Posted by Jennifer Wright on October 5, 2009 12:41 PM
Childhood. American history. The danger of tripping over small, overly excited children lost in play. All things that might come to mind when you think of Mattel's American Girl dolls. One thing that probably doesn’t? The glaring specter of homelessness.
This is set to change with Gwen, the brand’s first, highly controversial homeless doll. Like all American Girl dolls, Gwen comes with a storyline, but hers is about how her father walked out on the family, her mother lost her job and they ended up living in a car.
The most disturbing part of all of it is the fact that the doll costs $95, no portion of which goes towards the homeless, and totally unaffordable to lower-income families. All of which risked shifting American Girl’s brand from being cheerfully educational to horribly out of touch with the plight of lower income Americans. (After some moms started an online boycott, Mattel replied that proceeds from the doll's sale will go to an anti-bullying education campaign, since Gwen's storyline includes her being bullied at school.)
Despite the controversy, my friend’s niece still wants a Gwen doll. Admittedly, it’s because she’s blonde and has a frilly white dress (and hopefully her own cardboard box dream house!), not because she’s homeless. But it seems unlikely that American Girl executives will have to live in the ghetto anytime soon.