Makers of the popular American Girl dolls made big headlines in late December when they announced that among the doll's accessory kits would be a new diabetes supply kit -- helping little girls with diabetes feel more mainstream. This is a huge win for Diabetes Community advocacy, in particular for a 13-year-old Wisconsin girl with T1D who's been campaigning for this to happen for the past two years.
Back in August 2015, we interviewed D-peep Anja Busse and her mom Ingrid, who made a touching video asking the American Girl doll company to include a diabetes kit. That led to an online petition signed by thousands of supporters. Anja and her mom Ingrid are also the Amazing Advocates behind the so-called Boxes of Joy, a program that sends out goodie baskets to families with a newly diagnosed child to bring a little happiness to the experience.
As a result of their efforts, the American Girl doll company, a Wisconsin-based wholly owned subsidiary of Mattel, recently introduced a new Diabetes Care Kit made specially for their 18-inch Truly Me dolls.
This new kid includes:
- Blood sugar monitor and lancing device
- Insulin pump that can be clipped to a doll's waistband, plus an adhesive to attach the infusion set
- Insulin pen, for dolls not using the pump
- Medical alert ID bracelet
- Glucose tablets
- Diabetes data log book
- A special case for the supplies, plus an ID card
- Stickers to add personalization
Pretty authentic! The kits are now available in stores and online for $24.
A Girl's Dream
The reason this is so big is that American Girl dolls have been wildly popular since their introduction in 1986 -- reaching the status of a cultural icon. More than 27 million dolls and 151 million American Girl books have been sold to date, and the American Girl catalogue ranks as the largest consumer toy catalogue and one of the top 30 consumer catalogues in the country, according to the company's records.
I can tell you myself as a mother of three daughters that what an American Girl doll wears, does and says resonates with little girls. So wow -- if she has diabetes, it can't be all that strange or bad! Right?
Fortunately the company is known for representing diversity, and has been very proactive about offering accessory kits that represent health challenges, including wheelchairs, hearing aids, dolls with no hair, and even arm crutches, introduced on Jan. 1.
American Girl spokeswoman Stephanie Spanos tells us: "American Girl has a long history of creating items that speak to diversity and inclusion, and the diabetic care kit is yet another way we are expanding in this important area. From the start of the company in 1986, our goal has been to create dolls, stories, and products that act as both mirrors and windows -- giving girls an opportunity to see a direct reflection of themselves or a chance to learn about a life that may be very different from their own."
She says the company's product development team worked with the local University of Wisconsin Children’s Hospital to ensure the diabetes kit was accurate and reflective of the real items children need to manage their diabetes.
"We deeply appreciate the enthusiasm and trust our fans have in us to create a particular product, and we continue to receive hundreds of passionate requests for specific dolls, stories, or accessories to be created... Girls like Anja Busse inspire us every day, and we look forward to creating new products, stories, and experiences that celebrate the countless unique qualities in all of them," Spanos says.
Since the news hit, these kits have been flying off the American Girl shelves and pictures have been popping up all over the DOC (Diabetes Online Community) of people proudly showing off their newly-bought kits. Some have even offered product giveaways for this.
But like most things in the diabetes world, this development didn't come without some dissent and drama. Feathers were seriously ruffled when celebrity fitness trainer Vinnie Tortorich publicly questioned why the doll company would "support" diabetes instead of offering exercise aids for their dolls like bikes and jump ropes. His implication was that American Doll was condoning type 2 diabetes in children.
Yep, as so often happens whenever "diabetes" is mentioned in the media, confusion and misconceptions steal the story.
Fortunately, in this case, Tortorich immediately apologized and has offered to help advocate for clarity on type 1 diabetes. And Rachael Moshman, the freelance writer who penned the original article quoting Tortorich, has written an awesome blog post, also apologizing and setting the record straight. It's titled "An Apology/Love Letter to the Type 1 Diabetes Community for Such a Sucky Article," and she's even giving away some of these new kits herself. Bravo Rachael!
