Ilona Szwarc

The American Girl doll series wasn’t around when I was young, we had Madame Alexander Dolls. Totally different culture. Madame Alexander took us around the world, looking at women from every corner of the world, glamorous yet stereotypically identifiable. The times have certainly changed and so have our ideals of women, and of empowering young girls in our culture. The American Girls doll series speak to the ideals, dreams and opportunities liberating young American girls helping to define them as young women. What Ilona has done with this series is showcase the power of youth and the illusory quality of uniqueness, our desire for individuality and still the anticipated acceptance of what having one of these look a like dolls can do for a young girls self esteem.

These classically styled portraits are beautiful character studies, identifying the varied personalities and contemporary culture we live in.


American Girls

American Girls is a series of portraits of girls in United States who own American Girl dolls. When I first came to US the phenomenon of the American Girl doll immediately caught my attention. Photographically it was a beautiful image – girls with their sculptural representations, their twins, their avatars. I realized that their design embodies contemporary cultural values. They were conceived to be anti-Barbie toys modeled after a body of a nine year old.

Each doll can be customized to look exactly like its owner, yet all of them really look the same. American Girl dolls offer an illusion of choice therefore an illusion of individuality. Despite they play a crucial role for girls in a moment when they are forming their identity. With a wide variety of miniature accessories, a doll hospital, a doll hair salon with personal stylists they are perhaps the most luxurious toys ever invented.



American Girl product defines and categorizes American girls – future American women and that fact raises important questions about who gets represented and how. Branding behind the doll perpetuates domesticity and traditional gender roles. I examine how culture and society conditions gender and how it invents childhood. Gender becomes a performance that is again mirrored in the performance of my subjects for the camera.

About IIona

Ilona Szwarc was born and raised in Warsaw, Poland. In 2008, she immigrated to New York City, where she currently lives and works.

Her work examines gender, identity and beauty in the context of American culture.


Szwarc has had a solo exhibition at Claude Samuel gallery in Paris and has been shown in group shows internationally – in London, Bilbao and New York. Her work has been featured in numerous publications worldwide including TIME, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Telegraph Magazine, Surface China, PDN. She has won PDN 2012 Annual in the Personal Category and has been awarded Grand Prize in the Fine Art category of the PDNedu 2013 contest. She been selected for American Photography 28.


Her project “American Girls” has received worldwide recognition, having been highlighted in The New York Times Lens Blog, MSNBC and The Huffington Post.

One thought on “Ilona Szwarc

  1. Interesting blog on American Girl. I was raised with the 10-inch Madame Alexander. I believe it came in just underwear. I learned some of my early sewing skills when dressing my dolls. I am now sewing and designing for dolls once again. The 18-inch Madame Alexander has a few minority dolls that are difficult to find. They have been manufactured in the last few years, and they are beautiful. (I own two black dolls and one Asian doll that are 18-inch M.A. dolls.)

    I believe that American Girl is a far better choice than Barbie. I’d rather see young girls play with dolls without boobs for as long as they can. There could be a link between Barbie and breast implants. Barbie certainly encourages girls to believe in a body that is freakishly unrealistic.

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