As a young woman, I moved from my home in Warsaw, Poland, to New York City. My identity, from childhood, was shaped by Eastern European culture, but during my first years in New York, I found myself in another moment of identity-shaping— a kind of second coming-of-age to suit the new country. I started thinking about American childhood: How could I understand what it meant to be an American woman if I did not understand what it meant to be a girl in America?
I spent much of my time during my first five years in New York walking through midtown with my camera, trying to trace out habits and routines, attempting to feel less like a tourist in my day-to-day life. On Fifth Avenue, where I often photographed, there were always little girls and their dolls. At first, I didn't pay attention to the girls on the streets, but I'd notice them in the corners of my frames while editing each night. Then, I started noticing them elsewhere in the city, many carrying the dolls in little custom designed tote bags. I began to focus on the dolls — American Girl dolls, which were nothing like the Barbies I’d grown up with — instead, they were lookalikes, blank-faced and soft-featured, closely resembling the girls themselves. Photographically, it was a beautiful image: girls with their miniature twins.
The girls I photographed, first in the street, and later in their homes, were in the process of shaping their own identities. The dolls were a part of that process. American Girl Dolls can be custom-built to resemble their owner… always the same features, but with variable skin tone, hair color and style. Priced at around $100, American Girl doll is a luxurious product, not accessible to every American girl. With a wide variety of miniature accessories, a doll hospital, and a doll hair salon with personal stylists, they are perhaps the most lavish toys ever invented. What’s more, the American Girl product defines and categorizes American girls (soon to be American women) and that fact raises important questions about who gets represented and how. The branding behind the doll perpetuates the ideal of domesticity and traditional gender roles.
I spent time photographing in upper-middle class homes, creating formal portraits of girls for whom the doll was a pillar of status. It was a funny moment of mirroring: Myself, coming into a new sense of myself, doubling my own childhood experiences through what I imagined of these girls. The girls, meanwhile, doubling themselves in their miniature lookalike dolls.