Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Bring On the Disabled Dolls!

The coveted Samantha Doll of my youth. 

I’m a self-confessed American Girl Doll lover. These dolls - and the American Girl books that came with them - were a large part of my childhood. I’d wait for the new catalog to arrive from the then-independently owned Pleasant Company and circle everything I’d ask Santa for. I was in love with Samantha - the Victorian brunette with big brown eyes and a penchant for shaking up socio-economic norms of the time. I scrimped and saved and wished for a doll - a doll that was like me, a doll that I could identify with. By the time I could afford one after socking away quarters from weeding gardens and doing chores, my interest had waned, but the American Girl brand and name has continued on.

Now owned by Mattel, the American Girl franchise has moved on - some say they’ve cheapened their image, others are of no mind, keeping their eye on the joy they bring little girls. But there’s a limited selection to choose from - even the modern American Girl Dolls are leaning toward the blonde, pretty and able-bodied, active archetype that Mattel pushes.

One little girl is sick of the same old same old. 10-year-old Melissa Shang, from Paoli, Pennsylvania wants to see a disabled doll grace the pages of her American Girl Magazine. Shang, who lives in a suburb of my hometown Philadelphia, has Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, a neurological disorder and form of muscular dystrophy. Melissa struggles with muscle weakness and numbness and does a stellar job of making it through each day despite her disability. 

Melissa Shang poses with her American Girl Doll.
And like all of us who were touched by the magic of these dolls, Melissa wants to see a doll that looks like her and shares a story like her. In her petition on, Melissa says “"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,"

Never mind that there are limited Asian American Girl Dolls - in fact, most American Girl Dolls use one of only a couple facial moulds in their manufacture - Melissa wants the world to know what it’s like to be differently abled. And I couldn’t be a bigger supporter of this idea.

I have a sibling who is disabled. He uses leg braces and is sometimes in a wheelchair. Growing up, it never factored into my mind that he was somehow different than the rest of us - he was, actually, the popular kid. But as I grow up and my eyes open to the rest of the world, it’s pretty clear: There’s a pretty distinct lack of toys that let other kids know what it’s like to be a disabled person in a typically abled world.

And isn’t the point of the American Girl Dolls and their stories to let our kids experience the life of someone else for a little while? I wanted to be a Victorian class warrior. Other girls wanted to be a colonial feminist or a headstrong immigrant pioneer. What would it hurt for Mattel to let a generation of girls understand what it’s like to be a strong, kick-ass girl in a wheelchair, one like Melissa Shang? 

We need a disabled American Girl Doll!
American Girl does offer a “Feel Better Kit” for their dolls that comes with crutches, a wheelchair and casts but this does little to bolster the spirits of girls who are permanently disabled. Not only is it patronizing to have to purchase a “Feel Better Kit” - as if slapping a few Band-Aids on the problem will make it go away - but it’s also a discredit to the original Pleasant Company vision - to provide girls with dolls that are just like them, but also different enough that they could experience an entirely new world. Relatable, but still able to teach something new.

Girls like Melissa should be able to log on to and play American Girl games featuring a protagonist that faces the same challenges - and share in the same triumphs - that they do. They deserve to walk, stroll or wheel into any of the American Girl stores across the country and see a doll that looks like they do, with a story like theirs, instead of having to purchase an afterthought, add-on accessory kit with none of the stellar and heartwarming storytelling the American Girl Dolls are known for.

As of December 31, Melissa’s petition has 10,000 supporters. I’d like to see enough people sign the petition to make Mattel take notice and create a character for Melissa and the thousands of other girls like her.

What do you think about the idea of a disabled American Girl Doll? Were you an American Girl Doll fan growing up? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Caitlin Seida has been writing since 2006, with her work appearing on various websites including,,, and The Daily Puppy. A Jill-of-All-Trades, she splits her workday as a writer, humane society advocate and on-call vet tech. What little free time she has goes into pinup modeling, advocating for self-acceptance, knitting and trying to maintain her haunted house (really!). You can find her on Facebook, on Twitter, and of course here on I Feel Delicious!


  1. I think having a disability doll is a great idea--and while we're at it, how about a more affordable doll, too?

    1. Here, here on the price! Ouch! For similar dolls that can wear all the same accessories (but without the brand name, price or fun story books), Madame Alexander 18" dolls and Our Generation Dolls are both almost identical and in the $30-40 range instead of the $90-100 range. Madame Alexander dolls are a lot closer and are collector's items in their own right, but the Our Generation Dolls stand up to much more abuse than either AG or MA are better for girls that are a bit harder on their dolls. :)

  2. Yay! It's wonderful to see that we're not the only ones who think this is an amazing idea.

  3. Where can I find the doll in the picture!? My granddaughter just saw the doll in the photo and is shes so excited! Please tell me where to find this doll? My grand baby was born with lower partial limbs and she doesn't care if it's AG-she just saw it and wants it. I told her it wasn't an AmeriGirl like the one she got for Christmas and she said, "it's ok Grammy, she's different like me."


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