I’ve long been a fan of American Girl dolls. Back when I first started purchasing them, they were beautifully made with incredible attention to detail. Thumbing through the catalog, I marveled at all of the beautiful outfits and accessories for each of the dolls.
At that time the historical dolls were all of the rage. Each having their own story which educated kids not only on the time period the doll was from, but also life lessons which taught character and empathy. I loved the positive message that tied together history and play all in one package, albeit a pricey one.
The very first American Girl doll I purchased was Molly McIntire (since retired). I bought her about six weeks after my baby Nina passed away. I know that sounds horribly morbid, but the reason I did that was because in my mind that doll resembled what my daughter might’ve looked like if she had the chance to grow up.
It also gave me a bit of hope that someday that doll would be played with by a future daughter. A doll in waiting, if you will.
And as fate would have it, I was blessed with not one but two daughters who would grow to love that doll Molly and half the other dolls in the catalog. Much to the chagrin of my bank account.
But I have to tell you, years ago I thought that was money well spent. The dolls were made so very well and I did appreciate what they stood for. And the hours of peace I got from that purchase when the girls would change their doll’s clothes or hairstyle twenty plus times a day made those dolls well worth the cost.
Then in 1995 things started to change. That year American Girl announced American Girl of Today (now My American Girl) which was a step away from the historical dolls. This new line allowed kids to choose a doll that better represented themselves, allowing them to select the skin color, eye color, face shape and hair style.
And while I thought that that wasn’t entirely a bad thing, I was sort of sad that these new dolls didn’t have a historical backstory. It felt like things were changing and I wasn’t certain it was for the better.
In 2001 American Girl launched a new limited edition line called Girl of the Year. Special dolls that would come out on January 1st and be retired on December 31st of that same year.
And as a collector of AG dolls, I was curious to see what would qualify as Girl of the Year. I had hoped that this new line would be a way to foster more diversity into the product line. A better representation of our country’s population. Dolls that all kids could relate to no matter what their skin color.
In total there have been twelve Girl of the Year dolls. Out of the twelve, nine are decidedly white, one Hawaiian, one Latina (sort of, not convincing at all) and one Japanese/Scottish/Irish (why they couldn’t commit to an entirely Japanese doll is beyond my comprehension).
I find this rather troubling. And apparently there are many other people who feel the same way because on January 1st when the newest doll of the year Isabelle, another very white and blonde doll, was announced as Girl of the Year many of us were scratching our heads and saying what’s up with American Girl? What are they trying to say? If you visit the American Girl Facebook page, you can see some of this discussion.
So this has got me to thinking…
Is American Girl trying to tell us that the only girl of the year worth celebrating is caucasian? It would certainly appear that way based on the fact that nine of the twelve Girls of the Year are white.
Certainly they know that a darker skinned doll would sell based on the Hawaiian doll Kanani. She was wildly popular. So popular that she sold out before I had the chance to buy her for my daughter.
Do they think that white people won’t purchase an African American, Indian, Latina, (a real one, not a watered down palatable version of one for God’s sake) Chinese (ya think sales would pick up a bit for that one? Have you seen the size of the population of China?) or other ethnicity?
Speaking as a very white woman, I’m here to tell American Girl that not only would I buy ANY of the dolls I just proposed, but I would PREFER that for my children. I WANT my kids to learn about other cultures. I NEED my kids to get that this world consists of many different people and cultures that are worth learning about. Celebrating even.
I also think the Girl of the Year needs to be more of a statement. Something special. Something that all girls can relate to. Not just white ones.
I thank God that our world does not have nine white people out of every twelve because good grief how boring that would be.
Let’s talk bottom line. Sales. Leela’s birthday was January 1st. She waited to see the Girl of the Year with the hopes that it would be her birthday present. (her grandparents and I were all going to buy it for her together) And her reaction when she saw it? I already have her. Her name is Julie. It’s the same doll.
Don’t forget that my daughter is a blonde blue-eyed child and even SHE wanted a more diverse doll.
I hope that American Girl learns something from this year’s hoopla over Isabelle. And before you go thinking that I’ve lost it getting upset over a doll, keep this in mind…
Manufacturers (and the media) are telling our girls what’s beautiful and what’s not. They are telling them what’s special and worth celebrating. This is not a simple matter of a child’s plaything. It’s the forming of our children’s minds and self esteem.
And I for one want my children to know that all people are worth celebrating. The ones with almond shaped eyes, those with kinky curly hair, the ones in wheelchairs, the dark skinned ones and yes, even the caucasians. Because there’s beauty in every single person regardless of the color of their skin or their facial characteristics or their physical abilities.
I truly hope that American Girl reflects on that this coming year and that they bring to market a unique and diverse doll for the Girl of the Year 2015. That’s something I’ll happily shell out cash for.