For $95, a homeless doll

Gwen Thompson, the newest American Girl doll, is homeless. Dad left, mom lost her job and they now sleep in a car. Like other dolls in the very expensive collection, Gwen sells for $95.

The decision to create Gwen, a friend to bully-battling Chrissa, is “at best a head-scratcher and at worst a horribly offensive cultural trainwreck,” writes Nina Shen on Double X.

I agree that Mattel should donate the profits to help real homeless children.  If not, parents might want to donate $95 to charity and tell their little girls to make do with the dolls they’ve already got.

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  1. Diana Senechal says:

    I know this is nothing new in the doll industry–but it is sad that so many toys come equipped with storybooks telling you all about them. Why can’t children be left to make up their own stories about their dolls?

    It’s fine for some dolls to have stories–dolls representing historical figures or characters in beloved books. But why make stories for dolls otherwise? Why make books to go along with dolls?

  2. And if she maps to the majority of actual homeless people who’re sleeping in a car (ie, the temporary homeless, not vagrants and bums), she’ll be back in a real home within a week or two, thanks to mom’s family or network of friends and a new job.

  3. no parent (or grandma more likely) escapes paying only $95 for these dolls. the company makes much more money off the crappy accessories (miniature furniture, clothing) for the dolls. i think the full set is a couple hundred. i can’t imagine what non-offensive accessories they would have for a homeless doll.

    is the homeless doll any more exploitative than the other dolls the company already has? they have american indian dolls, great depression era dolls, lower east side jewish immigrant, etc.

    don’t get me wrong–i’ve been to the company’s store in chicago and i think it’s the worst place on earth. i just don’t think this doll is worse than the other crap they push.

  4. Have you read the Chrissa books for this year’s doll? Gwen is her friend, along with another girl, Sonali. (Gwen doesn’t have any extra accessories, btw–check the catalog online.) It’s an “issue” story–Chrissa and Gwen deal with the mean girl clique in their class, and bullying is the focus of the series. In the story, Chrissa finds out at the end that Gwen and her mom were homeless for a period of months, but got help and now live in an apartment (which explains why Gwen wouldn’t invite her over at first). I don’t know why this story is making the rounds now, when Chrissa and her buddies will be gone in a few months–they’re the “girl of the year” line.

    Should you prefer a doll with no story attached, AG has a popular line of “Just Like Me” dolls, which you custom-order to look however you like.

    Yes, AG dolls are expensive. But they do make an effort to include a lot of different kinds of people and address issues kids are dealing with. And they treat girls as *girls*–their products aren’t sexualized like an awful lot of current products. I don’t see why that’s so awful. (Barbie, now–I object to Barbie.)

  5. I had to dig into this a bit. I couldn’t locate Gwen at first on the website–as dangermom points out, she is the friend of a doll, and not one in the historical collection. In fact, there is not much on the site to indicate homelessness–so the context is pretty clearly, here is a friend, and BTW, she and her mom had a tough time for a while. My fear going in was that this line (which I think did not originate with Mattel–I am guessing they bought it up when it became popular), with a fairly high price tag, might be encouraging the “tourist” view of social problems–not so unusual in certain circles. Let’s go visit the homeless on the day before Christmas and then go home to our feast of excess.

    I am not quite so drawn to the “issues” series as I have been to the historical dolls, who I adored from the time I received the first catalogue. The only thing I have ever been able to afford was one year when they had dolls for the dolls–so I could get a miniature version of one of the historical dolls for my daughter. I have been to one of the stores, and yes, they are quite a bit over the top (you can get your doll’s hair redone in a beauty shop kind of place), especially when you consider that there are in fact some girls dressed identically to their dolls, making a day of it for a party. But, overall, I have been impressed by the level of historical detail that is included in each set–and the story that captures an essence of the time, from the point of view of the doll/character.

  6. Homeschooling Granny says:

    I’m very fond of American Girl dolls. I believe that they were the first to fill in the gap between baby dolls and teenage dolls. They exemplify the idea that what girls of 5 – 12 can do is interesting and worthwhile, that life isn’t all in the future.

    The historical dolls and the story books that go with them can be an avenue to opening up different eras of history. I have a Molly doll as she is most closely my contemporary and have made Samantha clothes for her because Samantha is close contemporary of my mother. There are patterns, Vogue and probably others, as well as books of instructions, for making 18″ dolls so one is not locked into paying $95. Many libraries have the American Girl story books.

    There are also Gali girls, young Jewish girls at different times and places in history. I’ve seen Christian girl dolls representing the settlement of the west, a la Little House, but I don’t recall who makes them.

