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Meet Corinne Tan, American Girl’s new – and only – Chinese American doll

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 9, 2022

American Girl’s new Chinese American doll Corinne Tan has a pup named Flurry.  (americangirl.com)
American Girl’s new Chinese American doll Corinne Tan has a pup named Flurry. (americangirl.com)
By Ella Ceron Bloomberg

Meet the newest American Girl: Her name is Corinne, she likes to ski, and she’s the only Chinese American doll in the beloved brand’s roster.

American Girl Brands, a subsidiary of Mattel, debuted Corinne Tan on Jan. 1 – just after the holiday season – in part a response to increased violence against Asian Americans.

Jamie Cygielman, American Girl general manager, told Bloomberg News the brand created Corinne to help validate the lived experiences of children who have been subjected to racism and xenophobia.

“We hope our stories help children understand that their experiences and problems are important and that other people care about them,” she said.

The Corinne doll – along with a bevy of themed accessories, books about her life and a little sister, Gwynn – will be available at the American Girl website and the company’s destination stores for at least two years.

Mattel, the maker of Barbie, has long been criticized for a lack of racial diversity in its offerings and for perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards, though it has recently released more non-white dolls.

Among the dozens of American Girls debuted over the years, Corinne is one of six of Asian descent. The company in 2014 discontinued production of Ivy Ling, its first Chinese American doll.

Corinne’s debut comes amid a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. There have been more than 10,000 reports of anti-Asian discrimination since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to data collected by stopaapihate.org.

Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and a founder of Stop AAPI Hate, applauded the effort to speak with children about anti-Asian racism in an age-appropriate manner.

“We can come together as a community, as a society to condemn hate and to work toward responses that overall get at the driving factors around bias,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

“What I really hope is that there is some part of Corinne’s story that makes readers feel seen, whether it’s because they are Asian American or because they’re part of a blended family or because they love skiing,” Wendy Wan-Long Shang, the author of Corinne’s books, said in a news release.

“I think when readers feel seen, they realize that they matter and their experiences matter and that they are meant to be the stars of their own stories.”

Shang developed the characters along with illustrator Peijin Yang. For writer Rae Chen, this kind of diversity in children’s toys is long overdue.

“When I grew up, there were no Asian dolls that you could buy at any toy store,” Chen said in an interview with Bloomberg News, adding that one doll out of a roster of more than 60 “is not a lot. And I don’t think it’s enough.”

Corinne, like many Asian American women and girls depicted in media, notably has blue-streaked hair. Chen, who in 2018 wrote a Teen Vogue article noting the tendency for Hollywood to give rebellious Asian women colorful hair, called that decision disappointing.

“They’re pushing this idea that in order to have agency, to have an independent identity as people of color, we have to intentionally modify the thing that makes us a person of color,” Chen said. “You shouldn’t have to dye your hair to have main character energy as an Asian person.”

Cygielman said the company worked to ensure Corinne was a “three-dimensional” character not defined by her hairstyle. Two other Girl of the Year dolls have also had colored streaks in their hair.

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