American Girl for Real Girls
By Gina Jacobs Thomas on January 23, 2014
We could not fight it anymore. Resistance was futile. We knew our daughter would get exposed to this at some point. That pressure from her friends would prove too great.
I’m talking about the American Girl phenomena. After lots of hint-dropping and flat-out bold requests, my four year-old daughter received an American Girl from Santa. Before she met with the Man With the Bag, she scoured American Girl catalogs and even took a trip to our nearby store to chose the right doll for her.
She first gravitated towards the historical dolls. Kaya, the brave and outgoing Native American girl who wants to lead her people one day. Addy, the African American girl who endured the Civil War, and Josephina, the New Mexican girl who has just lost her mother; all of them captured my daughter's heart.
But then she stumbled in to the My American Girl section and was mesmerized. She could find a girl that looks JUST. LIKE. HER? I can’t tell you how many Oh My Goshes I heard at this realization.
She perused the case of identically dressed dolls in a variety of skin tones, eye color, hair styles and shades and settled on one that she thought most resembled her. And then, armed with her product code, she asked Santa for her first American Girl doll.
And boy did Santa deliver.
I wish I could bottle up my daughter's delight and excitement when she unwrapped her American Girl doll and save it for a rainy day. Watching her gaze sweetly at the face of her "girl" was priceless. Totally worth it.
But about five minutes after my daughter opened up her doll on Christmas morning, she made a discovery. Her doll, the one that was supposed to look as close to her own likeness as possible, was missing something.
There was no birthmark on her cheek. Or, as we refer to it, a beauty mark.
Knowing beforehand that this might be an issue, I called our local American Girl store and asked them if they were able to give girls things like birthmarks, in addition to the countless other “personalizations” they provide like pierced ears, braces or glasses. And I was told no.
So there I sat on Christmas morning with a brown Sharpie, carefully…oh so fucking carefully…putting a brown beauty mark on this tiny cheek of expensive porcelain-like skin.
And when I told friends this story, they were dumbfounded. “Why can’t they put a birthmark on one of their dolls?” I have no idea. I contacted the American Girl website to inquire with the same question and received this in response:
Though we currently offer 40 different combinations of eye color, hair color, and skin tone in our My American Girl® line, we are unable to make any changes to the dolls or provide customization at this time. We apologize for any disappointment this may cause. Although we are unable to create a doll with your daughter's unique birthmark, we hope you will be able to select a doll that will bring her many years of enjoyment.
And yes, I'm sure she will enjoy her adorable doll for years.
However, when news spread about an online petition to have American Girl release a Girl of the Year with a disability, I wasn’t surprised.
Because, yes, the opportunity is available to purchase external, and often temporary, items like crutches, wheelchairs and other options for dolls. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy can buy dolls without hair or have their existing doll’s head replaced with a head that has no hair. Dolls can even get hearing aid implants. But the chance to make your doll look exactly like you when other issues are at stake just doesn’t exist yet.
For my daughter, that beauty mark is as every bit essential to why she thinks she’s unique as her eyes, hair and skin tone. It won’t wash away with a facecloth. She identifies herself with that beauty mark. So why not be able to put one on?
As a matter of fact, why not produce girls that some of us in the non-perfect category of the population can relate to? Like Excema Emily, whose skin isn’t as silky smooth all over like the rest of the girls. Or Acne Alison, whose complexion doesn’t look airbrushed. Or Chipped Tooth Cindy, who will be stuck with that crooked smile until she’s old enough for braces and veneers.
I say this somewhat jokingly, but all kidding aside, I would hope that a company that appears to be all-inclusive could step out of its rigid mold for a while, sit in someone else’s mangled shoes, and see what the rest of us see.
That our real life American Girls are gorgeous - disabilities, birthmarks and all.
Do you have a daughter that has an American Girl doll? If so, did she chose one that resembled her or did she go a different route?
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