During a recent birthday visit to the American Girl store in Natick, Massachusetts, Meredith Bailey and her daughter, Mia, were thrilled to see an American Girl doll without hair displayed in-store. In a moving letter to American Girl, Bailey explained why seeing dolls without hair on display was so important to her young daughter. For Mia, who is bald due to alopecia, seeing a doll that looks like her, proudly exhibited among all of the other dolls, was a powerful moment of inclusion, and a statement that she and other girls who lack hair due to alopecia, illness, or chemotherapy deserve visibility just as much as anyone else.
In her letter to American Girl, posted on Facebook on June 28, Bailey explains that Mia was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss, when she was 4 years old. American Girl first introduced its line of dolls without hair in 2012, and Bailey ordered one for Mia’s Christmas present this past year. “I knew she wanted the doll, but I didn't realize the happiness it would bring,” Bailey told TODAY Parents. “I can't put it into words — she had a doll that was just like her — it was a piece of her.” If you have any doubt as to the impact of these dolls on their owners, just look at the expression on Mia’s face when she opened her bald doll at Christmas:
As happy as Mia was about having an American Girl doll that looked like her, she and her mom were troubled by that fact that the dolls without hair seemed to be by order only — and not displayed in stores. In her letter, Bailey recalls, “[Mia] did ask at one point why they were not on display at the store. I did not have a good answer to give her.”
Needless to say, they were delighted by what they saw when they visited the American Girl store to celebrate Mia’s eighth birthday. “On the second floor we hopped off the escalator and there in front of us was a display with doll a without hair!” Bailey recounted. “My daughter was ecstatic! Then we saw them in 2 more spots in the store! These dolls were not hidden in the back and had to be asked for.”
This isn’t the first time that American Girl has made headlines by making dolls and doll accessories that promote representation for all girls. In January of 2016, the company began selling diabetic care kits for its dolls, alongside the already existing line of American Girl dolls without hair, doll hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs, and allergy-free lunches. Bailey's letter shows why these kinds of accessories and options are so important to the children who identify with them. “This may feel to your company to be ‘no big deal,’ but to little girls who may feel ‘alone’ and so desperately want to see dolls that reflect their beauty — it means more than you know,” she wrote. “I cried many happy tears yesterday. Thank you so much for including ALL children.”
In an interview with TODAY Parents, Stephanie Spanos, senior public relations manager for American Girl, said,
We love Meredith's post and the happiness our dolls without hair have brought to her and her family. We know that when a girl owns a doll that is a reflection of her, it provides a sense of connection and belonging. It's a responsibility we take very seriously and girls like Meredith's daughter inspire us every day.
Other parents have commented on Bailey’s Facebook post to share their own stories. “My daughter received her very special AG doll while undergoing treatment for leukemia. This doll made hospital stays much more fun,” one commenter wrote. Another added, “As the Mom of a daughter with eczema and alopecia areata, this is huge! Way to go, American Girl!”
Bailey and Mia’s story highlights, not only the value of creating dolls that reflect a wide variety of life experiences, but the importance of visibility. Having these dolls, not simply available, but out for all to see and share is a way of affirming that children without hair — and, in general, children with a wide variety of unique characteristics and experiences — are all important, valued members of the community.