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American Girl Features Model With Down Syndrome, But Won't Make a Doll

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On Monday, American Girl made a splash when the company featured Ivy Kimble, a 4-year-old model with Down syndrome, in its October product catalog. Despite this step toward inclusion for people with disabilities, a petition highlights that American Girl isn’t willing to include kids with Down syndrome in its line of dolls.

After American Girl featured a model with Down syndrome in its print advertising this month, a petition began recirculating asking the company to create a doll with Down syndrome. According to Beth Scott, who started the petition, American Girl still has not created a doll with Down syndrome, seven years after she first started asking.

“My daughter is 11 years old and wants an American Girl doll that looks like her and has Down Syndrome,” Scott wrote in the initial petition. “But American Girl refuses to make a doll that has Down Syndrome because there isn’t enough interest in it as they say!”

According to an open letter written by Lindsay Robertson, vice president/treasurer of Save Down Syndrome, a statement she received from American Girl confirmed the company did not have plans to design a doll with Down syndrome. Robertson, whose daughter Charlie has Down syndrome, told The Mighty American Girl didn’t think they could accurately represent the community.

“When I asked them at the beginning of 2019 why they weren’t interested in making a doll with Down syndrome, they responded with, ‘We wouldn’t be able to accurately represent that population and do not want to offend anyone,’” Robertson said, adding:

They’ve given this same response to dozens of parents asking the same question. Our answer? They won’t. There are tons of families and little kids who are willing to model for American Girl so they can get the features and qualities correct. There are tons of parents who are willing to provide feedback on these products as well. All they have to do is ask.

In addition, Robertson shared in her letter online that despite years of advocacy from other moms like herself and Scott, American Girl said there wasn’t enough interest in a doll with Down syndrome. Scott’s petition asking for an American Girl with Down syndrome has garnered more than 32,000 signatures. American Girl, which is aware of the petition, said in a statement provided to The Mighty via email:

We are extremely proud of the products we currently have that speak to diversity and inclusion and remain deeply committed to expanding in this important area. American Girl is continually striving to maintain its positive reputation for inclusiveness, and while we have a vast array of dolls and accessories that help a girl create a doll that’s as unique as she is, we know there are many experiences and circumstances yet to be represented. Although we’re unable to say when or if a Down syndrome doll will be developed in the future, the request has been shared with the appropriate people at American Girl and will help spur important conversations among our teams. We were thrilled to work with Ivy Kimble for our holiday catalogues and look forward to continuing our work in celebrating all girls.

American Girl has taken steps to improve the diversity of its dolls, including creating wheelchairs, hearing aids, crutches, an insulin pump, and service dogs over the years. In 2019, American Girl named its Girl of the Year Blaire Wilson, a doll who has a dairy food sensitivity. Its parent company, Mattel, also refocused on the disability community through its popular Barbie dolls, including a new Barbie who uses a wheelchair.

However, declining to create a doll with Down syndrome isn’t the first time American Girl has stepped away from disability inclusion. In 2016, Melissa Shang petitioned American Girl to write a disability backstory for one of its dolls. American Girl declined, so Shang and her sister Eve wrote their own novel instead.

Like in advertising and the media, it’s important that kids with disabilities see themselves represented in the toys they play with, yet disabilities are underrepresented despite nearly 25% of the population living with a disability. Not only does playing with dolls with disabilities increase empathy in all children, but it’s especially affirming to kids with disabilities.

“American Girl has stated that their purpose is to, ‘Build character through strong characters, represent every girl’s story and focus on authenticity,’” Robertson said, adding:

How is having a doll with Down syndrome not doing any of that? My daughter is strong. She’s independent, she loves who she is, she’s happy, she’s a self-advocate and an ambassador for numerous organizations. Her story is important too. Showing she’s a strong and capable little girl is important for other typical kids to see too. Having Charlie see a physical doll that looks similar to her shows that she’s worthy too. It shows all individuals who have Down syndrome that the world isn’t shutting them out and choosing not to include them. It shows that as a society, we are moving in the right direction and making sure that ALL individuals are represented equally.

Though American Girl does not offer a doll with Down syndrome, other toy companies are working to fill the representation gap. For example, Australian company Lime Tree Kids sells baby dolls with Down syndrome, available for $89.95 AUD through its website. While these dolls are a step in the right direction, a major company like American Girl has major reach and influence that would make dolls with Down syndrome even more accessible.

“My hope is that American Girl takes the initiative and creates a doll who has Down syndrome so that our kids can be included along with the other children who have inspired new American Girl characters,” Robertson said. “Different isn’t scary. It’s inclusive and welcoming. It’s opening a world of possibilities to our kids and to individuals who have Down syndrome or any kind of physical disability. I hope American Girl takes our community’s feedback to heart and seriously considers making a doll that represents such a large portion of our population.”

Updated Nov. 6 with a statement from American Girl.

Header image via American Girl

Originally published: November 5, 2019
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