COMMENTARY: Inspirational Young Girls Can Change the World

American Girl has this wonderful program where they release a Girl of the Year doll, who comes along with stories, games, and activities that “celebrate what it means to be a girl today.” There’s a lot of dolls out there on the market that are providing great, positive messages to girls worldwide. Whether they are promoting positive body image, confidence, the drive to dream big, STEM education, or all of the above and more, girls have their pick of the litter when they are searching for a doll that is, in a sense, just like who they are or who they strive to be. American Girl announced their 2014 Girl of the Year on January 1: Isabelle, “an inspired dancer that finds her own way to shine.”

But some girls aren’t able to find that doll that would really make them feel special—and brave 10-year-old Melissa Shang has spoken out (adorably and politely) requesting that her favorite doll company, American Girl, make the 2015 Girl of the Year doll that is more like her.

Shang has Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a debilitating form of muscular dystrophy, and is leading one of the fastest-growing petitions right now on change.org for American Girl to create a Girl of the Year doll with a disability. Shang is truly an inspiration. In just over 72 hours of her starting the petition, more than 15,000 people have joined the campaign she has launched.

Shang loves the American Girl line, just like a lot of little girls her age do, and is simply asking to see her favorite doll reflect her experiences as a girl with a disability. “Being a disabled girl is hard,” Shang says. “Muscular Dystrophy prevents me from activities like running and ice-skating, and all the stuff that other girls take for granted. For once, I don’t want to be invisible or a side character that the main American Girl has to help: I want other girls to know what it’s like to me be, through a disabled American Girl’s story.”

American Girl’s Girl of the Year doll is accompanied by a book and a movie, depicting the girl overcome difficulties in her life to inspire young girls who read and/or watch the story unfold. Not only would a disabled girl provide inspiration and comfort for those she represents, but she would also provide understanding for other girls out there. If Shang is successful in her petition, American Girl would prove that they are truly “celebrating what it means to be a girl today.” And truly, this sort of thing is what such programs are about. In order to represent girls of today, there should be this form of open communication between the company and young girls. After all, who better to tell you what represents young girls than the young girls themselves? Therefore, I think it’s wonderful to see girls like Melissa being exceptionally brave and truly stepping up to make changes in the world.

If you’re interested in Melissa and her 17-year-old sister YingYing’s petition of why they want the 2015 Girl of the Year doll to have a disability, you can read it here, along with the comments from signers of the petition, including young people with disabilities. (There is also a very adorable video of Melissa explaining her love of American Girl dolls and her petition.)

For more commentary from Ali, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!