The New American Girl Dolls Are No Longer Rebels And It Is A Real Shame
5:31 pm, April 29th | by Meredith Lepore
What has happened to the American Girl Dolls? I am not going to lie and act like I have been keeping tabs on American Girl Dolls for years, because that would be kind of creepy, but I do know that the company has expanded tremendously. They appear to sell tons of dolls from all different races and ethnicities and from all different time periods — or rather, you can now design a doll to look however you want to look so you don’t have to choose from the original five: Kirsten, Molly, Samantha, Felicity and Addy (I am going to say that Josefina, Kit, Kaya and Nellie were second generation add-ons, even though Kit Kittridge is the only one that got a feature length film deal).
This seems like great news for creative young girls and is keeping in with founder Pleasant T. Rowland’s original vision of helping to educate children. But it seems that though these new dolls may be modern, they are not standing up to The Man and calling bullish*t the way the original five did. And now those original dolls are being discontinued in favor of dolls that like to do organic gardening and baking. Basically we are throwing out the Lena Dunhams of the group in favor of the Gwyneth Paltrows. It will be pleasant, all right. Pleasantly boring.
I was lucky enough to own the original five Pleasant Company dolls. I didn’t realize it at a time, but there had never really been dolls like these before. We all know the negative connotations that can surround girls and dolls (I don’t want to point any fingers but one particular doll whose name rhymes with Larbie — and whose parent company Mattell now owns the American Girl brand — may have something to do with that) but the American Girl dolls were a big part of trying to change that. Each doll had a detailed backstory that was presented in a book series. Yes, these dolls had great accessories and furniture (I’m still pissed I never got Samantha’s bed) but they were also involved in some of the most pivotal historical events in our country. They were young girls and they were participating in some very difficult and controversial events in society. Addy Walker, my personal favorite, was a recently escaped former slave. Molly’s father was shipped off to fight in World War II. Kirsten was a Swedish immigrant. Heck, Samantha, who lived during the Victorian Age, fought against child labor!
You would think with the new dolls we would see more controversy, just more updated. But alas, the original historical dolls will be put on the back burner as historical artifacts of what the dolls used to mean (they will be called “historical characters”) while all the focus will go toward the new customizable “My American Girl” dolls. And these “real American girl” dolls are boring as can be. From The Atlantic:
“These product lines offer blander avatars who reflect only the present time period and appearance of contemporary girls. Girls of the Year have two biographical books, compared to the six provided for each historical character. The current catalogue leads off with the My American Girl offerings, followed by ‘Dress Like Your Doll,’ ’2013 Doll of The Year,’ and ‘Books and Magazines.’ Only when you get to the fifth section, on page 38, do “Historical Characters” make an appearance. They are almost an afterthought on the website, where the homepage features matching doll and girl outfits, plus the product line and online game for Saige, the latest Girl of the Year.
Saige is white and upper-middle-class, just like McKenna the gymnast and Lanie the amateur gardener and butterfly enthusiast, both previous Girls of the Year. Even in their attempt to encourage spunky and active girlhoods, their approaches to problem solving are highly local—one has a bake sale to help save the arts program in a local school, another scores a victory for the organic food movement when she persuades a neighbor to stop using pesticides.”
These are the problems of upper middle class kids. Bake sales are great, but what about the kids who have to be bused many miles into school or deal with major violence? What about kids who may have a friend or sibling who is autistic? What about kids leading a movement against bullying?
Those early dolls really got into the nitty gritty of what was happening during their lifetimes. I’m not saying that part of the fun wasn’t brushing their hair and putting their (historically accurate) dresses on, but at the same time I was learning something. I also remember thinking all of these girls were so brave in very different ways. They all were the stars of their own adventures. And yes, running a bake sale is an adventure, but not as much as taking on Native American persecution (thanks, Kirsten!).
The historical dolls will still be available but a lot of young girls will miss out on them in favor of a doll that looks and literally has a story exactly like them. That’s a shame.