Pleasant Rowland, who founded the American Girl historical doll, accessory, and book collection in the mid-1980s, claimed that her dolls were like “chocolate cake with vitamins,” enjoyable, but also educational. Although history has always played a part in the American Girl brand, its role has fluctuated over time in concert with changing social discourses about gender and race in American culture. This essay explores how the brand has engaged with these shifting discourses over the last thirty years as it determines how to invite children and their parents to encounter the brand’s retelling of the past. How have the “vitamins” that Rowland imagined for her consumers changed over time as the seventeen historical characters have been created, rebranded, and marketed in contemporary America?
Which Vitamins are in the Chocolate Cake? How American Girl Marketing Has Responded to Shifting Discourses About Gender and Race
Emilie Zaslow is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Co-Director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Pace University in New York. She is the author of Feminism, Inc. (Palgrave, 2009) and Playing with America’s Doll (Palgrave, 2017). Her research explores the intersections of girlhood, feminism, race, popular culture, and capitalism.
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Emilie Zaslow; Which Vitamins are in the Chocolate Cake? How American Girl Marketing Has Responded to Shifting Discourses About Gender and Race. The Public Historian 1 February 2021; 43 (1): 18–38. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2021.43.1.18
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