Two Worlds of Doll Shopping

I had an interesting experience this weekend while I shopped for the 18 inch doll that the OPP wants for Christmas. First, the obvious stuff like there were no boy dolls, most everything was pink and in the designated ‘girl’ aisles, and at one store all of the dolls were blonde haired and blue-eyed. I was looking for a doll with olive skin, black hair and brown eyes to look like the OPP who looks like her partial Lebanese heritage. The OPP has outgrown her handmade dolls, and wants one of these “big girl” dolls very badly.

But what really struck me was the feeling I got as I looked at the dolls (similar to American Girl except in price), with sweet makeup-free faces and cute, age-appropriate clothing and great story lines behind them. I felt nostalgic for my baby dolls from when I was a girl, and all of the adventures I took them on like 1840’s frontier school house or rescuing them from a sinking cruise ship and living on a deserted island. The doll I was looking at for the OPP just felt like a perfect fit for my almost-seven-year-old and seemed like she would become a great pal for the OPP during her girlhood.

And then I turned the corner to the dolls that don’t look like little girls. The dolls with impossibly thin bodies and giant heads and breasts, dressed in skimpy clothing and heavy make up and sexually fetishized footwear, and I sucked my breath in. I saw a little girl, maybe eight or nine, dressed like a small woman in a tight shirt and short skirt and heeled shoes, drooling over these dolls. Toys are media, and media is a diet. I wondered what this little girl had been taking in, silently hoping not all of it was toxic. I hoped she was getting messages or was involved in activities that counteracted the awfulness comprised in these sexualized dolls. One doll and one outfit certainly doesn’t make nor undo a girl, but a girlhood full of those messages is harmful.

Those are not messages that I accept for my child.

It disturbs me when parents opt into this problem by purchasing the toys and clothing that carry those harmful messages. Sexualization is a pestilent beast.

I looked down at the doll I was about to purchase, and the little travel suitcase and passport accessory, and was content knowing that this doll, the story that came with her (an animal and marine lover who wants to travel to South Africa), and the way she looked represented the messages I want my little girl growing up with and internalizing.

The day may come when Amelia wants to wear revealing clothing and chase romantic interests or go out partying. I did when I was a young adult in college. But not when I was almost-seven-years-old.

I want my little girl to be six going on seven. I don’t need her rushing into young adulthood, and all the pitfalls it can bring if you aren’t ready for it and don’t have a sense of who you are.

Six going on seven. The rest will come, or not, in time. But it is these days of her girlhood I find so precious in this space, in this time.


The Journey Girl I purchased for Amelia, the 6yo OPP.

The Monster High doll the 8yo girl in the aisle with me was looking at.


  1. Wow! The journey girl looks awesome! I would have loved a doll like that when I was little. The monster high doll worries me.

    Must look into similar dolls for our 3-going-on-four year old niece!

  2. Haba makes some great dolls, both male and female. Got one for my little one this christmas and it isn’t plastic which we love.

  3. Those images side-by-side are startling! Great post!

    • Thanks Hillary! 🙂

      • I’m not seeing an MH visual on the right side of the post, only the caption? Was it removed? (doesn’t matter as I KNOW what they look like)

        I took an iphone shot of Journey Girls as a ‘viable positive pick’ too, along with another one called Hearts For Hearts Girls that had an ‘American Girl’ vibe too: Heart I’m definitely outta the younger girls’ loop, so have been doing recon w/kids my teen babysits for…and it’s…yes, startling, Hillary.

  4. You’re lucky in that you could find something like The Journey Girl at all. I have never seen anything like it here in Australia. All I get are the baby dolls wearing pink with blonde hair and blue eyes, Barbie, Monster High/Bratz and the like. I’d love a doll like that for Miss G, who also has brown eyes and brown hair because of her father’s Greek heritage.

    I bought her a palaeontologist career barbie for xmas, because G desperately wants to be a palaeontologist, but I couldn’t get the dark hair/skin/eyed version so I ended up with the blue eyed, blonde. I’m about to google how I can dye her hair brown and I might even colour in her eyes to be brown if it won’t look too weird.

    I’m not a fan of Barbie at all, so Miss G’s first Barbies (Astronaut, Firefighter and Architect), came with a frank discussion about body image and how Barbie is just a doll and real bodies don’t look like Barbie’s body. I think it would be irresponsible for me not to have that discussion with her. I even showed her that image of the woman with the black texta marks on her body, holding a Barbie doll, showing which parts of her body would have to be removed if she had a body like Barbie.

    “Toys are media, and media is a diet.” Never a truer sentiment spoken.

  5. now that you have the doll ~ i have found that the AG doll clothes don’t offer everything we want ~ so i’ve ordered a fencing outfit, a scientist outfit from people on!

  6. I’ve never heard of Journey Girls, and sadly that’s probably because they don’t have the big business money behind them. I’ll be looking into those now.

    • Mandy –
      I had not heard of them either before this weekend. They are the Toys R Us knock off brand to American Girl. They have strong reviews and a few friends that have purchased them spoke very highly about them. I am excited to give Amelia her doll on Christmas morning!

  7. Nicole (any any other aussies reading), funnily enough there was an article about this in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning. You can buy these ‘Lottie dolls’ online:

    About bloody time it got some mainstream media attention over here. Hopefully the toy stores will wake up and offer alternatives in store!

