American Girl has done a great job creating a diverse offering with their My American Girl collection. It’s not perfect, but it’s ever-growing and includes some really beautiful hair, skin, and eye combinations that help girls of many different ethnicities to feel represented. There is, however, one area where they could do a better job of showing diversity – the Girl of the Year collection.
Nine dolls, but only one doll of color (DoC)
One quick glance at the Girl of the Year section of the website (pictured above) or the Girl of the Year Archives on American Girl’s site and you’ll see what I mean. Out of just the 11 dolls shown in the archives, only 3 are “dolls of color” (DoC) – Kanani, Jess, and Sonali (who isn’t considered a joint Girl of the Year, but rather a “best friend doll”).
Having a doll that looks like you is a great thing for young girls. Having a doll that looks like you, is celebrated for a year, given a storyline and her own collection? That’s powerful. That kind of recognition sends the message that this girl’s story is worth telling. If I’m like her, my story must be important, too.
Kanani (Girl of the Year 2011) in Isabelle’s Performance Outfit (Girl of the Year 2014)
The opposite can also be true. Years ago, there was a line of slim 18″ dolls called Magic Attic Club. One of the dolls offered in this line was a Cheyenne Native American girl named Rose. Not only did she show that Native Americans actually do exist in modern times (at a time when most Native American dolls were only depicted in historical or ceremonial outfits), she and her family were fantastic role models. Her father was a professor, her mom was a grad student, and she was the neighborhood computer wiz (years before “Computer Engineer Barbie”). Unfortunately, when Marie Osmond bought Magic Attic Club, she decided Rose’s story was no longer worth telling. She became “Rosa” and her Native American heritage was completely erased. What a slap in the face to Native American fans of the line – basically, “we didn’t think your heritage was as marketable, so we went with another one.”
Since I got her, my Kanani has slowly moved from being Hawaiian/Japanese/French to also being half Choctaw. Her face is so similar to my Great-Grandma Montaña’s (more so than the Kaya or Josefina face mold) and her hair, skin, and eye color are so close to my Choctaw/Irish grandfather’s, it’s been too hard for me to ignore the similarities.
I would love to see American Girl introduce a Native American Girl of the Year – one similar to Rose, who wasn’t solely defined by her heritage, but also didn’t lose sight of it.
I’d also love to see them add an African American Girl of the Year – someone who was finally the star of the collection, not just the best friend or the antagonist-turned-friend. As much as I do love Grace, I think Ella would have made a fantastic Girl of the Year in her own right. Besides adding much-needed diversity, she’s a girl who loves math – what a great message for girls!
There are so many more stories American Girl could tell. I don’t pretend to know exactly what has driven their character decisions over the past years, and I don’t know how well each doll (non-Girl of the Year included) has sold. I do know that when I first saw her back in 2011, Kanani was more eye-catching to me than many of the dolls who were introduced after. She was the reason I even started looking at American Girl again.
I hope American Girl will begin to tell more diverse stories.
If you agree, show American Girl how beautiful your dolls of color are by using #AGDoCGoTY.