Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Inspired in part by photographers who have used dolls in their work Ms. Szwarc started taking pictures. She focused on the American Girl line of dolls...

For the most part, the girls in her project, “American Girls” lead fairly well-off lives. But that isn’t always the case. One, who Ms. Szwarc photographed shortly after she got her first “real” doll, came from a troubled home. “She thought she would never get it because it’s so, so expensive,” Ms. Szwarc said.

The girls connect the dolls to social status, Ms. Szwarc said. Around $100 each, the toys are the designer bag of the tween set. One of her subjects had 24 dolls, and the necessary accessories (which include clothes, bunk beds and lifestyle perks, like hairstyling appointments).

But Ms. Szwarc, who is still working on the project, has yet to answer the question of what an “American Girl” really is. Born and raised in Poland, she has been preoccupied by the patriotic branding.

“To me, it felt really exclusive — only about Americans and for Americans — and I began to wonder, Where do I fit in this scenario?” she said. The project is an opportunity for her to explore the idea of growing up in the United States, while also examining gender and identity construction. How do the dolls help to stereotype or categorize women?

The idea of owning a doll in one’s own likeness is, in her mind, indicative of the culture we live in: one where young teens think regularly about self-image, creating avatars and retouched self-portraits for Facebook profiles.

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