American Girls and their American Girls

by Intern Maura


The American Girl doll is a strange cultural icon of ours. They simultaneously encourage self-love and individuality — as well as the getting-one-because-everyone-has-one mindset of the herd. They’re designed to look like a “real” 9-year-old girl, and aren’t disproportionate molds of an unreachable beauty ideal like Barbie — but they also cost hundreds of dollars more with all of their accessories, making them a conspicuous marker of economic status. (Or, they cripple parents financially so that their daughter won’t look conspicuous.) Not surprisingly, when Polish photographer Ilona Szwarc came across the phenomenon, she was inspired to document it. 


In a statement about her “American Girls” work (the entirety of which can be viewed on her website), she writes:


“Photographically it was a beautiful image — girls with their sculptural representations, their twins, their avatars…[The] American Girl product defines and categorizes 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.”


In many of Szwarc’s photos, the real American girls look even more glassy-eyed and emotionless than their American Girl dolls. Here are a few examples of the beautifully eerie photos in the collection:



These images sparked a lot of discussion here in the BUST office. Did you grow up with American Girl dolls? What do you think of them?



Images via


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