Lea Clark is just like us!
She lives in Lafayette Square, is a Cards fan, and loves Ted Drewes. She also loves photography and going on adventures. Her mom is renovating a house in North St. Louis and her dad teaches at Washington University.
But Lea Clark is a doll. In fact, she’s the 2016 American Girl doll of the year.
Lea’s first two books are about her life-changing adventure to Brazil. The third is about her life right here in St. Louis.
Lea is a limited edition doll and will only be available through December of this year. The doll, the books, and accessories including a messenger bag, a rainforest house and matching outfits are all available at the American Girl doll store.
Lea Clark is not just like me. Nor is she like half of the girls who live in St. Louis.
Growing up, I was never extremely fond of dolls but the possibility of a doll made in my image was enough to have me somewhat interested in doll collecting. Upon learning about American Girl dolls, I immediately set my sights on Addy. Addy was American girls first Black doll. She was marketed as a Civil War-era girl who escapes slavery with her mother in 1863.
The second was Cecile, who lives in 19th century New Orleans. Cecile was discontinued in 2014, along with the line’s only Asian doll, a decision that was criticized by customers for the loss of racial diversity in American Girl doll offerings.
During the time that I learned about Addy, I was probably 7 or 8 years old and I had no extensive knowledge on the perils of slavery. American Girl dolls each have a set of short books that tells important stories about their lives.
I remember reading each of Addy Walker’s books and being captivated with her Blackness, her courage and her strength. I believe she was around 10 years old and I believed that she looked like me. She had kinks, coils and curls and her teeth poked out a little just like mine. Sadly, I never got Addy but I do still have hope that one day, she’ll be mine. At this point, I’m not interested in playing with her changing her clothes, and I’m no longer interested in reading her short stories. I want Addy for my sister. I want Addy for my daughters.
By the time Cecile was released, I was beginning high school
and had little to no interest in adding her to my family (that was still missing Addy). Cecile, much to my surprise was from New Orleans. She was introduced with her friend, Marie-Grace. Cécile came from a “well-to-do and highly regarded” family within the New Orleans community. She had dreams of becoming a stage actress, and displayed talents for storytelling, recitation, and poetry while she volunteered at the Holy Trinity Orphanage. Unlike her friend Marie-Grace, Cécile was homeschooled. Immediately upon hearing that she was a Black girl from a prestigious community in New Orleans, I was certain American Girl was going to give me all types of Eve’s Bayou vibes. They didn’t.
With the archival of her collection in 2014, she and Marie-Grace Gardner had the shortest availability of any Historical character at approximately three years.
When I think about how much I expressed my desire to have Addy, I can only assume that my mom didn’t want to pay a pretty penny for a doll she thought I’d abandon but truthfully, I don’t know why Addy was never added to my family. This happened many years ago and now, I have a little sister of my own and the idea of representation has never been more important to me. Elsa and Anna of Frozen have captivated her entire existence and I am simply no longer accepting that. To be real, it irritates that hell out of me. Initially, the idea of her being inspired by a strong, independent pair of sisters seemed like enough. It wasn’t until I noticed a growing preference for Elsa’s blonde tresses as opposed to her own kinky, curly dark puffs, that I knew we had a problem. As I learned more and desensitized myself to the internalized self-hate that had been force fed for years, I decided that I would no longer contribute to providing my Baby sister with a contradictory standard of beauty. As of 2016, Addy is entering retirement. American Girl retires dolls that have been in their collection for a long period of time and promptly introduces another, more modern doll. Who can replace Addy other than Melody Ellison, a ten year old living during the civil rights movement?
If Melody’s civil rights stories are going to be cute and cuddly and ignore all of the realities of the 60s for Black Americans, keep her. Keep her books, her games, keep her entire collection. Don’t sugarcoat a damn thing. I couldn’t care less about “Age Appropriateness”. If you’re going to write about a Black girl, then write about everything it means to be a Black girl. The author of Melody’s story is African American writer, Denise Lewis Patrick. If Denise knows anything about Black girlhood, she knows that it doesn’t last long. Black girls enter womanhood too soon. Black girls are viewed as women before they have the chance to become a woman. Melody’s story needs to be accurate and raw. Readers need to know the reality of a Black American girl. So far, by reading Melody’s brief introductions, she seems like a real Black girl. My only wish is that her scenery and experiences are vivid and true.
Nine-year-old Melody is growing up in Detroit in the mid-1960s, a time of great energy, optimism, and change for the African American community. She is a singer and loves to perform in church, with her family, and in her community. Her stories are set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, which was gathering momentum, and the music scene, including the success and popularity of Motown Records and its artists.
As Melody gains more awareness of racial inequality and her sense of community grows from her extended family to include her neighborhood and, ultimately, all African Americans, she is inspired by Dr. King to have a dream of her own: to lift her voice for fairness and equality.
Melody’s story takes place during two extremely important events in African American history. The rise of Motown style music, and of course, the Civil Rights Movement. It was a life altering, period of Black history. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Melody has a dream of her own: to lift her voice for fairness and equality. She uses her unique voice to inspire change. Melody is the fifteenth Historical Character, and second exclusive to BeForever, representing the 1960s. She will be released this Summer, hopefully with justice. Maybe Melody is a segway to the Black Lives Matter Radical Doll we’ll see in 60-70 years.
With all the talk of Black historic American Girl dolls, I was hoping that we’d get to see a Black girl of the year. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this year.
Currently, I attend university in St. Louis (Clayton), Missouri and it goes without being said that my campus is by far the WHITEST part of this city. If you’ve never been to St. Louis, just know that it is Black (Blackity, Black, Black, Black). St. Louis City and St. Louis County are Black ‘af’. With that in mind, it is beyond me why the St. Louis American Girl Doll is white. Who is Leah supposed to appeal to?
Honestly, I don’t have too much to say about Leah other than the fact that I’m not here for this goofy attempt at diversity. What’s the point of creating an American Girl Doll from St. Louis if she doesn’t look like most of the girls here? What the point when the most St. Louisan characteristic about her is her Ted Drewes fetish and her Cardinals jersey? American Girl (the corporation) and many other doll makers need to get their shit together. If they want to continue making dolls that look like young, chunky Barbies, they should portray them as members of communities where their representation would actually matter.
Obviously, American Girl doll isn’t really big on “diversity and inclusion”. They’re constantly reminding us why we need to create our own. If all of the dolls made by a company called “American Girl” only look one way, what message is being sent to the little girls who aren’t blonde haired and blue eyed? Are they American? Are they enough?
American Girl: Keep your shit and get Leah Clark’s ass out of St. Louis. She is not from St. Louis. She is from Clayton and she probably lives in University City. Hell, she may even be from Branson. I’d love to work on your production team to help you create actual American Girl’s from each state. The real St. Louis American Girl doll would be a dark brown, 8 year old from Ferguson.She’d have box braids, a Doc McStuffins backpack, a pink jacket, and a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” T-Shirt. She’d like Imo’s and Lee’s Chicken and her big sister would be a waitress at Sweetie Pies. She would love visiting the St. Louis Zoo (because let’s be real, who doesn’t?) and playing Laser Tag in her spare time. She’d be a real St. Louis girl. The history of this area is too damn rich and important for it to be arbitrarily minimized to only focus of Lea’s bird watching ass.
I’m hesistant about any company that wants to tell the stories of Black slave girls, Black girls in Antebellum New Orleans and Black girls singing during the civil rights movement if they can’t pay homage to Black girls living and breathing right now.