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American Girl: Give Those Dolls Some Balls!

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Let me start by inserting a spoiler alert. I’m not a big fan of the multi-zillion dollar American Girl (AG) franchise.

“Why?” you ask, as you throw down exactly $173.00 plus shipping for a doll that looks like the tattletale who rats everyone out at school, forgettable plaid dress, pair of patent pleather saddle shoes, and an overpriced miniature Goldendoodle you can pick up at Target for $4.99?

That’s why. Well, that and a lack of compelling role models for my daughters.

My seven- and nine-year-old girls feel differently, however, thanks in no small part to the monthly catalogues that arrive in the mail. So in an effort to better understand their fascination, I conducted a non-scientific study of the American Girl world. Curious to see if I could find a doll to fit either of their dispositions, I trolled the website for hours in an attempt to identify a match.

To be fair, I can see why my daughters, along with millions of other girls across the country, are attracted to American Girl dolls. They perfectly fit the profile of what our conventional “girl next door” culture defines as attractive, and are pretty and bright-eyed, with flawless skin and thick, glossy hair. The original dolls each tell a personal story, and their narrative is filled with positive traits including honesty, kindness, creativity, and optimism.

These are great qualities, but in the modern-day world my daughters are learning to maneuver, they aren’t enough.

AG’s first line of dolls is based on historical periods, and each comes with a background story attached. Take Addy Walker, a doll who’s “escaping slavery to find her father and brother.” I’m all for acknowledging the past, but slavery? Couldn’t the executives at Mattel have come up with something a little more inspirational for a ten year-old African American, or any young girl for that matter, to embrace other than one of the most oppressive facets of American History? What about a doll made in the spirit of Rosa Parks or a mini-Coretta Scott King?

In the same vein, historical character Josefina is “from her family’s New Mexican rancho.” With a serape over her shoulders and a cross hanging from her neck, is she getting ready to make tortillas to stuff into a piñata for a neighborhood fiesta? Josefina looks like she just stepped off an Old El Paso taco dinner kit, and with similar profiles built on stereotypes, these dolls simply don’t inspire in a world where I expect my daughters to push beyond the boundaries that two-dimensional labels create.

In addition to these offerings, American Girl pitches a more modern doll, cleverly allowing ‘tweens to choose their likeness in skin tone, eye color, and hair (well, sort of…the more “ethnic” options don’t exactly slice in tandem with our nation’s current demographic pie). Because each mini-me comes clothed in a forgettable pair of lavender pants and shirt, your style-savvy daughter is sure to sprint directly to the overpriced unsale rack as soon as she’s created her doll.

And here’s where I have another problem.

While there’s nothing implicitly wrong with cheerleaders and ski bunnies, that’s not how my girls roll. Where’s the snow boarder shredding it down the mountain? The hockey center who just scored a goal? How about a surfer struggling to catch a massive wave?

A lacrosse player and skate boarder move the gender-biased dolls in the right direction, but why not push a decades-old envelope a little and add hip-hop to compliment ballet, and a girl who races a motorcycle instead of a horse?

In other words, give those dolls some balls!

Moms like me (and there are a lot of us) are raising daughters who focus not on what it means to be an “American Girl,” but something with much more depth. We’re working from a global platform as we teach them to be open-minded, multi-cultural, fearless, unbiased, and strong. It’s our hope that they’ll push beyond the superficial borders of pretty and perfect on a fast track toward fierce and outspoken. They may be biracial, adopted, or from fractured families, and they’re all learning to handle life’s ups and downs.

Our daughters are the world’s future leaders, innovators, and pioneers because we’re helping them challenge stereotypes and redefine the meaning of status quo. They are thoughtful, intelligent, risk-takers who aren’t afraid to ask questions, speak their minds, and take a stand.

As mothers, we long to lock eyes with that confident little girl in your line-up of dolls who will grow up to be a scientist, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, or President of the United States…a role model whose inspiration reaches well beyond clichés, matching outfits and perfect hair.

But for me, she doesn’t exist.

Until American Girl offers a reasonably priced, balls-up doll for my girls to cherish, I’ll take my $173.00 plus tax somewhere else.

Now if I could just get the grandparents to back their quest to buy plane tickets for a holiday brunch and trunk show at the flagship store in Chicago, everything will be OK.

