Playing with America's Doll

A Cultural Analysis of The American Girl Collection



This critical account of the American Girl brand explores what its books and dolls communicate to girls about femininity, racial identity, ethnicity, and what it means to be an American. Emilie Zaslow begins by tracing the development of American Girl and situates the company’s growth and popularity in a social history of girl power media culture. She then weaves analyses of the collection’s narrative and material representations with qualitative research on mothers and girls. Examining the dolls with both a critical eye and a fan’s curiosity, Zaslow raises questions about the values espoused by this iconic American brand.



Attention millennials and mothers, doll enthusiasts and political activists, scholars and students: this meticulously researched book is the first comprehensive history to unpack Girl Power’s most iconic artifacts of girls’ cultures and girlhoods from the mid 1980s to the present. Emilie Zaslow skillfully probes the paradoxes between feminism and femininity, play and politics, and commodity activism and consumer consumption embodied in the dolls, inscribed in their stories, and interpreted by players and parents. This study will contribute importantly to a range of fields—from girls’ studies and childhood studies to women’s studies, from media studies to American studies, and book studies to dolls’ studies.
— Miriam Forman-Brunell, University of Missouri-Kansas City, USA
Written in a style that makes its incisive arguments accessible to any audience, the book beautifully elucidates American Girl’s conflicting logics regarding race, ethnicity, gender, agency, social activism, and consumption.
— Sarah Projansky, University of Utah, USA
Zaslow deftly argues how the dolls, their stories, and the industry of which they are a part are valuable tools for identity development, social justice learning, and creativity, while they simultaneously participate in the corporate structure that desires ever-expanding profit. This book is a needed reminder of the complex intersection of childhood and capitalism.
— Allison Butler, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA


Available for purchase on Amazon and Palgrave Macmillan.