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American Girls by Ilona Szwarc

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“American Girls is a series of portraits of girls in United States who own American Girl dolls. When I first came to US the phenomenon of the American Girl doll immediately caught my attention. Photo- graphically it was a beautiful image – girls with their sculptural representations, their twins, their avatars. I realized that their design embodies contemporary cultural values. They were conceived to be anti-Barbie toys modeled after a body of a nine year old.

Each doll can be customized to look exactly like its owner, yet all of them really look the same. American Girl dolls offer an illusion of choice therefore an illusion of individuality. Despite they play a crucial role for girls in a moment when they are forming their identity. With a wide variety of miniature accessories, a doll hospital, a doll hair salon with personal stylists they are perhaps the most luxurious toys ever invented.

American Girl product defines and categorizes American girls - future American women and that fact raises important questions about who gets represented and how. Branding behind the doll perpetuates domesticity and traditional gender roles. I examine how culture and society conditions gender and how it invents childhood. Gender becomes a performance that is again mirrored in the performance of my subjects for the camera."


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Words and images: Courtesy of Ilona Szwarc