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Ramping up Representation: American Girl Makes History with First South Asian ‘Girl of the Year’
January 26, 2023
Walking through the golden doors of the raspberry-red building into the world of American Girl with dolls and accessories lining up the store was a monumental moment of many little girls’ childhoods, emanating a feeling of nostalgia and elation. And now, young South Asian girls can see a part of themselves in the store for the first time with American Girl Doll’s 2023 Girl of the Year: Kavi Sharma.
Kavi Sharma, an 11-year-old from New Jersey, relishes performance elements, including both traditional Indian dance and hip-hop. With costumes and accessories consisting of her Bollywood costume, yoga mats, and songwriting equipment, Kavi embodies the bicultural fusion that many South Asian girls experience growing up in the United States.
Apart from her hobbies, American Girl ensured to take real-world accounts of South Asian Girls to capture the feelings and struggles they face while concocting the character of Kavi. Her book, My Journal by Me, Kavi Sharma, which was written by Varsha Bajaj, follows Kavi as she navigates her school and personal life. With the inclusion of celebrations such as Diwali and different dance forms like Kathak, Bajaj aimed for the Girl of the Year to represent the culture and the successes of South Asians today.
“I think South Asian girls and women of all ages will feel seen, included, and represented,” Bajaj said. “Little girls will embrace her with joy, while older women may see her as a gift to their younger selves. I hope that all kids will embrace Kavi as a friend and love her story.”
And Kavi did just that. Gushing over American Girl Doll’s intricate display of peculiarly realistic accessories, admiring the decades of dolls, and spending the day at the store’s cafe were integral parts of my childhood. Yet it wasn’t all hearts and flowers. Never finding a doll that looked like me while everyone embraced a “Truly Me” doll in their arms was an isolating experience, as it imprinted the lingering question of wondering if I belonged. To have an Indian Girl of the Year that has the same outfits and skin color will revolutionize the lives of other young South Asian girls who have felt like an outsider. I saw myself in Kavi with our aligned interests and struggles – a feeling I thought I’d never experience in American media.
It is crucial for there to be South Asian representation now more than ever as the only portrayal of South Asians in TV shows and movies in the past was inaccurate, exaggerated, or perpetuated harmful stereotypes, as seen with the character of Baljeet on “Phineas and Ferb.” However, the past few years have been a pivotal point for South Asian girls.
From the release of Never Have I Ever to the second season of Bridgerton, representation like this has been unseen in American media. And now, the addition of Kavi Sharma to the list is the cherry on top with its transformative and raw portrayal of South Asian culture. Younger generations who need that feeling of acceptance and connection can find it in the dolls they play with and the books they read.
While Kavi was American Girl’s first Indian Girl of the Year, the company has been promoting diversity in recent years with its World by Us collection, which they released to empower young girls who have a passion for racial equality, environmentalism, and immigration. Additionally, they released their first East Asian Girl of the Year, Corinne Tan, in 2022 and featured many African American dolls who vocalized numerous social issues.
I’m thrilled to see what American Girl will bring to the table in the future, but most importantly, the inner child in me is immensely appreciative for the creation of Kavi Sharma.
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