Wednesday, May 15, 2013

American Girl Dolls aren't what they used to be

The Atlantic posted an article about American Girl dolls and how they're not really considered radical anymore.  At first, I read that title and was slightly confused.  Radical?  I spent most of my childhood pouring over pages of the American Girl catalog and hoping for a doll.  Each Christmas I had hoped that Santa would have left me my doll and it wasn't until I was in fourth grade did I receive Samantha.  My dad still has the Christmas video.  Every Christmas Eve, we would gather at our grandma's house after mass, have dinner, and patiently wait for our parents to allow us into the living room.  Grandma had a deal with Santa and he would leave presents for us the day before Christmas.  I've talked about my grandmother numerous times here and the impact she had on creating a magical childhood for us.  These memories are ones that I always hold dear to me.  When we rounded the corner, I found that Samantha doll and I could not stop screaming with sheer, unadulterated joy.  I finally had an American Girl doll, someone to have adventures with me.  Not just that, but hundreds of dollars of dresses and accessories.  

If you were a fan of American Girl growing up, Samantha was the "popular" one.  I cannot tell you the amount of Samantha-related items I had as a child.  I had a theater computer game and like the entire collection.  The only thing I hadn't done or experienced was go to the American Girl Place in Chicago.  Last winter, I was home for break and Ryan was deployed so my mom, brother, and I went to Chicago.  I toted them through the American Girl Place only to discover that Samantha had been replaced by Rebecca and there were a ton more new characters.  Of course, I had not read their storylines or the history behind them, but I was definitely disappointed to see that Samantha had been archived.  

In reading The Atlantic's article about the lack radicalism, I think my disappointment is only further cemented.  I loved Samantha's character because it was the Victorian era and she was fabulous.  She used her privileges in life to help others.  After Mattel took over the Pleasant Company, they've replaced the stories with more emphasis on the look-a-like dolls who like to tend butterfly gardens or bake sales to save an art program.  What?

At $110, I would want my daughter to be learning about true activism.  Not that these doll representations of girls aren't good things, because they are.  However, I feel like Mattel has severely watered down the stories.  Samantha tackled child labor during the Industrial Revolution.  I'm sorry, but tending a butterfly garden is not the same realm.  Felicity dealt with societal norms of domesticity when all she wanted to do was wear pants and ride horses.  Molly deals with a war (and her doll as well as Emily are still there).  Seeing the classics still there gives me some sense of comfort and I hope that they continue with them instead of archiving.

What I also found interesting in reading the comments on the article was that one commenter is a teacher in Latin America.  She said that the little girls she teach almost all have a look-a-like doll but their skin shades are actually lighter than their true skin tone.  Readers were commenting that selecting your doll in person is like being at a make-up counter.  Now these dolls, being expensive, were often a sign of family economic status and privilege.  However, that put aside it offered an opportunity for young girls to have a real taste of the perspective of some of the young girls in different time periods.  I'm just disappointed to see how it's changing and I'm interested to see how the new stories are developing.

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  1. Yea it is definitley not what they used to be. I workd at the American Girl Store here in Atlanta. And it has changed a whole bunch! I had the original Molly from pleasant company.

  2. I had a Kirsten doll. Sadly she was also discontinued =( I was heartbroken when I found out. How could they get rid of MY doll? I love her and her story. My sister had Samantha. My cousins had Felicity and Molly. We loved trading books and having doll get togethers. That doll was a huge part of my growing up. I've never been to an American Girl store. We now live near Chicago and I want to go and check it out. I've been told that it doesn't have the same "feel" as it used to though. =(

  3. Funny enough, I (A) had Samantha (B) was a model for Samantha in the AG charity fashion shows.

    Now my step-daughter has Kit and one of the dolls that looks like her that she named Brittny. It's so crazy to see how Mattel changed it up the product so much!

  4. I remember when they first became popular -- there were five dolls [Felicity, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha and Molly]. I had a bunch of books and could never put them down! I loved them so much -- not only for the story, but the history. And the real spirit in each of them! They showed young girls that they COULD go out and achieve something great. I'm with you -- I think its sad that they are archiving the older dolls and their stories, and taking away from the historical aspect of it all. You can still get the books -- and even though my daughter is only 3, I have already started collecting them for her when she gets older!

  5. I love this post! Addy was my favorite and reading her story always felt so surreal to me like she was me and I was her...random I know, but her story felt like they could've taken place in real life. I remember when I got my Addy doll as an 8 year old and was extremely excited. The original American Girls never did anything as trivial as tending butterfly gardens, they were always active and adventurous. I hope that a bit of the original story gets bought back into the company's brand for the newer generations of American girls.

  6. I always wanted a American Girl but sadly, never had the money for one. Which is okay, because I probably would have outgrew her. I was a HUGE fan of Felicity. I didn't even know they had stores. I thought it was order by call only (before internet). I am really sad to see that the dolls are changing. But then again so is society.