Meanwhile, Anja Busse and her mom are over the moon about this American Girl kit. They updated the petition declaring VICTORY!, and many media outlets (see here and here) are writing about this and featuring the Busse's advocacy story.
Updating Our Interview on American Girl Doll Campaign
We were thrilled last summer talk with Anja and her mom Ingrid, and today we're revisiting part of that interview in the context of this latest news, with added updated questions on the victory at hand:
DM) Ingrid, can you start by telling us about Anja's diagnosis?
IB) Our daughter Anja is now 13 years old, and was diagnosed on Oct. 8, 2013. Anja has three younger brothers and no one in our immediate family had type 1, so at the time of her diagnosis she was the only one in the family. But Anja's second cousin just got diagnosed with it this year.
We went to a wedding in Colorado for a week in 2013. All week long Anja was complaining that her stomach hurt, going to the bathroom a lot, drinking a lot (we didn't think anything of that since we were in the mountains and everyone was drinking a lot), and was really cranky. By the end of the week, she had lost over 20 pounds. When we got back home we took her to the doctor, where they said she had sugar in her urine and that we needed to go the hospital right away. She was admitted into the hospital with a blood sugar level of 900.
What motivated her/your family to start the American Doll accessory push?
It all began with the petition my daughter started. Since American Girl already had similar products like hearing aids, service dogs, wheelchairs, glasses, braces, and a food allergy set with an allergy shot, Anja thought diabetic accessories would fit in great with the AG brand. She didn't want a special doll… just the accessories like a blood glucose meter, glucagon, and an insulin shot.
Here's Anja's video asking American Girl to create these new D-friendly accessories, and more than 4,000 people are supporting the idea!
Did you reach out initially and hear anything from American Girl on this?
We have reached out, and even offered to purchase large quantities (of the new accessories) to put in our boxes and donate to hospitals so that newly diagnosed children had something to take home that they could use with their favorite doll/stuffed animal. One newspaper reporter did get in contact with American Girl and got a polite, 'we don't do that' response.
(As of October 2015) Are you still pushing American Doll on the diabetes accessories?
We have not given up on our petition. We wanted to show American Girl that people really want to buy this product. We think it is an item even boys can use with their stuffed animals.
When and if these products become available, we plan on including them in as many of our Boxes of Joy as we can so that T1D kids can have a doll or stuffed animal that is going through the same thing as them, and feel that they are not alone. We want American Girl to hear the same voices we hear so they know there are many who want this product and are willing to buy it.
Congrats on this American Girl victory! Anything you'd like to say specifically to the D-Community on this?
Anja: I am really excited!!! I think this is going to help diabetic kids like me cope with this disease and make them not feel alone.
Every time someone sends us a picture I get teary-eyed. People are buying these kits not only for girls with diabetes, but also for kids who have a loved one with diabetes, hospitals, diabetes clinics, and even boys with T1D. We are working as we speak to get donations so that we can give these kits to newly diagnosed kids in hospitals. My mom says (that when I got diagnosed) I just got sent home with a stack of books and handouts, but I would have loved to have received this when first diagnosed. This so would have helped!
Ingrid: A few weeks ago, Anja was honored with the Wisconsin Heroes Award for work with Boxes of Joy and the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes. The governor's wife Tonette Walker, who is also a type 1 diabetic, flew in to surprise her with the award.
Our 100-mile bike ride went great. Anja did amazing and made it 85 miles in 97-degree heat. It was a miracle considering that previously, the longest ride she had done was 27 miles, with lots of stopping. She didn't even have a single Low.
You might say it's the understatement of all time, to say I'm a proud mom. :)
Still, Anja may get some credit, but it's everyone who shared our story, encouraged us, signed the petition, and contacted the company directly who deserve the bulk of credit. The Diabetes Community is amazing and I must say very persistent. Several people I know called and wrote the company numerous times. American Girl heard us and delivered an amazing product, and I know American Girl will not be disappointed with their decision.
Kudos for raising your voices to make this happen, Anja and Ingrid! We echo your excitement about this new American Girl diabetes kit. What a true inspiration for so many, with diabetes and beyond!