Growing up, the only dolls that I’d see in stores and ads were usually American Girl Dolls, with straight blonde hair and blue eyes. At age 10, I finally got a black American Girl Doll. The doll had the same features as me: black curly hair, brown skin, and brown eyes. However, the story that went with her only talked about how she was a slave and not about what she went through or the personality she had. There aren’t many dolls of color, and the ones that exist aren’t portrayed as complex individuals like their white counterparts. American Girl should invest in modern storytelling and diverse marketing for dolls of color.
In the American Girl catalogue, there aren’t as many dolls that look like correct complex representations of black people. The first black American Girl Doll was Addy, who was merely represented as a slave to children. According to American Girl Wiki, an online resource, “Addy is a brave, loving, thoughtful, and kind child who often risks her safety for the safety of others. When Addy first arrives in Philadelphia, she is scared of being alone in the city due to being unused to the large city crowds and fear of getting lost (in part because she cannot read). Still, she slowly becomes braver and more confident in moving around, in part with Sarah Moore’s guidance. She still remains shy at times, especially around people she has just met.” However, the actual American Girl Doll story, which is all that children have access to, doesn’t include any of these personality traits. It only states that Addy was a slave who escaped.
Advertisers and marketers are selling black American Girl Dolls as slave dolls by only centering their slave stories when marketing to the public. This approach excludes their personalities and them as a full people. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Many American Girl Doll stories have their stories being told correctly and accurately.” I understood why the company centered Addy’s story around slavery, since that’s a part of our country’s history, but they continued to add white dolls and no other black dolls for almost every other time period. However, outside of the narrative of slavery, black girls exist and have stories to be told. Melody is the third black American Girl ever made, even though the company was established in 1986. Her story is rooted in church and wanting to sing. Outside of that, she doesn’t have a storyline. Even her brother has a more interesting storyline where he has a band. Mirroring society, black girls and black American Girl Dolls are brave, they are confident, they are kind. They have families and hobbies. They are all of the same things that the white girls are. Except they are not being represented by a company that says it represents the interest and dreams of young girls.
The media doesn’t talk about this issue as often as it should. Some people think that it’s not important to make historical dolls correctly with the right story, but it’s important that children, especially children of color, grow up with the full story. It’s about feeling important, like you matter, like you are special. This is clear in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, where Samantha Black, a wardrobe designer who decided to make a special edition clothing line for the black American Girl Doll Claudia Wells, said, “Growing up, I don’t know if as much love and attention were put into the brown and black [dolls].” Because of her experience, Samantha Black actually took on the job to depict Claudia’s clothing and make it an accurate piece from her actual time period. Black continues, “Even I wanted the blonde doll because I felt the outfits and accessories were better.” The white American Girl Dolls are typically better dressed, with many dresses and accessories, but the black American Girl Dolls come with only one dress and little to no accessories at all. When children look at this doll and see how “simple” their personality is, then they look at the visual aspect and see how degraded it is from the white American Girl Dolls, and they begin to see that they aren’t special or important.
American Girl Dolls should market historical dolls’ stories and looks more accurately, paying tribute to details from the diverse cultures that black girls come from. This will play a role in the way that boys and girls view themselves and each other as individuals, from their looks to their stories.
Dorsey, Niya. “Beautiful Black Dolls: Why Representation Is the Key to Empowerment: By Katelyn Davis.” Brains and Beauty Dolls, 4 Jan. 2021, brainsandbeautydolls.com/why-representation-is-the-key-to-empowerment/.
Magazine, Smithsonian. “Black Dolls Tell a Story of Play-and Resistance-in America.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 16 Feb. 2022, smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/african-american-history-black-dolls-toys-1809795 30/.
Magazine, Smithsonian. “New American Girl Doll Celebrates Black Joy During the Harlem Renaissance.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 25 Aug. 2022, smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-american-girl-doll-celebrates-black-joy-during -the-harlem-renaissance-180980643/.
Migrationspipeline. “My Complicated Childhood Love for Addy Walker, the First Black American Girl Doll.” HelloGiggles, 16 Sept. 2022, hellogiggles.com/complicated-love-addy-walker-black-american-girl-doll/.