  8. My 9 1/2 year old girl loves both kinds of dolls – but has different obsessions from time to time (as it turns out). She had an obsession with the animated show “Phineas & Ferb”, so loved all things related for a time, and now has switched to “Adventure Time” that has a boy, Finn, and his dog, Jake, going on wild and mostly absurd adventures… There is also a girl version of Finn named “Fiona”, and a cat version of Jake named “Cake”. She also likes “Monster High” dolls – but I haven’t encouraged those, and she also loves American Girl/Journey dolls… loves to do stop-motion animation videos with them – AND last but not least – she had an earlier (and still likes them) obsession with Barbies – despite my trying not to get her those, she was given a Barbie or two for birthdays when she was around 3 or so… and so it began… but I am not discouraged! My daughter loves Legos, loves Science, reads like a whip, and loves all kinds of toys, not just girl toys or just boy toys – she’s truly “gender” blind to a lot of that…
    As a matter of fact, *I* was a truly distinct “Tomboy” when I was growing up, with short hair and boy clothes, although I did have a couple of Barbies early on… but I had an older brother that I was constantly trying to keep up with! So my favorite toys were trucks, Hot Wheels, baby dolls on occasion too, and I loved to play football, baseball etc.!!! So it’s not a lost cause if your child is drawn to certain kinds of toys – gender twisted or not… just gently remind them what the difference is between real people and make believe (Monster High dolls being very “science fiction” or fantasy based), and dolls that are more realistic, like the American Girl or Journey dolls.

  9. Nicole – you may want to look into ‘re-rooting’ the doll’s hair, rather than dyeing it. Re-roots and re-paints of Barbie dolls (in particular, although the techniques can be used on other brands) are a surprisingly big art-form, with people making all sorts of amazing changes. Use OOAK (One Of A Kind) in your search phrases to help narrow the results.

  10. For those who are wondering where to find the Journey Girls, they are widely available in the U.S. – they are the Toys R Us version of the American Girl dolls. Target has a line as well (Our Generation). Both lines include many, many reasonably-priced accessories. 🙂

  11. On a positive note, the Journey Girl looks wonderful and I’m sure Amelia will love it. I’m glad that you were able to find one that looks like Amelia and also has some of her interests! It’s nice that there are some less expensive options than American Girl dolls. I loved my “Just Like Me” American Girl Doll and got it at about the same age as Amelia (just stumbled across some Christmas photos of me opening the box while I was home for Thanksgiving and had a similar feeling as you did in the toy store).

  12. I just showed these two images to my husband to explain why I read this blog and plan to keep up with these issues as we raise our 2-year-old. His mouth dropped and he was pretty shocked as I relayed your story and showed him the second doll after showing him the adorable childlike one. Thanks for posting this – making sure that my husband understands how real and pervasive these issues are is very important to me. We are already planning to raise our daughter in many ways that are counter-culture, but allowing her to be whoever she wants to be and not allowing the media to get in there and mess up her mind is very important to me as a woman. I believe that one of the reasons I floundered for so many years not knowing what to do with myself was because of the simplistic messages that our culture sends to girls about who they should be.

    • Mary –
      I love that you and your husband are educating yourselves about these issues early, just like my husband and I did. I’m glad that you are a part of our community. My book comes out next fall, I think you will love it!

  13. My girls wanted American girls dolls a year or so back. We looked hard an long for alternatives and were so pleased to find the Journey girls at Toys R Us of all places. They were the only dolls that had unique looks and represented more than blonde blue eyed girls, which my girls are not. The dolls have been amazing, holding up to many trips and much loving. We ended up making all of their clothes from patterns so that we could have age appropriate clothing that was durable. I hope your little girl enjoys hers as much as mine have loved theirs.

  14. Where did you find the Journey Doll? When I search her online I just get places to buy her, not actual info on her.

  15. The doll with the pom pom topped beanie looks creepy. May be the glass eyes, may be the mouth or it may be both.

  16. I don’t think that’s fair. You are judging the dolls by the surface. Monster High dolls express individuality, and self expression. Those dolls aren’t trying to brainwash little girls into being whores. They’re just dolls. Children grow out of things all the time. If you buy a girl 6-7 a barbie doll, she’ll be done with it when shes 10. It won’t stick. It’s not fair for you to blame dolls on something you control. At the end of the day the parents buy clothes that’s appropriate for girls and dress them. And if they let their 8 yr old girl go out in a short skirt, it’s none of your business anyway. If you wanna shelter your children from the world like that, good luck. But as far as I’m concerned, Mattel is doing a great thing with Monster High. They’re showing girls (and boys) that it’s okay to be different. Monster High dolls are intended for girls 8+ anyway. I’d gladly let my daughter play with Monster High dolls, because they’re JUST DOLLS. It’s not like she’s playing with drugs or watching provocative tv. Your daughter will eventually have to grow up, and i doubt a doll you bought her at age 7 is going to influence her when shes 18.

    • I agree.
      Melissa, you go on about not slut-shaming, but you’re doing it now.
      The message of Monster High is ‘Be yourself, be unique, be a monster’, and they try to have as much variety as possible, personality-wise, race-wise…
      And I agree again, Destiney, the cut-off age for playing with dolls (as seen by other children) has gone down. Children around the ages of 9-10 tend to think dolls are ‘for babies’, and it’s very few kids that don’t try to rid themselves of the toys of their earlier childhood (myself being one of them). A doll bought for your daughter at a young age will have very little influence on her adult self.

  17. Thank you for making me laugh.

  18. Maribeth U says:

    You mentioned saving babies off a cruise ship and then living on an island…didn’t happen to read “Baby Island” as a child! I always LOVED that book! 🙂

Speak Your Mind