Girls Like Dolls, but Should Girls Be Like Dolls?

My souvenir from my birthday trip the the American Girl Place in Chicago, circa 2005. 

Yes, my mom gave me this haircut and I have been so ever so thankful for it ever since, but thinking back, I absolutely loved it because it was the same as my American Girl Doll, Kit. It is hard to tell in this photo, but we are wearing the same t-shirt, one with a dog named ‘Coconut’ on it. While writing this, I looked back to try and remember what the dog’s name was, and I stumbled across some information about this white dog. In 2000, the dog was released to consumers of American Girl as a male dog, and later, in 2001, was re-marketed as a female dog to be more attractive to its buyers, girls.

In Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s essay on “Girlhood”, she talks about dolls being “..connected girls to fashion-doll play and argued that this play predicated a girl’s life-course.” (93). Kit’s life, style and looks were exactly the way I wanted my life to be as a young girl. I highly encouraged my mom to buy me her clothes, maybe even cut my hair, and get a magazine cover posing with her as a gift for my birthday. Seeing this photo again and thinking of connections to our class with this, brought up the question in my mind: Is this okay? Is it okay for young girls to be looking at a fake story of a doll and desiring for their lives to be just like the dolls?

This may seem innocent, a girl wanting to be like a doll, but does this set unrealistic expectations for what girlhood should be like? Yes, the stories about these American Girls have true, historic content, like Kaya in “The Journey Begins”. Here in this story, Kaya lives a pretty independent life for a girl of her age, and tells of the good and troubling times of her childhood. The traits Kaya possess, strong, independent and brave, are all admirable traits girls should strive to be like, but what about dolls that aren’t known for their courage and bravery. An example of this would be Barbies. Barbies have perfect bodies, perfect hair and are known for their looks and fashion. What happens when girls start to think that is what they need to look like, because the dolls they love do these things. I am not trying to say that we should stop letting girls play with dolls, because they are a great toy for girls and even boys, but are there unrealistic expectations set for girls wanting to dress up and be like dolls? Girls need to be taught that just because they love playing with their dolls, does not mean they need to BE their doll. Stressing the difference between pretend play, should independent from the character development of the girl playing with the doll and needs to be to all young girls during their ‘girlhood’.


5 thoughts on “Girls Like Dolls, but Should Girls Be Like Dolls?”

  1. I think this is a really interesting take on the American Girl Company’s use of selling look-alike dolls, and having consumers dress up like their dolls. While reading this post I immediately connected young girls trying to be like to their dolls, and comparing themselves to objects that give them unrealistic expectations for themselves, to older girls and women comparing themselves to models. The media uses models and celebrities to set up unrealistic expectations of how young women are supposed to look. Your post really pointed out how young self-image is brought into a girls life. Just by playing with dolls, girls are given an idea of how they should look and dress. As girls grow up, this issue becomes even larger and overwhelming especially with the emphasis the media puts on it.

  2. I totally agree with your concern, Camber. I think it’s especially concerning that most toys, including both American Girl Dolls and Barbies, set unrealistic expectations to what girlhood/womanhood is like. For example, Kaya’s stories find her escaping several situations where she could easily die, escapes which the average American girl would fail to accomplish. Meanwhile, Barbies teach young girls that womanhood is measured by beauty and outfit changes. The way in which girls engage with these toys can potentially carry the theme of unrealistic expectations through their entire lives.

  3. This problem of the “Barbie ideal” has been a problem since the beginning of the Barbie franchise. In the news recently has been the introduction of the new Barbie body types. They have come out with a tall, petite, and curvy body type. There is a buzzfeed video where they interview children about what they think about the new Barbie’s, the response is overwhelmingly positive. It’s great to give children multiple types of dolls to identify with. Here is a link to the video I mentioned.

  4. Camber, you bring up a lot of good points! I definitely agree with you that doll play isn’t inherently damaging but when expectations for young girls begin to be set by trying to be like these dolls it’s a different situation. Another potentially harmful aspect of doll play that you haven’t hit on yet but I feel is interesting to explore is the popularity of realistic “baby dolls” that are marketing to young females with the purpose of being treated like a real baby (the ones that had cheesy ads on Nickolodean about how they cry and need to be fed, just like real babies). Looking back, I wonder if these dolls are in fact reinforcing the gendered aspect of household dynamics and rendering girls from a VERY young age to be prepared for their future role as the housewife/ mother figure.

  5. Growing up I had one of the American Girl look-a-like dolls. I remember never wanting to be the doll but rather making the doll be like me. I would dress her up in dance clothes when I was getting ready for my dance classes, I would get her ready for bed when I would get ready for bed. I loved the aspect of having a mini me that I was able to make do the same things I was doing.

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