Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is American Girl Keeping it Real with a Homeless Doll?


There's a new face in the very popular American Girl doll world. Her name is Gwen and she's absolutely adorable. All of the American Girl dolls have a story. Take Josefina, she's adjusting to being raised by her tia or aunt after her mommy dies. The Rebecca doll honors her Russian-Jewish heritage and pursues her dreams in New York City. As for Miss Gwen, my girl is homeless. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Gwen' dad skipped out on her and her mom. They lost their house and for some time home was their car and a shelter. Eventually, Gwen's mom bounces back and rents an apartment.

Touching story. Did I mention little Gwen will cost you $95? Whew! I may have to ask Santa to foot the bill for me. Oh, and the doll's hairbrush will cost you an extra $7. Some bloggers and columnists are criticizing the Mattel label for selling a homeless doll. Is this doll's portrayal realistic or offensive? Are the people at Mattel contradicting themselves by selling a doll who lives below the poverty line for nearly $100?

I'll give Mattel credit for trying to school kids on homelessness. One in 50 American children are homeless, the National Center on Family Homelessness reports. That means there are 1.5 million Gwens in our country. Astounding isn't it? This is critical information kids should know. Maybe learning about Gwen's story will encourage a future leader in the fight against poverty. And Gwen's background can teach more fortunate kids to be grateful for the things they have. On the other hand, Gwen can't even afford Gwen. Selling a $100 doll who lives in poverty sends a warped message to me as a consumer. The kid who gets the doll doesn't fully understand the value of $100, but I do. How can I effectively teach my children, baby sister, niece, whomever about poverty with an expensive doll? Seems very contradictory to me. I could easily save my Benjamin and take the kid to a shelter. Nothing like "hands on experience" education.

As for Gwen's wardrobe, I'm on the fence. When I first saw her crisp white sundress and peachy flip flops I had no idea Gwen was homeless. I understand not all homeless people wear tattered clothing and look like the folks sleeping under freeways. So I can't fully criticize Mattel on the clothes. But I imagine a lot of homeless children can't afford nice, pretty dresses like the one Gwen is sporting. I'm concerned her attire could confuse a child.

"Look Nicki. Isn't Gwen's hair and dress pretty? You know she sleeps in a car because her mom couldn't afford to pay their house note. Sorry I didn't have the extra $7 bucks to buy your doll a brush.

I wish Dave Chappelle's show was still around because he could turn this into a funny skit. Holler back at me Cocoa Fly readers. Is this cute doll sending a positive image to kids? Speak your mind.

2 comments:

  1. Great post.

    I have conflicting feelings about Gwen. The little girl in me loves all of those dolls, and I often wish my own daughters were into them. I was sort of set straight by an 8-year old friend of mine. She said, "Diana, if you want your daughters to get into the American Girls, you should read them the books."

    Oops. I am always so excited to see the new dolls and all their (expensive) paraphernalia, that I didn't even think about the books and what those could mean to a little girl. Through the American Girls, I learned from this 8-year-old that kids really do learn about issues and historical periods from those books.

    All of the American Girls dolls have a similar look, so that regardless of the doll's historical period or biography, you can pretend whatever you want about the doll once you have it. My point is that without the books and stories, the lesson of the doll's biography would be lost.

    It really is a shame that American Girls are so expensive, though. I guess all girls can access the books through the library, but is there a way that all girls can get the dolls and all their accoutrement?

    I guess this doll is like any other toy -- what the child gets out of it is dependent upon so many things, especially the tone set by the parents.

    Thanks for the opportunity to think about this!

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  2. Your 8-year-old friend is on to something. Why not buy the books? You're right, the stories do pull in girls. Along with the clothes, restaurant, hair salon and doll hospital at the American Girl store. :) Thanks for your comment Diana.

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