08 Jul The Problem with A Doll Like Me–And the Solution
When American Girl debuted its American Girls of Today doll more than two decades ago, real American girls clamored to get one. With customizable skin, hair, and eye color, she quickly became the “sister we never we had.” In 2006 the product line was renamed Just Like You; it was changed again in 2010, to My American Girl, and in 2015 to Truly Me.
From the American Girl website: “With themed sets for everything from science to soccer to hairstyling, the girl in your life can enjoy the freedom to explore something new.” Rather than putting themselves in the shoes of a character from days gone by and interacting with characters who shaped the world and who were shaped by it, girls instead get to play with a doll who is exactly like them, from the bows in her hair right down to the socks on her feet. After all, science and soccer and hairstyling are so much more glamorous than Native American Kaya getting kidnapped or Molly McIntyre learning about the grim realities of war.
Of course, American Girl still carries the Historical line of dolls. They, too, have recently been renamed–BeForever (It’s kind of a weird coincidence/non-coincidence name thing). The historical dolls, the ones that put American Girl on the map, for their innovative and refreshing look at history, are now but an afterthought in the AG empire.
While I’m not criticizing American Girl’s shift toward giving girls want they want, I do wonder what the cost will ultimately be. The contemporary upper-middle class girl of today may or may not care about organic farming or a school arts program. Most likely, she is just trying to “be happy” and maybe get a head start on getting into that Ivy League college someday. It’s hard to imagine a girl of today going forth with the courage of Samantha Parkington, who spoke out against child labor or Kit Kitteridge whose family endured poverty and hardship during the Great Depression. And so even while American Girl dolls represent the American girl whose parents can easily afford one of the pricy dolls (starting at $115), they don’t necessarily represent actual American girls.
Caucasian girls (53%) who live with two married parents (64%) are a shrinking population. Today’s girl might live in poverty (22%), be food insecure (22%), and instead of having her own bedroom, bathroom, and walk-in closet, live in substandard housing conditions which are overcrowded, costly, or physically inadequate (46%).
Should American Girl undergo yet another name change for this line of dolls, might I suggest American Princess? Truly Me represents the affluent, educated, economically stable, and well-rounded, girl–hardly a reality for so many real, American girls.
Roughly half the population doesn’t even qualify.
What if there was room on the shelf for a different kind of doll?
Enter: The doll that’s not like me.
Children use dolls and other toys to create miniature worlds. They tell stories with their toys. And while one child is recreating the day she actually had, another child might be dreaming of a day she wishes would come true.
I have to be honest. Just before my daughter’s sixth birthday, she tore a page from the American Girl doll catalog and asked for something surprising. She didn’t want a new American Girl doll. She simply wanted the braces, cast, crutches, and wheelchair to accompany the one she already had. She told me she wanted to help. And I looked at her and said, “How do you think we can do that? What if we could do that in real life?” That’s why we created a doll that’s not like us.
Five years ago, childhood cancer wasn’t even on my radar. I knew it existed, but nobody I knew ever got it. And then somebody I know did get it. And I was helpless to do anything about it. Since that day, I’ve learned about other issues that affect our children. And while my own children are growing up safe and secure, with boundless opportunities and a bright future, I also want them to grow up understanding that their greatest contribution to the world might be on behalf of someone wholly unlike them.
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