Controversy around American Girl’s bullied, homeless Gwen

Julie’s parents are divorced.

Molly’s dad is fighting a war.

Kit’s father lost his business.

Gwen is the victim of school bullying.

Though it sounds as if these could be real children coping with problems brought on by war and recession, they’re actually dolls with story lines that carry a whole lot of baggage (and not in the form of accessories).

The idea of Mattel’s American Girl doll line is that these tales might help real girls cope with similar situations. The model is truly genius (I wish I’d thought of it) and has been wildly successful for more than 20 years.

But now, controversy threatens to tarnish American Girl’s squeaky-clean image. The company may have taken its social awareness efforts a tad too far with Gwen, a doll that not only is bullied at school, but also experiences homelessness.

As part of Chrissa’s 2009 Girl of the Year line, Gwen is a sidekick doll whose family falls upon hard times. Gwen gets picked on in school, and Chrissa tries to stop the bullying. In the end, the truth about Gwen’s homelessness is revealed.

What bothers me is not the notion of raising awareness about needy children or families struggling to keep a roof over their heads — even when the product is marketed to kids as young as 3. What offends me is that Mattel is using the Gwen story line to make money. Lots of it. Full story.


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