Friday, July 29, 2011

The American girl doll's message

I used to think shopping for a 3 year old would be inexpensive. However, as I was shopping for my best friend’s daughter, I found out that it would be expensive to buy her daughter what she wanted. Her daughter, Jessica, is a 3 year old from a middle class family living in a predominately middle class town. She wants an American girl doll mostly because she saw other girls in her town playing with one. The problem is that her mother doesn’t want to buy one for her because it is too expensive; there are other dolls out there for cheaper. I decided to go online to see why the American girl doll is so expensive; I still haven’t found a reason. However, I did find some interesting images that the dolls portray. I specifically looked at the younger dolls aimed towards 3 year olds. The American girl doll is definitely targeted towards young girls and I found that the main messages sent by the dolls are that a young girl needs to be sophisticated, yet delicate, girls wear pink and/or dresses, and girls do look different from each other.  

I felt that the most predominant message was that girls should be sophisticated, yet delicate. For one thing, the American girl dolls are more expensive than most dolls or toys. They look like they are little sophisticated adults because the girls are wearing dresses or skirts, nice shoes, have neatly combed hair, some have fancy jewelry, and they are standing in an upright, poise position. The dolls also have very soft skin with soft facial features, so this gives them the delicate look. None of the dolls are in gym shorts and a t-shirt with mud all over their clothes and face; they are seen in clean, dressy clothes. So, they portray this properly-dressed, 
delicate girl that girls should aspire to look like also.

In “The more you subtract, the more you add,” article, Jean Kilbourne says, “One of the many double binds tormenting young women today is the need to be both sophisticated and accomplished, yet also delicate and child-like. Again, this applies mostly to middle to upper-class white women” (263). The American girl doll is portraying this exact idea that Kilbourne is saying young girls have to deal with. It portrays the idea that girls need to be delicate, but should be accomplished. But, usually the only way to become accomplished is to be tough in order to get what one wants. So, girls are given this contradiction that is hard to deal with, and the American girl doll is only encouraging this message.

I also noticed the “Bitty Baby,” which is aimed for the 3 year olds, is wearing all pink pajamas. Also, the “Bitty Twins,” comprising of a girl and boy, show the girl doll wearing a light blue dress with argyle print, argyle socks, and nice shoes. The boy is wearing a red sweater with argyle print, blue jeans, and red and white sneakers. Even though they both have the same argyle print, the coloring is obviously gendered. The type of clothing is also gendered. The message is that girls wear the color pink and dresses and boys wear the color red and jeans.  Playing with this doll can greatly influence the child’s idea of what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a boy.

Newman, talking about kids, says, “From an early age, they are ‘gender detectives’ searching for cues about gender, such as who should and shouldn’t engage in certain activities, who can play with whom, and why girls and boys differ” (113). So, having a doll showing that girls wear dresses and boys wear jeans is greatly misleading, especially for a 3 year old. The young child isn’t around a lot of other children yet and if she starts thinking that girls only wear dresses, she will be confused when she goes to school and sees a girl wearing jeans. The American girl doll definitely portrays the stereotypical gendered colors and clothing.

Even though the American girl doll sends potentially “bad” messages about a girl’s delicate image and gender roles, I think they do a good job portraying race. The company makes all different kinds of dolls with different skin tone, eye color, and hair color. Well, the dolls do look identical besides the skin color, eye color, and hair color, but they offer many different options to choose different combinations of different skin color, eye color, and hair color. This lets the little girl playing with these dolls understand that people come from different backgrounds so they may have different skin color. This is better than some other doll companies that only make white dolls.  This gives the young girls the message that not everyone looks the same.

Newman points out that, “According to some child development experts, racial identity doesn’t fully emerge until adolescence. But some research shows that children as young as three-no matter what their racial background-recognize skin color differences and hold a wide array of racial attitudes, assumptions, and behaviors (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001)” (117). This is important because a 3 year old playing with dolls is already aware of skin color differences, so if a girl only plays with white dolls, she might eventually be given the idea that “white” is more common. So, the American girl doll does a good job sending the message that there are many different skin colors, eye colors, and hair colors; not everyone looks the same.  

In conclusion, I decided to buy the “Bitty Twins” with the two girls of different race. I think this will help Jessica understand people have different skin color and different looks and I liked that the dresses are at least blue and not pink. I also told her mom to buy some non gendered toys, so this isn’t the only toy she will be getting a message from. Overall, the message gives the little girl the idea that girls should look and act delicate, but also sophisticated, girls wear dresses and like the color pink, and also people have different skin color, eye color and hair color. However, I think one doll will not greatly influence the young girl to still believe these things as she grows older. I think its “okay” to still play with the doll because there are many other influences 
out there that will send the girl other messages.

Works cited:

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, the More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text- Reader. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication Inc., 2003. 249-257. Print.

Newman, David M. “Learning difference: Families, schools and socialization.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 107-141. Print.

 American Girl. Web. 29 July 2011. 

Photograph. American Girl. Web. 29 July 2011. 

Photograph. American Girl. Web. 29 July 2011. 


  1. Hi Ashley,

    Your blog post was easy to follow and enlightening. You hit all the points of your thesis in an easy to read and well organized manner. The quotes you found in the reading fit into your arguments very well. The pictures from the dolls do help to see the gender specific roll of delicacy and that all girls are not alike. I liked how you noted that the American Girl Dolls portray the multiracial world we live in, giving girls the option to choose a doll based on any race. Great post, I enjoyed it.

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