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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Time to gripe: I'm not feeling Isabelle

WARNING: This post will be somewhat political.  Grow a thick skin or turn back now.  Begin rant.  I was a teenager when the first American Girl of the Year was released back in 2001.  Her name was Lindsey Bergman, and she was very cute.  She was Jewish, had a nice layered outfit and pretty brown curls, and liked to ride a scooter.  I already had six American Girls at the time (yes, six), and in spite of her cuteness Lindsey wasn't a must-have, so I overlooked her.  However, I loved the idea of Girl of the Year and was pleased when it continued, though I related to blonde, eco-nut Kailey Hopkins even less than I did Lindsey (environmentalists annoy me).  Apparently the rest of the public felt the same way because both Lindsey and Kailey sold poorly, enough so that they were both around longer than the one year they were supposed to occupy.  But since 2005, each year has seen a new girl and 2014 is no exception.  This year's Girl of the Year is Isabelle Palmer, and she's...problematic.  This is what Isabelle looks like.
Before I begin, I'd like to point out that I am white and proud of it, but I do like a little diversity in my doll collection (my recent purchase of Ana Ming attests to that).  Anyway, Isabelle is white like the last two Girls of the Year, which has raised the hackles of some of the public, including some of my fellow bloggers.  A few attest that the lack of non-white dolls in the AG Girls of the Year line is flat-out racist, which I think is a teensy bit of an overreaction (just my opinion).  I don't think Isabelle or the doll line are racist, but the lack of non-white dolls IS a fair complaint, a disappointment, and a bore.  Oh sure, there have been dolls of color, but I can only name one that is proven to be a full-blood non-white; Sonali and Kanani are both of Asian decent, but it's never specified what nationality the other half is.  Nethilia points out in her post about Isabelle that for all we know Sonali could be half-white, and I have to agree that that is a possibility.  There has never been a full-blood Asian, a full-blood black, or a full-blood Native American.  Furthermore, Isabelle is about as white as a doll can get.  Of all the hair colors in the world, she has to be a danged blonde.  Granted, she DOES have a streak in her hair...but it's pink.  Oooo, aren't we just daring!  A pink steak???  What a little rebel (sarcasm)!  No dreadlocks or beads or braids, just one measly pink streak.  Her meet outfit is also dominantly pink and very ordinary in appearance and style.  Her face is the classic mold, the same as 99% of all the American Girls, with an open smile and a rounded lower lip.  And lastly, Isabelle is a ballerina.  Now, I love ballerinas and I love ballerina dolls.  But the thing is, American Girl already did a ballerina...and she was a heck of a lot better than Isabelle!  Meet Marisol Luna, the third Girl of the Year.
This is the first (and so far, only) Girl of the Year that I considered getting.  She was released in 2005, the year my father died, thus I did not ask for her.  Hey, why add to my mother's stress by begging her for a ridiculously expensive doll that I didn't really need?  But anyway, I really loved Marisol.  It pleased me to see a doll of color; Marisol is the doll I referred to above, the only one who isn't white or some mix.  It also pleased me that she looked like Josefina, whom I adore.  She was controversial, and I love controversial dolls.  And lastly, Marisol came with cute stuff.  She had dance clothes and a cute little cat, and I was absolutely smitten.

Isabelle pales in comparison...literally.  She lacks Marisol's character, her gorgeous hair, her eclectic mix-and-match outfit, and her originality.  Nearly all of Isabelle's wardrobe is rendered in uber-girly shades of pink and purple, and a fair percentage of the pieces are frilly as well.  She has a cat like Marisol, which is cute but unoriginal.  Why not market Isabelle with a beagle or an iguana or a fish?  Or make a doll that is allergic to pets?  The story that accompanies the doll is no more inspired or inspiring.  Isabelle performs, but has a hard time doing so because of...oh, the massively-overused problem of stage fright.  The equally-cliched story of sibling rivalry is also touched on; Isabelle's older sister attends the same ballet school, making Isabelle feel overshadowed.  It sounds like a story that kids could relate to, but it hardly evokes any thought.  It doesn't dabble in deep social problems like homelessness (Gwen), bullying (Chrissa, Gwen, and Sonali), or living in a rough neighborhood (Marisol).  And of course, the idea of a ballerina is a rehash...and it's not even got anything new thrown in.  When Marisol was the Girl of the Year she emphasized in a type of ballet that I'd never heard of called ballet folklorico, which is a type of traditional Mexican ballet.  Granted, there were no folklorico-inspired costumes for Marisol (disappointing), but there was still room for some little kid to LEARN something!  Isabelle, as far as I know, doesn't have that potential.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate Isabelle.  She's a cute little doll and she'll make an excellent little playmate to the little girls who get her.  My issue is that she's...very, very ordinary.  There's nothing that makes her stand out.  If she were standing on a shelf with Addy the ex-slave, Rebecca the Jewish-Russian immigrant and aspiring movie star, Julie the hippie and small-time feminist, and a brunette My American Girl in a cute outfit, I think she'd fade into the background and possibly be mistaken for your run-of-the-mill blonde My American Girl.  A difference in appearance or background would have made a world of difference here.  It would've been interesting to see the daughter of a politician, or an Alaskan girl who engages in polar bear swims, or even a young wire-walker like Nik Wallenda's daughter (she's currently ten like the American Girl dolls are supposed to be, thus why I suggested that).  Heck, it would've been original, at least!  Isabelle isn't original.  She's not ugly or unappealing, and contrary to what some folks think, she's not racist.  But she's not original.  My blog feed is already littered with other bloggers extolling Isabelle's virtues and if they like her, that's fine.  But I'll pass, thanks.

Okay, rant over.  Cheers to the new year!

Yours truly,

!!!UPDATE!!!  Neth has released a new blog post that contains a link to a petition for a disabled American Girl doll, something that I didn't even consider.  If you want to sign the petition, Neth's post is here.  Or if you want a direct link to the petition, click here.

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