American Girls by Ilona Szwarc (Warsaw, Poland 1984) is a series of portraits of girls in the United States who own American Girl dolls. When the photographer first came to the US, the phenomenon of the American Girl doll immediately caught her eye. Photographically it was a beautiful image – girls with their sculptural representations, their twins, their avatars. She realised that the design of the dolls embodies contemporary cultural values. They were conceived to be anti-Barbie toys modeled on the body of a nine- year-old.
Each doll can be customised to look exactly like its owner, yet all of them really look the same. American Girl dolls offer an illusion of choice and therefore an illusion of individuality. Yet they play a crucial role for girls at the time when they are forming their identities. With a wide variety of miniature accessories, a doll hospital, and a doll hair salon with personal stylists, they are perhaps the most luxurious toys ever invented. The American Girl product defines and categorises American girls – future American women – and that fact raises important questions about who gets represented and how. The 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 mirrored in the performance of my subjects for the camera.