The Privelege of Diversity

A few days ago, I got one of those email petitions from concerned parent Jen Reeves.  Now I know some of you think the idea that you can spend 15 minutes creating a petition and make it go viral is somehow cheating.  For all of you who  do the boots on the ground, door to door, back breaking work of social change, I do applaud you.  Keep doing that.  We need you.  For the rest of us, I think it’s a great application of modern technology that we can get our concerns out there, whatever our issue may be.  And Jen Reeves has a problem worth talking about.  Her daughter wants an American Girl doll that looks like her.

American Girl, in case you live under a rock, makes 18 inch dolls in a variety of ethnicities complete with historical backstories, books, outfits, and a variety of accessories.  The dolls represent girls in the 8-11 year old range, and the company creates relatable characters that live any number of American Experiences.   Just this month, American Girl announced the release of its new diabetic kit accessory.  You can now purchase an insulin pump for your doll.  I think that’s just fantastic.

Jen thinks so, too.  And her petition, which you can find here, shows a picture of a smiling girl surrounded by American Girls in a variety of hues.  But, Jen says:

Jordan was born with one hand and she has always wanted one of her American Girl dolls to look just like her. For now, that is not possible. Limb difference parents from across the country have requested the consideration for a custom limb-different doll. Each time, the company replies with a “no.” 

What a great idea!  You go Jen!  Jordan should absolutely have a doll that looks like her.  How wonderfully empowering that would be!

The problem is this isn’t really something that American Girl does.  If you google  “custom American Girl dolls,” you don’t get a website where you can design a chubby white girl with brown pigtails and a lazy eye (that would be me).  You get dozens of dolls with the exact same face and the exact same body with a variety of different hair colors, eye colors, and skin colors.  This isn’t exactly “custom.”  A variety of choices is great, but even the “Truly Me” line is not promising a picture perfect replica.

If you are an entrepreneur looking for a project, I think there may be a niche here, and if you would like to start producing dolls that match specific girls with all their beautiful flaws, I think Jen can afford one.  Do let me know, and I will promote you here, and 12 people will read it.

I still think American Girl is wonderful.  I absolutely love the books you can buy to accompany your doll.  If this company had started up 10 years earlier, I would surely have been one of the legions of girls who was absolutely crazy for these dolls.  But I probably never would have gotten one.  An American Girl doll with her own book and an outfit is going to set you back a minimum of $200.  And it goes up from there.  In today’s money, the average worker in my state would have to work 17 pretax hours to buy one of these dolls.  That’s half a paycheck. That just does not reflect the diversity of many people’s experience.

So when I see Jordan’s beautiful picture surrounded by well over $1000 worth of American Girl, I have to wonder if her mom really understands diversity.  Her approach to problem solving seems overly brand specific.

Let’s face it.  Jen doesn’t just want a doll that looks like her daughter. She wants an American Girl doll that looks like her daughter.  American Girl dolls, no matter how much you play with them, are designed to be status symbols and collector’s items.  This is why they retire certain popular dolls to increase their value. That’s why they are not going to make a doll with limb differences.  It would not be profitable.  And no one over there at American Girl is claiming they aren’t looking for profit. That would be unAmerican.

I really think it might be prudent to take a step back here and reexamine this situation.  Status: You have a doll with two hands.  Problem: You want a doll with one hand.  One and Only Solution: Demand your favorite doll maker mass produce a one handed doll. I’m not sure where the line between championing diversity and capitalist entitlement is.  But I know it when I see it.

Anyone want to help Jen out with some alternative solutions here?  Trigger Warning: doll dismemberment.   Could you possibly bring yourself to um..alter.. an existing doll? I realize this will compromise the resale value. I know it’s going to be hard. You absolutely should have a drink first.  But it would just take a butcher knife and one good whack.  It’s the type of thing we parents just do for our kids, especially those of us who cannot buy them a menagerie of $200 dolls.



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