic children and like me, are gifted in other things like yearbooks and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. “Encourage them.
My daughter and I are artistically different. I hoped she was going to be a crafter, but it was not there. I paid attention to where she was creatively. I didn’t push her, but as I saw her doodling, I got her supplies. Listen to them, instead of forcing them to be like you or what you want them to be. They will flourish in that environment.”
The more I got to know Toya and Bella, the more I was impressed. I wanted to get their opinions about the theme of this month’s issue, which is the anniversary of the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. As you know, the renaissance is well renowned for the catapulting of intellectual and ingenious, African-American people. It was a time for them to think outside the box and express who they were. Did they feel part of a group of people ushering in an era for new black creatives? According to Toya, “We have been in the game for quite a while, and I believe we have been doing that the entire time. There are a lot of black people just like us. We don’t have to fit a mold. The geek culture is strong, and we want people to know that black people can be so many things, and it’s ok.” Bella interjected, “You see stereotypes on TV of the black person who is hard or tough. Then you go into your own community and sometimes you’ll see that, as well. I have people come up to me at my school, which is predominately black, and tell me that I’m not black enough, because I don’t fit the stereotypes they see. I feel like mom and I being on a YouTube show tells others you can be black and whatever you want to be, because ‘black’ is not a personality trait.”
The legacy that Toya is passing down to her daughter, is to be celebrated. They both have created a space for women of color to be seen and admired in multiple facets. It started out as a fun way to teach life lessons, and now has turned into a family business, beyond their wildest dreams. Imagine a colorful lifelike set, with beautiful dolls in varying cultures, sharing life-lessons, fun, fashion, and anything else you can imagine. Then, after you watch a fun-filled episode or two, you can learn some DIY tips, or have Toya show you her amazing crafting. Bella may be the ‘Little Froggy’, but allow your eye to canvas the video for her eye-catching graphic design. ‘My Froggy Stuff’ isn’t just another YouTube duo, but a breath of fresh air for us all to enjoy.
By: Nailah Sabah | IG: @Nailah.Sabah