Earlier today, M clued me in to a new(ish) doll in the American Girl line. If you were to just browse through the online store, Gwen seems like any other doll–she comes with a book, she has a few accessories. Unlike most of the other dolls, though, there aren’t other outfits you can purchase for Gwen. Why not? Because she’s homeless, silly!
It’s incredibly difficult to verify any of this without dipping into editorials and news reports on Gwen. On the American Girl site, she’s just a friend of Chrissa, the girl of the year who stands up to bullies. Even in samples of Chrissa’s book, the casual visitor never finds out why everyone’s making fun of Gwen–she’s just the “loser girl” that some of the popular girls tease.
In the history books that come with every American Girl doll […] you learn that Gwen’s father walked out on the family. Her mother lost her job.
[…] as fall turned into winter, Gwen’s mom lost her grip.
Mother and daughter started bedding down in a car.
Now, there’s not necessarily anything inherently wrong about marketing this doll. There are a lot of conversations to be had about the ways that American Girl markets all its dolls, particularly the way that the “just like you” dolls allow little girls of a wide range of ethnicities to finally have a doll that kinda sorta looks like them (except, you know, with white features, because heaven forbid we make those look realistic!) while ignoring things like body type and ability. (Oh, wait, I forgot–you can get a wheelchair for your Just Like You doll, so that totally covers it.)
Here’s what bothers me, and M: the doll retails for $95, the same as all the other dolls, and none of the money goes anywhere but straight into the American Girl coffers.
Couldn’t this be a marvelous opportunity to pair with an organization that actually strives to make a difference in the lives of homeless youth, like Horizons for Homeless Children? Or what about combating poverty, or aid to families who may be struggling with unemployment or debt?
Nahhh, better to make a happy doll with a pink headband that doubles as a belt.
(And in case you’re wondering about the title of this post: not a direct quotation, but one of the product reviewers who bought Gwen just luuuurves her. “I was rather disappointed by the lack of items for Gwen though.”)