Looking for the perfect gift for the little girl who has everything, from her own pet llama to dramatic ski and swim vacations? If the little girl happens to be Chrissa, a character in the American Girl doll series, a homeless friend may just be the perfect accessory. And if you’re a real little girl, wouldn’t you just love a homeless friend, too? Or, better yet, a homeless friend doll, for a mere $95?
Gwen, a limited-edition doll, is part of the backstory for Chrissa (what, you didn’t know dolls had backstories?), who proves her worth by standing up for her “different” friends, including homeless Gwen and black Sonali.
Not surprisingly, homeless advocates have objected to the doll, and question the idea that including Gwen in the product line “kind of shows awareness to what’s going on in the world,” as one mother shopping in an American Girl boutique told a CBS correspondent.
There are between 7,000 and 10,000 homeless children in L.A. alone … and it’s doubtful many, if any, could afford Gwen’s $95 price tag.
One homeless woman in a shelter … said Gwen touched her heart when she saw the doll in its box. The women praised the doll … until they learned Gwen isn’t a fundraising device for the homeless. “I don’t even see why you would make a homeless doll, anyway,” one woman said … unless it was being used to raise money to help charities aiding the homeless.
Advocates also worry that the “valuable lessons about life,” which American Girl says are taught by the dolls, include the idea that it’s okay to be homeless. Tanya Tull, president of Beyond Shelter, told CBS that she’s “afraid that [girls are] going to pick up the idea that it’s OK, that it’s an accepted segment of society that some children are homeless and some children are not.”
Of course, most children will probably miss the idea that Gwen is supposed to be homeless, given that she looks pretty much identical to every other American Girl doll, down to her “white eyelet lace dress with embroidered accents.” But wait! It turns out Gwen can’t even afford a full lineup of accessories; she has to make do with a “pink headband that doubles as a belt.” Poor Gwen!
Update: Here’s American Girl’s response:
American Girl Statement
Since its inception in 1986, American Girl’s historical and contemporary books have addressed a wide range of important social issues that have had a significant impact on the lives of girls and women. The contemporary 2009 Girl of the Year line, of which Gwen is a part, specifically addresses the issue of relational aggression or bullying, which has become a growing concern for girls and their parents today.
While our outreach in support of the line will continue to focus on preventing peer aggression, we are pleased to continue our ongoing partnership with HomeAid America and its mission to support the temporarily homeless. We will do so through a variety of fundraising initiatives, such as our ongoing commitment to Project Playhouse™, special fundraising events at American Girl retail stores, as well as direct grants.
HomeAid America Statement
HomeAid America, a leading national nonprofit provider of housing for today’s homeless, is proud of its ongoing partnership with American Girl. Since 2006, we have worked with American Girl on HomeAid’s Project Playhouse™, an annual key fundraising event that raises money and awareness for the organization’s shelter development program.
As one of our signature partners, American Girl has demonstrated a high-level of commitment and passion to help us with our mission to build dignified housing where homeless families and individuals can rebuild their lives. We are pleased to continue our relationship with American Girl and look forward to our next fundraising project with them.
Jeffrey A. Slavin
HomeAid America, Inc.