The Sexist

Model Crawl

Last Thursday, the Prevention of Blindness Society held a modeling call for its fall fundraiser: the American Girl Fashion Show, an exhibition of historical and contemporary outfits for the discerning grade-school fashion plate. At the girl-powered American Girl Fashion Show, every girl can be a model. As long as she can pass the measuring tape test, that is.

"Please let your daughter know that this is NOT A PAGEANT," reads a modeling application at Bethesda's Imagination Stage distributed to would-be Ramseys, Spearses, and Lohans. "We are not selecting on talent or appearance," the application insists, "only size."

"Are you a size 10?" asks one volunteer when a confident young actress wanders over from the nearby "Seuss Jr." auditions.

"I think so," responds the girl. "A 10 or a 12."

"Hmm, okay," the volunteer reasons. "Well, we can measure you up anyway and see if you're a 10 or not."

Though "girls with confidence and sparkle" are encouraged to apply, the only true requirement of an American Girl model is that she fit the clothes. For the Prevention of Blindness Society's November fashion show, American Girl will only provide outfits in sizes 10 and 6x. Size 10 models, who will don the dolls' historical outfits and the more modern "Just Like You" line of clothing, must be 54″ to 56″ tall and measure up to 28½” chests and 24″ waists. Size 6x models, who will model the brand's tyke-sized "Bitty Baby" clothing line, must be 48″ tall and have 25¼” chests and 22½” waists.

When the girls arrive, they are lined up, photographed, and measured.

Volunteer Terri Moller stands by with the hot-pink tape measurer. "Oh, she is just a perfect figure," announces Moller as she pinches another prepubescent girl's waist with the tape. "I wish I had those numbers!"

The next girl is lauded with similar right-sized praise. "This is another one with the perfect figure!" Moller says, before launching into reminiscent song: "Thooose were the daaays, my friend!"

After passing the size test, the girls walk. The would-be models are sent down Imagination Stage's makeshift runway—straight down the hallway, to the water fountain, and back. Moms watch on with nervous faces as their daughters pretend to be grown-ups—popping their hips out and posing with that coolly derisive facial expressions. Some girls arrive in pairs—the size-ten girl with her 6X baby sis. Others arrive as the size-ten girl and her not-quite sibling who is resigned to watch from the doorway as her sister vogues for the camera.

Katie Munson's three-year-old daughter is one of the misfits. “She really wants to know if she’s big enough," Munson tells one of the event's organizers. The organizer informs her that the girl, who stands, pulling at her own Bam-Bam-style top-ponytail, is simply too small.

Munson's mother-in-law, Marilyn, shakes her head. "She's a 3T," says the grandmother. "This little one said, 'Well, I want them to measure me anyway. I said, 'No, honey, you’re just a 3T.' And she said, 'Well, maybe when they measure me it will be different.'"

It is not different. The 3T bursts into tears as her five-year-old sister, a perfect sixe 6X, sashays to the fountain.

Six-year-old aspiring models Jordana and Aleeza, on the other hand, fit the bill. Jordana, size 10, holds her "Nellie" American Girl doll casually in one hand as she explains why she's auditioning. "Because I love American Girl," she says matter-of-factly. "I've been an American Girl model for like two years." Though Aleeza also wears a 10, she's less sure why she came here to smile, walk, and measure up. "Because I love American Girl," she offers. "Aaaand . . . becaaaause . . ." she stutters at length before taking a stab at it. "Because I've always wanted to be a model?" This is Aleeza's first experience with modeling. "And probably her last," her mother adds, as she guides the girl toward the exit.

In the end, most of the night's 70-some aspiring models will make the cut. "None of the girls were, like, ginormous," says "Miss Kelly," the modeling coach for the night, as she extends her slender arms wide. "And you know, if they don't fit the clothes perfectly, we can always throw a skirt on them or something. We're gonna have to squeeze them into something no matter what."

  • Adrian

    ah, to be young. And t3.

    My sisters would pour over the catalogues. It was a point of aggrevation for my parents, christmas after christmas would yield American Girl books but never the dolls. Do they still cost hundreds?

    And while 'my buddy' yielded a 'kid sister,' was there ever an American Bro?

  • WAM

    Wow. The American Girl phenomenon (phenomenon?) is still going strong. Strong and weird. I just had a look at their website and I don't know whether I'm more disturbed by the "Just Like You" dolls cut from 32 archetypes (to be clear: you don't get the full effect until you start dressing like the doll), or the "Bitty Baby" line which offers your choice of five models (asian american, african american, hispanic, and *two* kinds of white... since... um... white babies... oh god) as well as Bitty Twins, which appear to include the only boy dolls in the lineup.

    The return policy for American Girl products, including Bitty Babies, is generous: American Girl anticipates that you will get "hours" of enjoyment from your purchase, but in the event that you are not "completely delighted" you simply fill out a return form and check the appropriate box under "reason for return," with 40 options ranging from "damaged by carrier" to simply "changed mind."

    With verbiage like that, it's no wonder American Girl has gotten into hot water in the past. Wikipedia: "In August 2005, one of the products offered by American Girl was the 'I Can' band. The company web site stated that "American Girl will give 70 cents for every dollar of 'I CAN' band sales, plus a $50,000 donation, to Girls, Inc., a national organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold". The relationship to Girls, Inc. has been criticized by some conservative activists on the grounds that Girls, Inc. supports abortion rights and acceptance of homosexual orientation. American Girl states that these donations are earmarked to support the work of Girls, Inc. in the areas of intellectual development, leadership, and sports programs. American Girl has since severed ties with Girls, Inc."

    And not a moment too soon. If American Boys can buy a George W. action hero looking cocky in a flight suit, surely American Girl ought to get into the game with a Bristol Palin / Bitty Baby combo. But that would have been a hard sell packaged with a "[Yes] I Can" band. Sure, they claim those donations were "earmarked" (perhaps with this attractive set of "Just Like You" earrings), but shit... 70 cents on the dollar is an awful lot of money to keep track of.