At the age of eight, I was gifted an American Girl Doll named Samantha. I did everything with Samantha. We had picnics and story time. We had tea parties. When I went on vacation with my family or was leaving for the day for school, I would make sure to give Samantha a kiss and let her know I’d be back soon. And when I went to bed at night, I would tuck her into her golden brass bed, pulling the white plush, pink-ribbon coverlet up to her chin.
I loved Samantha in particular because she looked like me with her long brown hair. Though she was a historic doll, living during the early 1900s, I saw myself in her: Her spunk, her commitment to friends, and her eagerness to learn new things.
To this day, I still receive American Girl doll catalogs in the mail, and there’s always a rush of excitement when I flip open the glossy pages and see what new products the company has for sale. I have yet to be disappointed by the plethora of new dolls, accessories, and books. It’s like opening a catalog into my childhood.
Well, American Girl has wooed me again — this time with their Diabetes Care Kit for dolls — because it hits me close to home. Ten years ago, I became very ill: I suffered from chronic thirst and hunger, weakness and fatigue, abrupt weight loss, tingling in my feet and legs, and even bed wetting. After a year of feeling sick and seeking medical help, I was diagnosed with a chronic, autoimmune disease: Type 1 diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 125,000,000 people in the United States who have the disease. Type 1 diabetics cease to make their own insulin — the life-sustaining hormone that helps the body convert glucose into energy. Without insulin, a person’s body will become toxic, and the person will die. Therefore, insulin has to be administered via injections or an insulin pump, a pager-size device that clips to a person’s waistband and connects to the body by tubing and an small cannula inserted into the skin. Type 1 diabetics need to check their blood sugar several times a day to monitor their health and properly administer the correct amount of insulin. At this time, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year kind of disease, and as you can imagine, having it can be daunting, confusing, frustrating, isolating, and oftentimes, embarrassing. Many people are afraid of needles and the sight of blood, making dealing with diabetes very difficult for those of us who have it, especially children who are more susceptible to the reactions of their peers. Children with type 1 diabetes often struggle because other children can eat sugary foods without limitation, for example, cake and fruit punch at a birthday party. Also, children with type 1 diabetes have to monitor their activities levels, since activity can cause low blood sugars resulting in possible shakiness, mood swings, brain fogginess, and fainting. Those with type 1 diabetes must carry around their medical supplies at all times, making living with the disease cumbersome and stressful, and wear medical identification jewelry in case of an emergency.
American Girl is all about relating to today’s child — encouraging imaginative play, education (especially when it comes to history), and connection. Selling a Diabetes Care Kit is an avenue for the company to tell young consumers who have type 1 diabetes (or perhaps a sibling or friend with the disease), that they are included and loved just as they are. The kit comes with a glucose monitor and lancing device, an insulin pen and insulin pump, a supply case, a log book for recording blood sugars, personalization stickers, glucose tablets (used to bring up a low blood sugar), and a medical identification bracelet. While it was actually released back in January, it’s sparked new interest across the Internet, thanks to a recent New York Times story on its growing popularity. Retailing for just $24, the kit is currently available both on the American Girl website and in some of their stores, though the Times reports it’s been hard to keep on the shelves.
The reviews on the retailer’s website offer even more insight into why:
“Finally there’s something for girls with Type 1 diabetes to play with that makes them feel like they fit it, and can get some awareness out there,” wrote one parent. Another added: “It makes dealing with this disease a little more tolerable.”
The thing I love most about American Girl — and I know I’m not alone here — is that the company continues to embrace diversity among its dolls, and thus, its consumers. Beyond the Diabetes Care Kit, the company offers a host of other doll accessories that help teach kids understanding and compassion for the struggles of others at an early age — things like allergy-free lunch, crutches, and a working wheelchair.
As long as American Girl continues to demonstrate that all girls and their stories matter, our daughters (and hopefully, their daughters) will undoubtedly enjoy the products for generations to come.More On