American Doll 2023: Diversity at its finest

Aishwarya Ramasubramanian, THO Editor

LOOK! IT’S ME: Growing up with multicultural dolls nurtures a child’s cultural awareness and acceptance. (Sophia Ho)

Dolls live in the enchanting world of our imaginations: their ‘personalities’ developed through our creativity, their history shaped by our tumultuous experiences and their styles tastefully designed to our preferences. For descendants from ethnic minorities, however, that kind of artistic authority was impossible—diverse representation remained a dream. That finally became a reality when American Girl named Kavi Sharma as their Girl of the Year, the first South Asian American character since the program’s start in 2001.

As a brand, American Girl advocates for cultural diversity through authentic depictions of America’s rich history. Founder Pleasant Rowland cultivated a culture of inclusivity to inspire young girls to learn about the stories of America’s past. The executive decision to release Kavi Sharma is a testament to the evolution of corporate America, from adhering to stereotypes to allowing diversity to flourish.

Before American Girl stole the hearts of millions of girls, Mattel’s Barbie took the industry by storm, but the resulting unrealistic body image standards and reinforcement of stereotypes did more harm than good to adolescent self image, particularly for non-white children. The

University of Hawaii explains that “Barbie symbolizes a fixation on appearance and clothes as the notion of beauty is attached to blue eyes, skinny waist and fair skin through dyed-dipped versions of archetypical white American beauty.”

Up until recently, American Girl had offered more diverse selections than other popular toy brands, but ethnic portrayals remained limited. The recent inclusion of the South Asian doll allowed the brand to create a more realistic representation of America’s diversity, branching out to more consumers.

It makes me feel so happy for the little girls who are in my position, who wanted an American Girl doll who looked like them

— sophomore Liane Mathew

“It makes me feel so happy for the little girls who are in my position, who wanted an American Girl doll who looked like them,” sophomore Liane Mathew said. “A South Asian character finally being the main character is such an important change.”

Shifting from the industry standard of an “American” to a more universal depiction, in 2021, the brand introduced “Worlds by Us,” a new line of ethnically diverse dolls, serving as a platform to foster inclusivity. The American Girl of the Year 2022 was Corinne Tan, the line’s first character with an ethnically Asian background. Most importantly, the brand aims to never cease its commitment to racial equality, regardless of backlash and societal expectations.

By naming Kavi Sharma American Girl of the Year, American Girl sets a precedent, sending a message to the world that companies must adapt to America’s evolving diversity to properly address their consumers’ needs. By empowering the lives of millions of girls through the release of dolls like this, imagination can become a reality, enabling young females to finally feel seen.