When the American Girl catalog would enter my household, I’d page through the overpriced accessories with glee.  I had Kirsten, because I was vaguely blonde-ish, and she was my very best friend. We slept in the same bed every night, we joined my swim club’s American Girl Club and dressed in the same clothes (yup, I was the unfortunate child who was a Swedish pioneer for Halloween). Eventually she grew up and had to get her own miniature bed, which at the moment is being covered by several articles of clothes. Regardless, nobody could deny that silly catalog had a big, embarrassing impression on me. And Ilona Szwarc was able to capture that influence.

Apparently (and I guess logically) American Girl dolls are a phenomenon virtually unknown outside the country. In coming to the United States, Szwarc was intrigued by the sight of little girls with their matching look-a-like dolls. For the past few years, the Polish photographer has taken photos of real American girls with their American Girl dolls, finding it a fascinating “window” into American culture.

 That’s the concept, and it’s brilliant. We loved it back when we first heard it and now we're happy to report that you can see these photos in a brand new exhibit.

In each picture Szwarc tries to bring something different to the camera. “I wanted to capture something unique to every one of my subjects, so I would give them very simple direction and observe how they interpret it with body language,” Szwarc said in a recent article. So while the idea sounds like it would get repetitive (and after photographing over 100 girls I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t FEEL repetitive) it’s instead a reflection of each individual in their environment, their behavior, their character, and how they react to being and having an American Girl doll. Nice.

This fascination is not without critique, however. Szwarc claims that the dolls still enforce stereotypical gender roles, and that the entire cultural meaning behind American Girls felt very “exclusive.” That at the end of the day, it was all about being American, and being for Americans. Well…

While I don’t bother defending Barbie anymore – nobody will hear that argument, because Barbie is the longtime antithesis of feminism unless used “ironically” – I can honestly say there was a lot of good that came from a love of American Girl dolls. Not only did you get a historical insight if you were a nerd like me who read the books, but the allure came from finding a “twin” doll that looked like you. Eventually you could even get a modern, customizable doll, if none of the characters fit your look. And although they have virtually the same face, the point of American Girls was to embrace all sorts of cultures and personalities, and if even you weren’t blonde and blue eyed it assured you that being different was okay. Here is your very own doppelganger doll that reinforces that.

If anything I could see how the price point was alienating (those bitches were expensive). 

What’s your opinion? Inclusive or exclusive? Did you have an American Girl doll of your own? Which was your favorite? Do you want to join my club? Things to consider…

Szwarc’s collection will be on display at New York’s Foley Gallery until July 3rd.

Original Article via thedailybeast.com

Images via thisispaper.com and newyorker.com

Tagged in: toys, Ilona Szwarc, dolls, childrens toys, American Girl doll   

The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.


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