For over 30 years, American Girl has been encouraging girls around the world to, ‘Discover their sense of self with timeless stories and memorable characters who instill important values like honesty, courage, kindness and compassion,’ according to their company website.
The dolls made their debut in 1986 and the line has grown to over 45 personalities, which portray girls ages eight to eleven years old. They include a range of ethnicities, background stories, and skills. The line covers a Historical series (BeForever), a Contemporary character’s group (though that’s since grown into the Truly Me line), Girl of the Year, and even includes the Bitty Baby and WellieWishers, characters designed for younger admirers in the three- to six-year age range.
The 2020 “Girl of the Year” doll is Joss Kendrick, a competitive cheerleader and avid surfer from Huntington Beach, California. Along with her long brown hair and brown eyes, Joss comes fully equipped with a hearing aid in her right ear.
Joss is the first doll ever released by American Girl to arrive with a disability as part of her story. While the company has sold dolls that can be equipped with crutches, wheelchairs, and hearing aids, this is the first time that one has debuted wearing a device.
While followers can’t help but fall in love with Joss, her story is one of inspiration and empowerment. It’s meant to show today’s girls that anything is possible and to always try your best. Growing up is difficult for kids of any age, but for children with hearing loss, life is often riddled with bumps in the road that others don’t notice. To have a doll that they can relate to can be a boost to their confidence.
According to a USA TODAY interview with American Girl president Jamie Cygielman, “She has congenital hearing loss. She was born deaf in her left ear and can hear a little bit in her right ear. And Joss’ hearing loss doesn’t define her or limit or dreams,” Cygielman said.
“American Girl has a rich legacy of creating timeless characters who encourage girls to reach for new heights and discover who they’re meant to be. We’re proud to welcome Joss Kendrick, whose stories are sure to instill confidence and character in girls who are learning to think about the possibilities in their own lives. Working with Olympic hopeful surfer Caroline Marks adds real-world inspiration about what can happen when you go ‘all in’ on your dreams.”
Having worked closely with the Hearing Loss Association of America organization, American Girl’s executive director Barbara Kelly’s expectations are that this doll will help youngsters with hearing loss to gain confidence.
In USA TODAY’s report, Kelley stated, “If you have a child with any type of disability or any type of difference or wearing a hearing aid, to have a doll that mirrors that image I think goes a long way to help with the stigma and the stereotypes.”
In addition to this organization, the creators also invited experts from various backgrounds to help hone the image they were trying to portray. These included:
- Bianca Valenti—Professional big wave surfer and co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing
- Crystal DaSilva—Women’s Deaf Shortboard champion and winner of national and world titles
- Sara Jo Moen & Julie Peterson—Owners of Fury Athletics in Madison, WI, a training gym for competitive cheer teams
- Dr. Sharon Pajka, Ph.D.—Professor of English at Gallaudet University and a specialist in portrayals of deaf characters in adolescent literature
- Jennifer Richardson, Au.D.—Educational audiologist and founder of Hearing Milestones Foundation
In honor of the 2020 Girl of the Year, American Girl has aligned with Caroline Marks, a 17-year-old Olympic member of the U.S. Women’s Olympic surfing team.
“I’m so excited to be a part of the Joss launch and share her message that passion and hard work can really take a girl places—even to the Olympics,” said Marks.
While many children with hearing loss can feel alone and afraid of the world around them, products like the American Girl can help young girls learn to stand strong and be proud of who they are, of their individual skills and abilities. Girls who have hearing loss can read Joss’s story and know they’re not alone in the world.
To celebrate their partnership with the Hearing Loss Association of America, American Girl is donating $25,000 to support the organization’s efforts to educate and bring awareness with their programs. In addition, they are also supporting the HLAA’s 2020 Walk4Hearing efforts. The HLAA is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization that represents those living with hearing loss.
To find out about programs that help those with hearing loss, talk to your hearing health professional. And if you have a special young lady in your life who is growing up with hearing loss, consider gifting her with an American Girl’s Joss to help promote and encourage her independence and positivity in herself.