Discover the Unique Girls Explore Dolls

There is no shortage of fashion and princess dolls on the shelves, as most parents these days know. Missing are the dolls that represent women of valor, accomplishment, talent, and grit. I’ve never seen a Mary Cassatt or Bessie Coleman doll next to the hot pink fashionistas. Have you?

Last week I welcomed a refreshing change when Girls Explore, a wonderful educational doll company out of New York, sent me two doll sets that provided the “more” so many parents are searching for on behalf of their daughters.

In fact, that is how this small doll company got its start, when creator Randy Allen was sitting around the holiday table with her sisters in 2002 having a discussion about the lack of meaningful, inspiring dolls for girls. Says Allen on the company website, “After several decades in corporate America, including being a computer programmer at IBM, I looked around and noticed how few women sat beside me. From personal experience we knew the difficulty girls have in finding role models and getting good information about careers, often resulting in limited ambitions. Over the next several months that conversation and others led to the concept for Girls Explore.”

Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman arrived in my mailbox and I was really looking forward to opening the packages. I have admired these dolls for a number of years and was excited to see what they looked like in person. I was also interested to see how my almost ten-year-old daughter would react to them.

Girls Explore Harriet Tubman doll.

Girls Explore Harriet Tubman doll.

As if on cue, I heard Amelia (yes, named for Amelia Earhart!) gasp from the kitchen, “Oh snap! She looks JUST like Harriet Tubman!” It would seem a certain someone could not wait one more minute to see what was inside the intriguing black boxes, their fronts decorated with a constellation of photographs of girls sitting in class, coloring, writing, peering through a magnifying glass and experimenting with a gyroscope.

Girls Explore has the motto “Reach for the stars” and their product lives up to it. The licensed and authorized dolls are the exact likeness of the heroine they bring to life during playtime. They are exceptionally well-made with great attention to detail. Everything about these doll sets are perfect and inspiring: the historically accurate costumes, hardbound biographies and activity booklets, and related toy for the child (Harriet Tubman came with a wearable carrying satchel, similar to what she may have used on the Underground Railroad).

I’m looking forward to watching Amelia play with these dolls in the weeks to come and observing what adventures and stories she creates. Considering the template for greatness these influential dolls carry, I think we’re both in a for a treat.

In addition to the doll sets, Girls Explore offers inspirational posters of these heroines and their biographies.

Girls Explore is offering PPBB readers a coupon code for 25% off all doll sets through Christmas, December 25th. The coupon code is PIGTAILPALS. Shop at

Each doll set comes with a heroine, a biography, and an accompanying child's toy.

Each doll set comes with a heroine, a biography, and an accompanying child’s toy.


I received two doll sets from Girls Explore to enable me to write this product review. 


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 







I received a free Infant Car Seat from Brand X in exchange for writing a review on the blog.

What Girls Learn From the Top Selling Dolls

I saw those in the store the other day and I just. don’t. get. it. All of these toys look the same, regardless of brand – tiny bodies, flimsy limbs, huge heads, huge eyes, sexualized clothes, retrograde story lines and identities… I walk through the all-pink-all-the-time aisle at the stores and see the same thing repeated over and over and over again. When a doll makes it seem like Barbie has the proportions of someone who could be a human, something has gone terribly wrong.

In response to the growing frustration I experience every time I walk past or through a toy section, I just took a few screenshots of the top doll brands I see in each store. Feel free to share this with every single person who says, “If you don’t like it, just buy something else.” Because what else is there?   -Bailey Shoemaker Richards



PPBB Community Member Bailey Shoemaker Richards took screen shots of the top selling dolls. What common denominators do you see?

What are our girls learning about femininity from toys?

What are boys learning about girls?

Why aren’t we demanding better?

We seriously need to Redefine Girly.


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.

For Now, Dolls Like These

Amelia proudly holds her brand new Sophie & Lili doll

That is Amelia, to the left here. My four year old daughter. Actually, four and a half, she would have me tell you. You see, she is working very hard at turning five, because then she will be allowed to chew gum.

I do not have anything against gum. Until all of this came about, I never really thought about gum. I am aware that a four year old, and certainly a four and a half year old, could chew it. Upon occasion I enjoy its minty refreshing taste. One day she asked for a piece and long story short I made the executive decision the gum chewers of our family needed to be five. And now? It has become this thing. This thing that we talk about – between our family, our playgroup mommies, our teenage babysitters who always seem to be chewing gum…

When Amelia turns five, she will be allowed to go out and buy her first pack of mint gum.

Amelia will wait, not because I care at all about gum. But because I care that she thinks it is something big girls do so she must wait until she is a big girl too.

For now, it works. If my daughter thinks something is off limits because it is something reserved for big girls, I’m okay with that. I’m in no rush to grow her.

I just don’t like rushing childhood. There are those few, small, precious, simple years that our kids are our very own without the world crushing down on us. A set of years when the world is an expanse in front of them. A world most preschoolers would have you know they have already figured out and know more about than you do. But they don’t have it all figured out yet, and there is so much soaking in of information during these first several years that I want to make sure the information I provide is the best I can find.

I show the world to my daughter. We adventure. We have items all around our home from the collective world travels of my husband and I. Indiana Jones meets Craftsman Revival. We take the kids frequently to the city for diversity and culture. We Skype with the uncle in Costa Rica, who talks to her in Spanish.

