The portrait series ‘American Girls’ by photographer Ilona Szwarc, is about girls in the United States who own American Girl dolls. We girls all remember playing with dolls or barbies when we were kids and when Szwarc first came to the US the phenomenon of the American Girl doll immediately caught her attention.
For her it was photographically a beautiful image; girls with their sculptural representations, their twins, their avatars. But soon she realized that their design embodies contemporary cultural values. They were conceived to be anti-Barbie toys, modeled after a body of a nine year old. American Girl dolls play a crucial role for girls in the moment they are forming their identity, they offer an illusion of choice, of individuality and can be customized exactly as their owner. With her ‘American Girls’ Szwarc examines how culture and society conditions gender and how it invents childhood, because this product somehow defines and categorizes American girls. Branding behind the doll perpetuates domesticity and traditional gender roles. She says: ‘Gender becomes a performance that is again mirrored in the performance of my subjects for the camera.’
All images © Ilona Zwarc