American Girl

Gabriela is GOALS.

When I was eight all I wanted was a doll that pooped. I wanted to feed it, wipe its butt and change its diaper. The commercial for Baby Born— a doll that debuted in 1995 and met all of the above criteria— often played between episodes of my afternoon cartoons and featured a catchy jingle with soothing, maternal lyrics:

“Born baby born/please don’t cry anymore/ cuz your mommy is here/ baby born baby born.”

The doll made its owner feel like a mom. It’s life-like features, which prepared me for a motherhood role, supported indicators I’d already received—that my value as a woman was rooted in my destiny as a caretaker.

Baby Born wasn’t the only toy subliminally promoting mommy messages. In fact, all baby dolls are specifically marketed towards young girls and communicate similar takeaways.

By looking at the toy industry, we can discern a lot about our societal values. In her essay, Every Toy is Educational: Pay Attention to What it Teaches, Christia Brown Ph.D., discusses the role toys play in education and says, “All toys are educational, in that all toys teach. We may not, however, be paying attention to WHAT they are teaching.”

Though toy packaging doesn’t explicitly state, “This doll may promote the idea that your child’s value is dependent on her good looks and care-taking skills,” the mere existence of dolls says exactly that.

If that much is true, American Girl is ensuring the messages reaching young girls is on the upswing with toys like the 2017 Girl of the Year. Like all American Girl dolls, this one has quite the back story.

American Girl

Gabriela McBride is a modern black girl working to overcome her stutter. The quiet creative learns to express herself through dance and poetry.

In addition to her admiration of the arts, the young wordsmith has a passion for activism. When the local art community center is in jeopardy, Gabriela takes a stand and uses her poetry to keep it from shutting down.

American Girl has always had a mission to inspire young girls by creating role models that embody strength, independence and leadership—but Gabriela’s relatable nature hits home. Instead of a historical character from the civil rights movement, Gabriela is a modern girl with glossy brown curls and an active, street-wear wardrobe. She looks just like any other girl.

In addition to creating Gabriela, the brand partnered with Scholastic—the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books to create and distribute a free custom curriculum that teaches grade school students how to use poetry as a tool for self-expression. The program, “Express Yourself,” will be available online starting March 1, 2017 and will include teacher lessons, classroom activities, a poetry poster and parenting tips.

Throughout the month of April, the Express Yourself program will motivate boys and girls to find their creative voices and encourage them to share their stories in a poetry contest at the end of the month.