Low Expectations Paper Dolls for Girls

  • Low Expectations
    Paper Dolls for Girls
  • This was a project for my Visual Concepts course at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. It was featured in a writeup here.


    In the past fifty years we have seen an exponential increase in the amount of products manufactured with the aim of appealing to the child as a consumer. Many of these toys help to shape the child's aspirations for adulthood.

    I was always quite fond of paper dolls and played with many as a child, including vintage paper dolls from the 1940s. In thinking about them I have noticed that the preponderance of modern paper dolls are fashion-oriented. Many are of iconic figures. Whether famous or simply an idealized person such as a beauty queen, super hero, or glamor girl, the paper doll is meant to be a surrogate for ourselves. The game of dressing this unclothed figure is one of role-playing and self-exploration.

    For my paper doll set, I created an adult woman who is far from ideal; her body shows the flaws of time and circumstance. Instead of fanciful, exciting fashions -- wedding dresses or evening gowns, this doll has clothing associated with one of the lowest paying jobs in America -- that of a fast food restaurant employee. I chose this particular job because about two thirds of these jobs are held by women. Furthermore, I know from personal experience as a former McDonald's employee how demoralizing, dissatisfying, and impossibly low-paying this kind of work can be.

    Beyond what this piece says about gender expectations, this work has a universal theme. Everyone can relate to the idea of life falling short of one's childhood expectations, or of being told to expect less than one wants when one is still a child. This is especially poignant in the so-called Land of Opportunity, where we are told again and again that if we strive to be our best then we can reap limitless rewards. Alas, there is fine print underneath that moniker; the reality for many, including women, is that the opportunities are still far more limited than they could be.