American Girls

American Girl, Mattel subsidiary and maker of the iconic doll line, continues to hold a massive place in the more wholesome girl cultural of today. Their dolls are deemed independent and full of pluck and harked as the anti-Barbie for their pre-pubescent bodies. This is all well and good but when are girls supposed to  grow out of this feminine rite-of-passage?  How old is too old to carry a doll around? It seems this is the sweet (uncomfortable) spot that New York photographer Ilona Szwarc has documented in her series American Girls. In her shots tween girls tote around these dolls, often dressing alike, seeming to hold on to a childhood that, to the viewer at least, seems visibly past.

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2 Comments

  1. I think there is a lot to talk about femininity in America, but something that stood out to me is that the product American Girls is meant for older girls, from 8 years old and up. This idea is foreign to me, as I remember in Europe, we would want to leave the dolls behind as soon as we could. By 6 years old we were all done with Barbies.. Here it seems to me that the company that manufactures the dolls wanted to keep their clients for a longer period of time, and they have done it successfully. Parents are adopting this as the idea that their daughters will have a longer childhood, and as an artist I am wondering what effect will this prolonged play have on a generation of women who are growing up like that. I am only posing questions and opening up the discussion by presenting my photographs that way. Do the dolls really extend their childhood? Or perhaps it takes away from the strength that girls could develop, and contributes to the infantilization of women?

  2. I think I can only speak for the girls in the context of American Girl dolls, as I got to know them and hear their opinions. I also got a chance to examine a cross section of girls who play with those dolls and these are my observations. I don’t really know about boys, however even now when I think of it, I don’t think boys identify themselves and look up that much to role models from the culture. Perhaps I simply don’t know, but it seems to me that girls are more prone to compare themselves and mimic some influences from the outside and that it is particularly difficult for them to establish their individuality and femininity having to negotiate between different influences from celebrity and consumer culture, and school and family.

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