American Girl, the popular doll-maker, has never had a problem with diversity. The company’s dolls are designed to reflect numerous ethnic identities. But now a 10-year-old girl from Philadelphia is asking American girl to make a new kind of American girl doll, one with a disability.
That way, says Melissa Shang, she’d have a doll that’s just like her.
Young Melissa has even started an online petition on the Change.org web site, aptly entitled, “American Girl: Release an American Girl with a disability.” So far, as of New Year’s Day 2014, she has gathered about 10,000 online signatures. Not bad, for launching just on Saturday.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve had Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a form of muscular dystrophy,” Melissa wrote on the site, with some help from her 17-year-old sister YingYing.
“When I was seven, like most of my classmates, I fell in love with American Girl dolls—historical and modern girls with stories about overcoming obstacles. I’ve read all of the books, seen all of the movies, and even visited the American Girl Place in New York City. For the past three years, I’ve asked for an American Girl doll for Christmas,” she wrote.
The fifth-grader at Tredyffrin/Easttown Middle School in Philadelphia‘s suburban Main Line district then goes on to explain that though American girl dolls “have helped me understand how it feels to be someone else,” she hasn’t found a doll that makes her feel like herself.
“Disabled girls might be different from normal kids on the outside. They might sit in a wheelchair like I do, or have some other difficulty that other kids don’t have,” she says “However, we are the same as other girls on the inside, with the same thoughts and feelings. American Girls are supposed to represent all the girls that make up American history, past and present. That includes disabled girls.”
Will American Girl be receptive to Melissa’s petition? A reporter from The Philadelphia Daily News tried to reach them, but the company’s offices were closed for the holiday season.
Still, the history of American Girl suggests that Melissa’s plea might not be such a long shot. The company makes accessories for its dolls that include crutches, a hearing aid and even a wheelchair. Stories that accompany the American Girl dolls show the characters facing such problems as learning disabilities and bullying.
“Being a disabled girl is hard. Muscular Dystrophy prevents me from activities like running and ice-skating, and all the stuff that other girls take for granted,” wrote Melissa. “For once, I don’t want to be invisible or a side character that the main American Girl has to help: I want other girls to know what it’s like to be me, through a disabled American Girl’s story.”