American Girl: Live up to your name.
Dear American Girl/Mattel,
We are Millennials. We are the young women, born in the 1980s and 1990s, who grew up on your American Girl brand – whether that means we memorized the catalogue every season when it came in the mail even though we knew we would never own anything; scrimped and saved to finally buy one doll; eagerly awaited your bimonthly magazine; read about our favorite characters over and over again; or were lucky enough to have a whole collection of American Girl dolls and accessories.
You made us who we are. You made us readers; you taught us to delve into history; you gave us toys that encouraged imaginative and creative play.
But more important: we made you. It is because of our love for you that your brand still stands strong today.
Now, as adults, we have the chance to share American Girl with our younger sisters, nieces, and daughters. But much as we love nostalgia, there’s something that hurts us when we try to delve into it. You keep misunderstanding your own name – American Girl – and erasing us from the story of America.
Have you looked around at the America you live in? At the girls who were your first customers? 43% of us are nonwhite. And as for your current generation of customers? Of the approximately 22 million United States citizens under the age of 19, around 36% are nonwhite. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2042, whites will be the minority.
But you wouldn’t know that if you looked at the American Girl website. Since 1986, you have released 13 historical characters, plus four sidekicks. Of those 17, only 5 are girls of color. Two have already been retired. Since 2001, you have released a Girl of the Year, celebrating contemporary America. Only three have been girls of color.
You congratulate yourselves on your My American Girl line’s multicolored selections, but the truth is that you have retired nearly all of your face molds, eliminating any semblance of racial or ethnic diversity beyond skin tone and hair color, leaving only traditionally white facial features. You have never created a named character with a disability. Only two characters practice a religion other than Christian/Catholic. You have never acknowledged any U.S. territory and its girls as American. You are very stuck in your idea of what a nuclear family is.
That is not our life. That is not our America, now or then. Nor is it the America of the future. America was, is, and will be a diverse nation.
As producers of children’s literature, not just commodities, you should be aware of the work of Rudine Sims Bishop, who pioneered the idea that literature (and all creative outlets) should have mirrors and windows – that is, some texts should serve to acknowledge and celebrate the existence of someone like you (mirror), but others should give you a glimpse into a life different from yours (window), both because that’s how you become more aware of the world around you, and because you may be surprised how much what seems like a window could be a mirror all along. Without mirrors and windows, everyone is robbed of the chance to know the others around them as human. Without mirrors and windows, white, ablebodied, Christian children grow up thinking that they are the norm from which everyone else deviates. Without mirrors and windows, children of color, children with disabilities, or children of different religious backgrounds grow up thinking that they are less than, that they are other, that they are strange.
You trade in giving white girls mirrors, but you’ve rarely given them windows. You ask the rest of us to identify with your same-old, same-old heroines and to give you our money, but you continue to erase us when we ask you to call us American, too. Each year, on January 1st, you deliver us another slap in the face as you rerelease the same tired facsimile Girl of the Year, with the same story and the same face, just dressed in a new outfit.
You have the resources to do better. There are talented authors, artists, historians and toy designers you can call upon to widen your range of what you call the American story and the American girl. We also know that you are the ones with the power in this game – you have the upper hand, you have the money, and you have no reason to change your ways. You just have us – your original American Girls and the women who will shepherd your future customers to you – waiting for you to acknowledge us. Waiting for you to thank us for our support of your brand, waiting for you to take American Girl to a better place in the future.
We hope you’ll make the right choice.
Today: Sarah Hannah is counting on you
Sarah Hannah Gomez needs your help with “American Girl: American Girl: Live up to your name.”. Join Sarah Hannah and 118 supporters today.