As we wrote in Packaging Girlhood, American Girl dolls, in their original form, did a fine job teaching girls that they too were and are a part of American history. Now it looks as if AG aims to teach girls that they too are a part of the new economic downslide. To do this, they've introduced a homeless doll. Unlike the Cabbage Patch dolls of old that children could adopt and whose lives could be improved with their love, Gwen Thompson comes with her own story of grief and, alas, her own homeless "style." Hey, nothing says homeless more than a sweet white dress with a pink sash and matching flip flops. Ooh, and that cute hair style! Buy her and you can forget homelessness — just mix and match her with the other cool expensive outfits and she fits right in!
In one sense we love that AG offers a collection of dolls with normal bodies and stories of hardship and strength that better reflect the real lives of girls. Take that Bratz girls and Barbie! But could this be any more disingenuous? Who is this doll for and with a $95 price tag, what will it convey to the girls buying about the plight of homeless girls? Of course this isn't their own money they're spending. Let's leave girls out of this. But Mattel? Get a conscience! This brazen co-opting of the hard luck stories of girls around America in order to make a buck -- horrifying. It’s especially brazen not to offer a penny of this to help better the lives of real girls. How about giving a healthy percentage of proceeds to homeless shelter daycares that enable children to be taken care of while their parents look for work and housing?
What can parents do? Write to Mattel/AG and ask that they (not their customers) set up a fund to benefit real girls and their parents in homeless shelters.
Check out Shaping Youth's response to our post and when you're done let Mattel know they need to give back not just rake it in!
Robert A. Eckert
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
333 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, CA 90245-5012