These Aren’t Your Mother’s American Girl Dolls
2:40 pm, January 18th | by
Regardless of the amount of times I placed a tenderly dog-eared American Girl catalog near my mother’s sleeping body and the evenings I spent loudly sighing while re-reading Happy Birthday, Samantha, I never had an American Girl doll to call my own. I was forced to fake disinterest when my luckier friends discussed the advantages of Kirsten over Molly and how they wanted to get a real girl-sized replica of Samantha’s Afternoon Tea Dress.
So I’ll admit my reaction to the news that
American Girl had retired the original historical characters Samantha, Kirsten, and Felicity was abnormally visceral, especially for someone in their twenties. And reading about the new generation of American Girl dolls has only made it worse. The pioneers are gone, Molly has a British best friend, and the website won’t stop hustling me over to the page of some crunchy-looking doll named Saige. Saige! This isn’t what I remembered from my sad, deprived childhood! To reminisce about the American Girls’ past, click through the gallery below. Abandon the present, all ye who enter here.
I can't believe they retired Samantha "Queen Bee" Parkington. Samantha was the doll that every girl wanted to have. Receiving the Samantha doll as a present was proof that justice and good existed in the world; the girls who owned her undoubtedly grew into lawyers, philanthropists, founders of non-profits, and women with fast metabolisms who say things like "Oh, I'm just naturally a morning person."
Everyone else was placated with a Molly doll and grew up a little bitter, a little snarky, and often inclined to drink just a smidge past her limit. Samantha had the shiny, long hair that every popular girl had, the type of hair that you literally put in formal requests to braid during lunch.
Samantha started out as an Edwardian era orphan who had to work in a factory — so she had the type of silent strength that you admired and a rough past that prevented you from hating her — but was adopted by her wealthy Grandmother and moved to New York, so she had all the glamorous accessories and outfits that you actually cared about. Samantha had a red velvet clutch purse and a traveling trunk.
She was nine. Samantha Parkington was inspirational, aspirational, and just a bit better than you; she was the perfect American Girl doll. AND NOW SHE'S GONE.
Not long after you read
Little House on the Prairie for the first time, you probably discovered Kirsten Larson, the Pioneer Era American Girl. It was fate; it was kismet; it was perfection in polyester fiberfill form. While Kirsten had the pluck and spirit of a frontierswoman, she also had blue eyes and blonde hair that was kept up in two looped braids, a hairstyle that probably inspired its fair share of tears borne out of failure to duplicate it.
Kirsten also had this St. Lucia outfit that included an a-mah-zing crown made of candles that would probably get
all the likes and reblogs if it was recreated in real life and posted to Tumblr.
And really, is there any girl who hasn't gone through a frontier phase? Sure,
The Oregon Trail computer game probably boosted Kirsten's popularity but I also believe there's a romantic simplicity to prairie life — living by candlelight, playing with farm animals — that young girls are innately drawn to. Kirsten's message of living close to the Earth, "making do", and everything DIY is more important now than ever. Now get off my lawn!
Okay, so Felicity was kind of boring but she came from the Revolutionary War period! How can we justify retiring the Founding Father (??) of the American Girl collection?! Felicity is necessary if only because through her, little girls gained a foundation for politically engaged lives, learning about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the dreams that led to the creation of America, and all those other campaign trail buzzwords. Felicity personally refused to drink tea when the British raised the tea tax — she is basically the female Thomas Paine! Felicity was the true revolutionary of the American Girl set, fighting for freedoms and ranting about tyranny while Kirsten milked a cow.
Also, she had red hair which has been coveted by young girls ever since
Anne of Green Gables so check yourself, American Girl Inc., before you wreck yourself and this fine nation.
Molly McIntire, — she was always the American Girl doll of our nightmares, the historical character that no one wanted to be seen with. Molly wore glasses, was bad at math, and even as a doll just exuded a certain awkwardness that young girls dealt with enough in their real lives, thank you very much.
Personally, I loved Molly, and not just because I would have loved any American Girl doll, even a stick with Kirsten's face glued on it. Molly and I shared a last name (albeit with a different spelling), she was honest about her fears, she was the best dancer in her class, and she had a particular 1940's swag that I still try to emulate. Molly was the most accessible of the dolls, the one you didn't want but secretly knew you were the most like. Sure, Molly was a little bit of a goon but she was lively and lovable and eventually learned how to accept herself. It was a great message! But alas, she just wasn't enough.
American Girl introduced Molly's best friend, Emily Bennett,
as a doll in 2006. Emily is blonde, classically adorable, and British. Everyone loves accents! Poor Molly McIntire never stood a chance!
5.My American Girl
While I must give "My American Girl", a line of customizable dolls and clothing meant to reflect modern times, endless props for offering progressive accessories such as a "
Hannukkah Gift Set", an " Allergy-Free Lunch" that includes an Epi-Pen, and a wheelchair, I am wary of the movement away from the historical characters. What separated American Girl dolls from every other doll on the market was that they celebrated the history of strong, brave, and active women. The dolls taught you lessons; you were exposed to girls who didn't look like you and whose lives weren't like yours. You didn't just play games, you played history, making it more accessible, vibrant, and tangible. Girls of all races could learn about slavery and the Civil War through Addy, about the Great Depression through Kit. This obsession with customization and the individual sends the wrong message: play with things that look like you, stay within your cultural confines. I miss my traditional American Girl Dolls, but I don't think we'll ever get them back.