Terrific news for the underrepresented and underserved, everyone! American Girl just released their “Girl Of The Year” for 2014 and she’s a white girl who wants to be a ballerina.
Thank god that blonde-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian children can finally see themselves represented in an expensive doll! I, for one, am also incredibly happy that ballerinas, who have heretofore been almost invisible in the doll world, will finally be getting their chance in the sun. After all this time, little girls will at last have a plaything to help them emulate dance and dance culture, something that has been sorely missing from the landscape of American girlhood. The Isabelle Palmer doll, who is described as an “inspired dancer looking for her own way to shine” is truly a groundbreaking, inspired choice on the part of the American Girl company.
Isabelle, who retails for $120 with a book, also has some controversial pink streaks in her hair. Don’t worry, uptight parents: They’re removable just in case you don’t want your kid to be encouraged to dye his or her hair because of a doll’s ombré style. I actually think the pink streaks are the thing I like the most about Isabelle, the only aspect of her “story” that seems to be in line with the actual trends and themes of 2014.
Girls of the year have been mainly white in the past, despite the company’s more racially-diverse historical dolls. In 2011, there was a Hawaiian doll named Kanani, who seems like she could be Pacific Islander (or at least culturally diverse) and 2007’s Girl Of The Year Chrissa had a black friend named Sonali. Jess and Marisol, from 2006 and 2005, respectively, also look and seem vaguely Latina. (EDIT: Jess is half Japanese and Marisol is a Latina). Still, that’s only four dolls since 2001 (twelve dolls in all) that have been anything other than visibly Caucasian. Ok, actually that’s a third of the dolls, which isn’t TOO bad, but I still think the company could be doing a lot more to diversify the dolls they sell.
Now, American Girl isn’t obligated to develop and manufacture any specific kind of doll, obviously. But they’ve made some awesome dolls in the past, as I mentioned above: So why go with such a goddamn vanilla doll for 2014? Couldn’t Isabelle be a Caucasian girl who wants to be an entomologist or a detective or a marathon Olympian or a chef? Couldn’t she be an Asian girl who recently immigrated to America? Couldn’t she be a talented musician of Indian descent or a Latina who wants to write novels? A white ballerina just seems like a step backwards to me, a portrait of a certain kind of American femininity that is already very well-represented to young girls.
I’m also sad that the American Girl company seems to be taking its emphasis away from the historical dolls—which I absolutely adored when I was a child—and onto the more modern, Girl Of The Year and “My American Girl” dolls. Not that those dolls and their stories can’t also be powerful and empowering for young girls, but I know if I had a daughter I would be much happier if she owned Kaya (a Nez Perce Native American), Josefina (A New Mexican girl) or Addy (an African-American girl living during the Civil War) rather than Isabelle. It’s not just about race or ethnicity: It’s about having one of the most successful and recognizable toy companies for girls show a commitment to representing ALL types of American girls, including differently-abled ones.
Melissa Shang, a 10-year-old with muscular dystrophy, recently started a petition for the company to make a doll in a wheelchair. The company does sell wheelchairs for the dolls, but Melissa would like a doll with a built in “story” about a disability. I hope Melissa gets her wish. I also hope that Isabelle sells like crap and forces the company to get hella more creative for 2015’s “Girl Of The Year.” I doubt that will happen, but hey, an American girl can dream.
Photo: American Girl’s Facebook and website