Written by Sylvia Denice
From the ages of two to five years old, I lived with my family in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. At this time in my life, dolls were my favorite toys; and, conveniently enough, the one and only American Girl Doll Store in 1998 was located in Chicago. Suburbia flooded into the city for American Girl shopping experiences, theater productions, and birthday tea parties.
My best friend in Naperville was my Filipino next door neighbor, and we loved playing dolls together. It never crossed my five-year-old mind that none of the dolls we played with looked like her; probably because, sadly, they all looked like me.
Since 2001, American Girl has annually released a “Girl of the Year" doll, accompanied with her own story as a young girl in modern-day America. This year, I was excited about the release of Luciana Vega, a Chilean-American lover of space and science, who dreams of being the first astronaut to land on Mars. The 2018 “Girl of the Year” brings diversity to the collection in her ethnicity, hobbies, interests, and aspirations.
I have met some incredible real-life American girls, and I would love to see their cultures and aspirations reflected in future American Girl Dolls. Here are my proposals for American Girl’s next “Girl of the Year:”
Black Aspiring Lawyer
In January of 2017, American Girl released an African-American “Girl of the Year,” Gabriela. She is a lover of the arts, including dance, painting, and music. Now I love the arts, but I know so many diversely talented, brilliantly intelligent African-American girls affected by the representation of black women in the media predominantly as performing artists. In fact, when I ask my students what they want to be when they grow up, an overwhelming majority of my African-American 4th-grade girls respond with “singer,” “dancer,” or “actress.” Let’s guide African-American girls to see themselves in roles as varied and bright as they are. We should not discourage them from what they enjoy; but, we should encourage them to explore a range of possibilities.
Mexican DREAMer and Future Doctor
Hispanics are extremely underrepresented in the medical profession, and we know there is a great need for women in STEM fields in general. A Mexican doll aspiring to become a doctor could bring light to our nation’s DREAMers and sympathy for the unique challenges young immigrants face. Considering the United States is a nation built on the back of immigrants, it seems necessary for the immigrant population in America to be reflected as an American “Girl of the Year.”
Muslim Pakistani-American Hijab-Wearing Future Teacher
I always loved the idea of becoming a teacher, but many people (including some disheartened educators) discouraged me, saying I was “too smart” to be a teacher, or that teaching was “not what it used to be.” Let’s bring light, value, and positivity back to “the noblest profession.” Every year, I share some variation of the story of Malala Yousafzai with my students. Each class is incredibly moved by her story, asking authentic, thoughtful questions about Pakistani and Muslim cultural practices and traditions, including the hijab. A Pakistani-American doll could destigmatize the hijab and bring a stronger sense of sympathy and humanity to Muslim girls in America.
Indian-American Aspiring Politician
It is important to encourage girls that their voices matter. Even at 10 years old, girls can play a role in political and social change. Representation of people of color in politics is extremely necessary, and American Girl has yet to introduce an Arab doll to their collection. Some elements of Hinduism and representation of Indian culture within her story would be beautiful as well.
Biracial Girl in IT
Many of my friends who are biracial have expressed a struggle with their racial identity. They grapple with questions like: If I claim the race of one of my parents, am I denouncing the other? Do I lack depth or belonging if I claim both? American Girl could open up this dialogue for young, racially mixed girls. Biracial is stereotypically thought of as a child of one black parent and one white parent. Let’s shake up that idea, too: a bi-racial doll who is no part white, but enthusiastic about technology and coding.
What careers, races, ethnicities, hobbies, and interests would you like to see represented for American girls? Comment below.