After my daughter asked, “Why aren’t there two brown girls together?” about her pages and pages of stickers of American Girls playing and reading and living their lives … after I agreed that it wasn’t right … after she set her lips in that way she has that’s new and disturbing, I had a few choices to make:
Call her on her attitude? No. Not this time. Leave it alone? Let things be as they are? Again: No. Then what do we do?
Write a letter? Write an email? Make a call? Enlist the help of friends – her friends? my friends? Who starts it off? Me, the mom? Her, the kid? Me, the ally? Her, the one whose life is not represented by her favorite brand? And then – what if it doesn’t change? Because probably, it won’t.
We wrote a letter. Mostly, I wrote it and she sat on her iPad nearby, jumping up to add her commentary and make a few edits over my shoulder before we printed it off to stamp and send. She didn’t want to sign it, but she wanted it written. She wanted to be heard.
Here’s what we said:
Dear American Girl,
I am the mother of a ten-year-old who loves your dolls. She loves them. She lobbied my partner and me for one of your dolls for two years before we granted her wish and when we finally did visit your store to choose her doll, she did cartwheels in the aisle. She selected a brown girl that looks like her – from your historical series – the girl most like her in color and facial features – and she has played with her American Girl Doll with love and enthusiasm, over and over and over again.
We have your books on friendship and self-care and puberty, and both she and I appreciate the approach you’ve taken, the stories you’ve chosen to share, the facts, and the tone you take with your readers. We also like the pictures. A lot.
You’ve done a very good job with many things.
A couple weeks ago, though, my daughter and her friend and I were making cards and badges and crafts with your scrapbook sticker set and we noticed something upsetting, especially in the middle of our country’s overt and strong racial tensions. We noticed that while brown girls were shown in a variety of activities, there were no brown girls together. When your brown girls were social, they were social only with white girls. We also noticed there were hardly any Asian girls. And we wondered: Why is that?
I took a picture before we mailed it. Then we left town to visit family for Christmas.
By the time their response arrived – and it didn’t take long, really – we had both forgotten about the letter we sent.
But then I saw the return address, the logo, the postmark, and called her over. “American Girl wrote back. Do you want to hear what they said?” She gave me that guarded look again – not entirely cold this time, still hopeful. I could almost hear her heart beating in her chest. Or maybe it was the heart in my own chest I heard. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Here is what they wrote back:
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with American Girl. We appreciate your feedback and are happy to hear how much your daughter enjoys her doll and our books. At the same time, we’re sorry to hear about your disappointment with our recent catalogue.
Our mission is to ‘Celebrate Girls’, all girls, so we’re committed to having diverse options within our product lines and marketing efforts. While we do not always have the luxury of reshooting catalogue pages to create better balance, one edition may have a better balance than another. However, we believe being a girl, any girl, is great and that the girls we inspire today will become the women who make the difference tomorrow. You have our word that American Girl will continually strive to maintain our reputation for inclusiveness.
We appreciate your interest in an Asian American doll. With the re-launch of the historical collection, we’ve decided to move away from the friend-character strategy within the line, which means we no longer offer Julie’s best friend of Chinese-American heritage, Ivy Ling ®. However, we’re constantly exploring various time periods and cultures to add to our line. We believe the Asian-American story is a very important one to share with girls and we hope to have the opportunity to do so at some point in the future.
In the meantime, we currently offer dolls which are considered Asian American in appearance: Bitty Baby ® (DFN00), Bitty Twins® (F4991-GF1A), the My American Girl® doll (F1253). In addition, our 2006 Girl of the Year® character, Jess®, was of Japanese American heritage. Each of these dolls has light skin, dark brown or black hair, and dark brown or black almond-shaped eyes.
Ms. … we value your opinion and hope this information is helpful. Customer comments are important to us as we strive to make our products as appealing from as many vantage points as possible.
I couldn’t get through the letter without commentary. Hers. Mine. Kelly’s. Reshooting? Inclusiveness? 2006? Julie’s best friend?
“That’s stupid!” my daughter finally said, and I agreed. Again.
But again – now what?
When you try to change the world with a few tiny words and you’re not really heard and there is no change, what then? What’s next? What do you do when your child is watching, waiting?
“Do you want me to post it on my blog?” I asked her. “To see if anyone else has an idea?”
“Yes!” she said. “Do that.”
And she nodded. Decision made.
I took out identifying info ’cause that’s just how I am, but here are the letters in their original form:
Our letter wasn’t perfect. Neither was American Girl’s.
But I’m posting them here and now I’m asking – I really am asking – in case one of you has an idea that sticks:
We didn’t change the world.
What would you do?