Dora and American Girl Dolls - Not All We Assume

Kara Powell | Feb 18, 2011

So I’m reading Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture and am starting to see particular girl toys with new eyes, both as a parent and a youth leader.

My girls aren’t “into” American Girl dolls, but Orenstein visited a few of the stores and talked with some mom/daughter pairs who love these dolls. Interestingly, these dolls, which seem to model some of the character values we would want for our girls (risk-taking, bravery, intelligence) are SUPER expensive (over $100). Plus they come with a PLETHORA of accessories that girls want for their girls, all of which also come at an expensive price tag. Ironically, a doll that’s supposed to counter the materialistic/superficial messages of our culture can only be enjoyed by families with significant resources.

In our family, we have been fans of Dora the Explorer . I love that my kids learn Spanish and that they interact with Dora and the questions she asks. But Orenstein helped me realize that while Dora herself is pretty brave, smart and capable, many of the Dora accessories (lip gloss bracelets, hair care kit, barrettes) seem to counter the core of who Dora is.

Orenstein points out that even dolls with POSITIVE messages—the types of character values you and I would likely want to instill in girls—are tainted by the materialistic, superficial, appearance-focused flavors of our culture.

We are swimming against a big cultural current in the messages we are trying to instill in girls. That’s yet another reason that it’s so important that kids are surrounded by LOTS of adults who care about them and can speak and model truth in the midst of a culture that offers the opposite.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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