But inside my home, in the nest I have created for my two chicks, I want sweet, simple childhood. For as long as I can have it. Crayons and bubbles and wooden blocks and puzzles and books and dominoes and dinosaurs and other such things of that reflect the open-ended ways of their thinking and imagination.

That’s why Amelia holds a hand-made cloth doll that she picked out, looks like her, and has her name sewn to the back. It came with instructions – I’m sure you see the sticker Amelia is displaying for you. Sweet, simple childhood. For now, it is our world.

And for those that know me, know my company, and know my blog, I’ll fight to keep it that way.

You see, not all toys carry this magic. Most toys come with infuriating twist-tie packaging and batteries and plastic gender-stereotyped colors and a scripted role that influences how the child plays with it. What’s worse, some toys come with versions of beauty and size and worth that mess with a child’s developing sense of self. These toys are sexualized, and for now, maybe forever, they have no place in my home. I don’t buy certain products or allow them as gifts because I see them as harmful and unhealthy for my children. Both my girl child and my boy child. In my home, for now, sexualized toys have no place.

Ironically, when I send my child to school, to learn about the expansive world she is a little member of, she sees Princesses and Tinkerbell and Barbie and Hannah. Everywhere. Because these versions of what it is to be a girl have become something of uniform for all of her little classmates. A couple of her closest girl friends have nothing but this stuff on clothing, backpacks, toys in the home, etc. And that is where my frustrations come in – because there is such a big world out there with so many possibilities, why limit our daughter’s thinking to beauty and fashion and make-up and attracting boys? Although you wouldn’t know it from the toy aisles, I think my daughter deserves more. Deserves better.

Mattel's Barbie Fashionista sends some strong, and unhealthy, visiual images.

She deserves toys that, unlike the Mattel Barbie Fashionista with “Miss Sassy” scrawled across her chest, allow her to be a child. I don’t see much value in dolls like Barbie. They are stereotyped, sexualized (especially when dressed like the one to the left), and carry impossible body proportions. It teaches a girl a very narrow version of womanhood. Sure parents can talk to kids about what pretty means and healthy bodies, but at the end of the day the child is still holding a doll that contradicts all of that. When a girl plays with one, she usually sits, creates a dramatic scene, and after a change of clothes or two, acts out the script in her head. I have a friend who defended her daughters playing with Barbie by saying they create scenes where their Barbies go camping and fight off bears. That’s how my friends and I used to play with Barbies, too. And I remember thinking it was fun. But it could have been with a doll that didn’t look like Barbie and been just as much fun. Or we could have been outside fighting off bears for ourselves.

When my daughter comes across Princesses and Barbie and such at stores or school or friends’ houses, she sometimes enjoys playing with them or will ask for a Princess purse or toothbrush. We can’t avoid it, or live in a bubble, so we usually have the “Why do you think they are fun?” or “How would you play with it?” talk. It 99% of the time ends with Amelia deciding there are other fun things to chose from.

I asked Dr. Logan Levkoff, PhD, more about her thoughts on this after we chatted back and forth on twitter on Friday about this. Her kids are close in age to mine, and what she says makes a lot of sense to me:

I find that working with positive and negative images/representations of gender is really helpful – as both a parent and an educator.

I ask lots of questions of my kids (in this case, my 5 year old son). I ask him why he likes a character, what he thinks he/she does, why they are dressed a certain way, and so on. While it seems like this line of questioning is sophisticated, it lays the groundwork for ongoing critical thinking and media literacy. We are a non stereotypical home; my son’s favorite color is hot pink (even though his best girlfriend told him it was a girl’s color), he has long hair, and simultaneously loves sports and hunting for bugs (there’s a huffpost of mine about this).  And he does have a disney princess pool towel. While he used to really like the princesses – he told me recently they were “boring”. When I asked why, he responded, “all they do is get married”. It was validation for me that he could be both entertained and critical.

I completely understand that little girls (and boys) are handed grotesque displays of stereotypes and sexualization. But I would rather my children be able to explore these images and messages at home then to only see them within the context of someone else’s home without the opportunity to think critically about them.

And don’t get me wrong, there are times when my son – or his friends/neighbors – talk about how pretty a character is. When that happens, I show them all different pictures of what I consider pretty. And I challenge them to think of all the other qualities that are more important than “prettiness.”

I think Dr. Levkoff is very smart and very right – we don’t want our kids seeing this stuff within a context that does not allow us to talk to them about it. Kids need our guidance and wisdom to figure out this world and the sometimes crazy things in it. To me, giving a child a doll like the Barbie above just doesn’t make sense. If I saw a real life woman dressed like this she wouldn’t earn my respect and I’d judge what she does for gainful employment. That may not be right or fair, but it is me being honest. You’ll notice in the corner of the packaging, it says for Ages 3+

My daughter is Ages 3+. And for now, maybe forever, we’ll keep talking about it, but we’ll keep it out of our home. I don’t want her girlhood, nor her adulthood, looking like the doll above. I do want it looking like the doll below.

So, for now, dolls like these.

Sophie & Lili doll my family gave as a gift to a newborn girl.

You can find the adorably sweet Sophie & Lili dolls here, there are so many to choose from!

You can learn more about Dr. Logan Levkoff  here, and read her HuffPo column here.

Logan Levkoff, Ph.D. (@loganlevkoff) is a sexologist, sexuality educator, and author of parenting book, “Third Base Ain’t What it Used to Be: What Your Kids are Learning about Sex Today – and How to Teach Them to be Sexually Healthy Adults.”