Guest blogger Stacie is a married mother of three animated (as in cartoonish) children living in the sunny suburbs of Denver. When she’s not blogging at Gemini Girl in a Random World, she stalks people in her ginormous SUV who text while driving. So if you’re gonna be on I-25 anytime soon, look out.

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Comments
  • comment avatar J April 25, 2012

    I don’t like the dolls’ stories. There’s a lot of admirable pluck and spunk going on in these stories, but there are also a lot of ugly sibling relationships. Brothers come off especially badly: in the American Girl books, brothers are nothing but trouble (unless they’re babies, then they’re allowed to be “cute”).

    • comment avatar Stacie Chadwick May 7, 2012

      I’m a writer, so for me, the stories lack character depth. But perhaps I’m more critical than most. =)

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by!

  • comment avatar Kristen April 25, 2012

    Have spent hundreds on those dolls. Don’t have a problem with anything except for the price. Definitely expensive but you get what you pay for and they’re superb quality.

    • comment avatar Stacie Chadwick May 7, 2012

      My issue with price has more to do with the fact that many people simply can’t afford them. There’s a large segment of our population that could never pay $100 for a doll, much less the clothing and accessories, and it bothers me.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • comment avatar Bridgett April 25, 2012

    Look at it this way, the dolls may not be perfect but teach your kids differently. They’re providing my family with an opportunity to teach our girls to think critically.

    • comment avatar Stacie Chadwick May 7, 2012

      They certainly set higher standards, as role models, than most of the dolls out there on the shelves. For me, however, the dolls are skewed both in gender and racial bias, and I would prefer that my girls see a more accurate representation of what it is to be an American Girl.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. =)

  • comment avatar Melissa April 25, 2012

    I had Molly. I loved her when I was little, but you’re right, I do think differently about these dolls now that I’m older. I still think I’ll let my daughter have one.

    • comment avatar Stacie Chadwick May 7, 2012

      It’s definitely a personal decision, often greatly influenced by how many of your daughters friends have them. =) Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • comment avatar Karen April 25, 2012

    I still have packed away the Felicity and Samantha that I had as a late elementary school student. My mom was very hesitant to pay then then $80 charged, and so asked me to save allowance money to pitch in for part of the cost. I did, and when we ordered the doll she was shocked by the quality. It was wonderful. I got my first doll in 4th grade and even then was old enough to understand that there were definitely some anachronisms in the supposed historical fiction stories. But I did enjoy them. For furniture my mom stained craft store doll furniture and anything from the catalogue was a treasured Christmas or birthday gift. This was before the days of the first American Girl store. Now there’s one a mile from my apartment with a girl/doll spa (!), a restaurant, and more. I appreciate that my parents worked hard to encourage the advantages of the fun I had with my dolls without falling prey to some of the disadvantages. I’ve kept those dolls so that should any of my future kids, one of whom will be here in February, turn out to be a girl I will have a bona fide doll for her. She may not get to pick her favorite, but she will get a good condition doll who really is built well enough to be an heirloom. And then I’ll try to help my daughter balance enjoying the good of the dolls without falling prey to the pitfalls. And those pitfalls do seem to have multiplied ever since Mattel – grr – bought the line.

    • comment avatar Stacie Chadwick May 7, 2012

      Karen,

      This is an incredibly thoughtful comment and I appreciate you taking the time to write it. I applaud your mother’s decision to have you pitch in for the AG doll. It’s a great example for a parent to set, no matter what “big ticket item” their child wants.

      Thanks,
      Stacie

  • comment avatar Boulder Moms April 25, 2012

    I can’t imagine buying my daughter one. She likes the 25 cent one from the garage sale just fine.

  • comment avatar Samantha April 25, 2012

    I love the books. but the dolls are way over priced!