  7. Mike Curtis says:

    Anything that can be taken seriously by one person can be made fun of by another. A fellow sitting next to me in the teacher’s lounge whispered to me, “One good thing about dating homeless people is, after the date is over, you can drop them off anywhere”. Oh! The insensitivity.

    It’s a doll, not an Icon. The homeless doll is to doll collectors as a manure spreader is to a collector of farm implements.

  8. “I’ve seen Christian girl dolls representing the settlement of the west, a la Little House, but I don’t recall who makes them.”

    You’re probably thinking of Vision Forum’s doll line, called Beautiful Girlhood. They have a collection of historical costumes as well, mostly American.

    There are a lot of 18″ dolls on the market these days, priced for every pocketbook. Target and Michael’s both carry inexpensive dolls. As above, there are tons of patterns (very cheap) so you can make your own outfits–my girls have a lot of doll clothes, all home-sewn from remnants and scraps, from Irish dance dresses to Korean hanbok to Felicity’s blue ballgown. It’s a good (and time-honored) way for a girl to get started on sewing.

  9. dangermom–you just reminded me of a project that my church used to take on when I was young. They provided generic unclothed dolls–which church members dressed and they became gifts for girls somewhere. I was too old to officially “play” with dolls, but old enough to sew the year that my mom and I dressed a doll. It really was a lot of fun.

  10. Soapbox0916 says:


    Coming from the perspective of someone who currently works with homeless clients, your view of everything will be OK in a couple of weeks is much more of a dream than a reality. I wish that was the truth. Is the housing first model where you came up with 2 weeks?

    I can’t say that I have never seen it happen that quickly since what homeless providers first do is try to line up homeless clients with family and friends first, but normally those with family and friends willing/able to help the family out are usually helping the family out before they have to live in a car. Not always though, and it is really complicated.

    Personally I think, the majority of the non-chronic homeless like Gwen’s family could have been prevented from becoming homeless if they would have had the support of family and friends. Often the only difference between the homeless like Gwen’s family that fell onto hard times and the non-homeless that fell onto hard times, is that the homeless lacked the family and friends support system.

    Communities are trying to shift to a housing first model that puts people in housing first (if the family can eventually substain themselves at a later point) or into permanet supportive housing if the person has a disability. Housing first models do try to get people into a house within 2 weeks and do try to help out with a job and connections, but a homeless family has a long way to do even with that help. They are housed in a regular house instead of a shelter bed, but they are still far removed from getting back on their feet. A house is more humane than a shelter. The goal is get away from the shelter model that has been the norm for decades.

    You are correct that the majority of homeless are only homeless for a short period of time, but even for success stories, it takes months to a couple of years for the majority of families to “recover”.

  11. Andrew Bell says:

    Somebody in marketing must have come up with this as an April fool’s joke and nobody down the line got it. They must just be dying of laughter.

  12. “Personally I think, the majority of the non-chronic homeless like Gwen’s family could have been prevented from becoming homeless if they would have had the support of family and friends. Often the only difference between the homeless like Gwen’s family that fell onto hard times and the non-homeless that fell onto hard times, is that the homeless lacked the family and friends support system.”

    It’s really hard though when the individual has mental illness like schizophrenia and refuses to take his/her medication. If he/she is over 18, the law limits what family members can do. Until their mental state degenerates enough to make him/her a danger to self or others, adults cannot be forced into treatment.

    My dad had a cousin who spent years in and out of mental hospitals because of schizophrenia. He did spend some time on the streets, not because a lack of family support but because he refused to take his medication. Eventually, he did agree to an assisted living arrangement but it was a real struggle and very painful for his loved ones to watch 🙁

  13. Margo/Mom says:

    CW is right. There are times when a person’s needs far exceed the available support of their family and friends, not to mention the times when the most supportive act is to refuse to shelter them from consequences of their actions. I have watched a few people go through the degeneration (or decompensation) process until someone can legally intervene. It ain’t pretty–and I have the highest levels of respect for some of the street level case managers I have known who manage to keep up with some really hurting people until they are finally considered to be a “danger to themselves or others.”

  14. Soapbox0916 says:

    I agree with you CW and Margo/Mom. That is why I used the term non-chronic homeless like Gwen’s family to qualify my statement. Those with mental illness and disabling conditions usually fall into the chronic homeless category, which is a completely different subset of the homeless population represented by Gwen’s family.

    Gwen’s family is only one type of homeless, and homeless people are as varied as the human population itself. From personal experience working as a government peon in the homeless provider world, the only difference between far too many homeless and the regular population has to do with the support of family and friends. Family and friends do make a critical difference in people’s lives.

    Taking this away from housing for a moment, family and friends for students can make a huge difference in the success of students as well.