When I first came to the US from Poland, the phenomenon of the American Girl doll immediately caught my attention. Photographically it was a beautiful image – girls with their sculptural representations, their twins, their avatars.
I realized that their designs embodied contemporary cultural values. They were conceived to be anti-Barbie toys modeled after a body of a nine year old. Each doll can be customized to look exactly like its owner, yet all of them really look the same.
American Girl dolls offer an illusion of choice therefore an illusion of individuality. Despite that, they play a crucial role for girls in a moment when they are forming their identities. With a wide variety of miniature accessories, a doll hospital, a doll hair salon with personal stylists, they are perhaps among the most luxurious toys ever invented.
American Girl products define and categorize American girls — future American women — and that fact raises important questions about who gets represented and how. Branding behind the doll perpetuates domesticity and traditional gender roles. I examine how culture and society conditions gender and how it invents childhood. Gender becomes a performance that is again mirrored in the performance of my subjects for the camera.
— Ilona Szwarc