Growing up, there was nothing I wanted in life more than an American Girl doll. Nothing – not an endless supply of chocolate, not world peace, not a Barbie whose hair could grow back even after I cut it – was as coveted as an American Girl doll to call my own. I would pour over the catalog every month, dogearing pages and creating Excel spreadsheets so as to properly allocate potential allowance funds.
I still remember the night I got my American Girl doll: it was Hanukkah, I was ten, and my parents gave me a Felicity doll. Much like when I got my dog at the tender age of six, I started hyperventilating from sheer excitement. I promptly ran off to my room so as to gaze upon her pristine visage and plan all the accessories I would buy with my $2 a week allowance.
I carried that doll on every family trip. I dressed her up, changed her clothes, put out her tea set. I don’t actually think I played with her, but as far as I was concerned, she wasn’t for playing. She was too nice of a doll to risk damaging through everyday play. A few years later, my grandmother gave me a custom American Girl doll made to look like me. She was given the same treatment, although not afforded quite the same reverence that Felicity received. After all, she was made by American Girl, but she wasn’t one of the American Girl dolls.
This is all a long preamble leading up to a discovery I made the other day: the new 2011 “American Girl of the Year.”
To explain: every year, American Girl now releases a special edition doll that is modern, because the executives at Mattel think that the only way a girl could ever be interested in a doll is if she is a contemporary. When eight year old girls became so narcissistic, I’m not sure, but it apparently has happened in the last ten years, presumably because of Y2K and added fluoride in the water supply. When I was a child, the idea of having a doll from 1776 was thrilling; now, apparently, if the doll doesn’t come with a functioning knowledge of the Disney afternoon lineup, they’re useless.
The point is, American Girl has expanded their modern girl line in recent years, and the “Girl of the Year” is part of this push. Here is the girl for 2011:
Are you kidding, Mattel? You create a Pacific Islander doll – in a line that is definitely lacking in diverse characters – and you go with a blonde haired, green-eyed girl with a slight tan? Yeah, maybe I’m kind of bitter because you’re discontinuing the Felicity line. And of course it’s a little bothersome that it’s taken you 20+ years to break down the religious barrier and get a Jewish doll in the mix (whose story focuses on wanting to be an actress, rather than the far more interesting story of Russian immigrants in the early 20th century). So I suppose I am carrying a little baggage with me as I write this post.
But really? You’ve finally managed to incorporate an African-American, a Latina, a Jew, and a Native American into the line, is it really so much to ask that you make this doll of the year … y’know, not just a blonde surfer with a tan?
Even if her stories make her a native Hawaiian – and yes, there are some Hawaiians who look like this – it doesn’t change the fact that you’re going with a lowest-common denominator here. Give the Youth of America™ some credit here. They’ve kept you in business this long, let them have genetic diversity amongst the dolls.
I will, however, redact this entire post if it turns out that Kanani’s father is a Vietnam vet who never could bring himself to return to the mainland, and instead settled in the tropics of Hawaii, where he runs a sugar cane plantation and grows an orchid maze. If that’s the case, I’m totally on board with this gripping examination into the psychological scars of war.