When I was a kid, I loved my American Girl Doll. Though there was a doll who shared my name, I looked most similar to Molly. My mother gave her to me in the third grade when I was feeling ashamed of my appearance–especially my eerie paleness, thick glasses and spread-apart teeth. Up until that point, I’d only have Barbies and orcs figurines, so I didn’t really have anything to reference besides those as to what was “normal” appearance-wise. But Molly had similar glasses and gapped front teeth and light skin, so it was nice to have a little friend that resembled me and I felt less embarrassed.

Now, American Girl Dolls are getting even more personalized for kids who don’t look the same as 95% of characters they see on television, in films and as toys. In its new section, Special Sparkle–a title I don’t particularly love, but that’s besides the point–you can get a service dog with harness, a hearing aid and an allergy-free lunch. The lunch even has a fake allergy shot and a medical bracelet, which I think is pretty fantastic since I know lots of kids who always hated having to wear theirs. The company also offers dolls without hair, wheelchairs, casts and crutches, and a lot of options for customizing appearances to look more like the owner.

This is a great step towards acceptance in multiple ways. It shows children that they’re not alone nor is there anything wrong with being different, whether the child has alopecia, a peanut butter allergy or hearing loss. And it also teaches them that other children’s distinct qualities are just fine, too.

One parent reviewing the hearing aid on Amazon said, “My daughter just celebrated her first year wearing a hearing aid… and it is so refreshing that one of the doll companies makes real-life accessories that focus on differently-abled children. I am teaching my child to embrace what makes her unique and celebrate it.”

Being a kid can be really lonely in a lot of ways, as you often aren’t able to branch out beyond your small bubble of school/friends/home. When you’re an adult, you get to explore all sorts of avenues; for every hobby, activity and fondness, there’s a real-life or online group who will share it with you. As a child, you just aware of the people you’re around–if you have tons of freckles or braces or a wheelchair, but nobody else in your school does, it can feel like you’re the only one in the entire world. Giving kids a doll to play with that’s more like them shows them that there’s nothing wrong with varying from what’s typically seen as the norm.

Granted, the dolls still don’t represent all differences in kids: there aren’t any overweight ones, despite one-third of children being overweight or obese. I do hope that those are eventually offered, though I know the typical “don’t normalize being overweight” crowd will be none-too-pleased. When kids only have one idea of what a body is “supposed” to look like, it breeds an unhealthy self image and low confidence. But that’s just one of many qualities that aren’t represented in most dolls; to go through the entire list would be futile.

In any case, I’m glad that the company is offering more options for kids. The more we show children that being different isn’t a negative thing, the better.

Photo: American Girl Dolls