  • comment avatar Jennifer April 25, 2012

    I walked into that store, took a quick look around and thought – this is ridiculous! Someone is making BANK off moms who would buy the dolls and the all accessories that go with them for their kids. I am a very practical thinker; I certainly want my girls to learn about the history of our country and the people who live in it. But I am not convinced spending $178 on a doll is the way to go with that. I couldn’t agree more with what Stacie says: “Moms like me (and there are a lot of us) are raising daughters who focus not on what it means to be an “American Girl,” but something with much more depth. We’re working from a global platform as we teach them to be open-minded, multi-cultural, fearless, unbiased, and strong. It’s our hope that they’ll push beyond the superficial borders of pretty and perfect on a fast track toward fierce and outspoken. They may be biracial, adopted, or from fractured families, and they’re all learning to handle life’s ups and downs.”
    This is the same reason I never bought Bratz dolls for my now 15 year old when she was much younger. All her friends had them and she wanted one but there was no way I could justify handing my child a hoochie mama dressed doll to play with. There are too many things that are “acceptable” now and people eagerly jump on the band wagon because everyone else is on it. I am tired of the role models that are out there for girls and refuse to give into it. I am not saying American Girls dolls even come close to Bratz dolls in terms of morals. But they are more a status statement for sure; which is another thing I don’t want to teach my kids.

    • comment avatar Stacie Chadwick May 7, 2012

      Jennifer,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. American Girl wins hands-down over Bratz and their sister-doll Moxie Girl, but like you, I’m looking for more tangible ways for my girls to connect with the world.

      Stacie

  • comment avatar Anna April 25, 2012

    Love them! My family buys them for my kiddos with the accessories and horses, etc. They adore them and even have a special shelf for all of it. When I was a kid it was Cabbage Patch, now it’s American Girl. It’s fun to be a kid :)

  • comment avatar Michelle April 25, 2012

    RIP OFF ….What a waste I tell ya’.. Dont think it sets any good examples for lil ones. Well besides being greedy and wanting Over priced junk there gna grow out of in a month hehe’ :P

  • comment avatar Kayla April 25, 2012

    Our four year old has three and we love reading the books together. I feel they help her enjoy historical tales… but most of their toys have an educational undertone to them so it’s rare a FP or Little Tykes toy makes it’s way into our house, forget Disney and Dora.

    • comment avatar Stacie Chadwick May 7, 2012

      I think Disney and Dora do a good job of teaching lessons to children, and represent the biracial nature of our country much more effectively. American Girl does have its attributes, though, just not enough to convince me to make the investment. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith April 28, 2012

    Stacie, I love how you are taking a stand and setting limits about your expectations for yourself and your girls. It’s so important for girls to have higher aspirations for themselves.
    Keep standing your ground!

  • comment avatar Catherine April 30, 2012

    Great piece! So funny! I’m kind of the same opinion about the American Girl dolls. We’ve somehow dodged that bullet at our house!

    • comment avatar Stacie Chadwick May 7, 2012

      My girls were outside playing all day yesterday, the day before? Back-to-back lacrosse games. No time for dolls, and I’m so OK with that. Thanks Catherine!

  • comment avatar Nancy May 1, 2012

    when they first came out I bought one for my daughter (a very anti-barby doll girl). I bought Molly and it sparked a life long study of WWII. (home schoolers will do anything if it might be educational). The doll and her stuff are packed in the storage bin now. Daughter is 32 yrs old. she dosnt like the new stuff

  • comment avatar Vidya @ Whats Ur Home Story July 13, 2012

    I’ve been waging the war against the American Girl Doll in our household for some time now. All my 6yr old’s friends have them. I just refuse to jump on the marketing hype bandwagon and pay over $100 on a DOLL! If I have that much money to throw away I would rather donate it to charity. The part of the world that I come from a family can buy food for a month with that kind of money. I strongly believe that we need to teach our kids to be aware of others’ needs too and not just indulge in our own wants.

  • comment avatar Mom to 3 amazing girls May 9, 2013

    My daughters Emma, 9, Hilary Grace, 4, and Rosie Grace, 2, have twenty four American Girl Dolls that they share and spend hours playing with them!!!! Wouldn’t you much rather your daughters play with valuable, amazing quality, educational dolls like American Girl instead of rail-thin fashion dolls like Barbie, Bratz, Monster High, Growing Up Glam, Moxie Girls, and Novi Stars? In the world of negative toys in the Girls Toy Aisle in Target, Walmart,and Walgreens American Girl has saved our future of dolls. Imagine all the dolls on Earth being blonde and skinny. American Girl came to the rescue in 1986 providing an educational diverse line of dolls for girls to cherish forever. I grew up with them too. I got my first Pleasant Company (American Girl’s former name before Mattel-sigh-bought the company in 1998)Doll in 1986.My daughters now own my childhood American Girl Dolls also many others from the 2000s. So yes I am hotly defending American Girl.

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