Homeless Doll: What Message Does it Send?

By Dr. Chad Audi

As we entered the busy holiday shopping season, a controversy arose over a new doll that supposedly represents a homeless child. The very popular American Girl brand released a limited-edition doll named “Gwen” whose background story focuses on a father who walked out, leaving Gwen and her mother to fend for themselves.

There are thousands of homeless children across the country, living in shelters and on the streets with one or more parents, who have experienced this type of situation in real life. For them, homelessness is very real. It’s not conveyed through a doll. Plus, they could never afford a doll like “Gwen,” which comes with a $95 price tag.

Mattel’s American Girl line is known for creating dolls that help girls deal with real life situations. The dolls represent a diverse range of ethnicities, cultures and economic backgrounds. Each doll has a story that comes with it and reflects certain periods in American history.

I think the new “homeless” doll would be better received if the money from its purchase was donated to shelters and other agencies that help the homeless. Or perhaps even if the company had donated the dolls to kids in shelters. In all fairness, a Detroit newspaper editor reporting on the story discovered that Gwen was actually introduced as part of a bullying back-story, which later expanded into the doll also experiencing homelessness. As a result, Mattel teamed up with a non-profit to develop an anti-bullying curriculum for millions of school kids. And, since its inception, American Girl has donated nearly $9 million in clothing and books to a global charity that helps homeless kids.

But, getting back to Gwen, does a high-priced doll representing homelessness send a mixed message to our kids? Is the doll in poor taste? Or is it a good way to educate and raise awareness about the plight of the homeless? I’m very curious to hear what you think.

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