Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gwen Thompson, the Doll Experiencing Homelessness

American Girl recently released a new doll, Gwen Thompson (source and source). Though American Girl has been around since 1986 I didn't know much about this company. So I didn't know that each new doll is accompanied by a paperback that teaches kiddies a little something (standing up to bullies, experiences of a Jewish girl to Russian immigrants, and so on). I wasn't able to read Gwen's full story, but one repeated fact was that she and her mom became homeless after Gwen's dad left home. Gwen sells for $95.

I thought a lot about this, how it glorified homelessness, specifically in the fact the doll was so expensive and it was possible to get her accessories but didn't seem to deal with the meat of her story. Admittedly, I haven't read her actual story but from AG's press statement it looked like the focus of Gwen's story was elsewhere.

American Girl issued a press statement reaffirming that Gwen is part of its 2009 Girl series that focuses on bullying. The statement didn't reflect on Gwen's homelessness experience, but AG did reaffirm its fundraising relationship with HomeAid America. None of Gwen's sales go towards homelessness prevention.

On the other hand, I thought, AG will continue to sell dolls, why not have a doll with this particular backstory? Maybe it will open a few minds. Aren't books a great way to do this -- and in this case they're sold as part of a package alongside the doll. But in the end, despite any possible good intentions, it ends up as another piece of consumerism that seems more superficial than anything else.

One statement that struck me as thought provoking (though I don't think I read it the way it was intended) was, in reading feedback on Gwen on AG's site, one mom wrote "Gwen didn't come with much" and went on to write the clothing she bought her. Another doll to buy and accessorize.

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