Monday, June 10, 2013
American Girl Dolls ain't what they used to be
Last night, my aunt gave Stella one of the greatest gifts ever for a little girl: a Samantha American Girl doll! She too young to care about it yet, but if she's anything like I was as a child, she will love it in about seven more years! My aunt had been given the doll for free by a young woman who had "never played with it at all" and didn't want it anymore. Whaaaat?! Better yet, I still have my Felicity doll from childhood - though she is certainly not as pristine as this new one - so now Stella will have both (or, perhaps, her and a future sister will each have one). I'm pretty excited about it.
As someone who grew up poring over each American Girl catalog that came in the mail, reading the books, and memorizing each doll's details...imagine my shock and horror when I discovered that Felicity and Samantha don't even exist anymore. In official AG lingo, they've been "archived." Ugh. As everyone knows, American Girl dolls are their many furnishings, outfits, and accessories are absolutely not cheap. It's possible that - despite Stella's future inevitable begging - I may have decided not to invest further in Samantha or Felicity's "collections." But I hate to know that they aren't even available anymore. That was such a dream of my childhood!
And not only that, but since my own girlhood (in the early 90s), the "message" and focus of the company has really changed. It used to be about getting girls interested in American history. Encouraging them to read the stories, and engage with their heritage! Girls would be able to relate to the doll as someone their own age, and imagine themselves dealing with the challenges of previous times. Reading the stories of the original characters, and gazing longingly at the images of their beautiful accessories taught the eight-year-old me a fair amount about daily life in different periods of our nation's history. And now that I think about it, may well have played a role in sparking my current interest in learning all about "daily life" in earlier time periods, especially the duties and roles of women.
One glance now at the American Girl catalogs or website, and it's clear that the focus and marketing has shifted to their "modern" dolls. The dolls that can dress the exact same as you, and be specially made with your exact hair, skin, and face type. The doll who will be your best friend/identical twin. You can braid each other's hair and have sleepovers!! Instead of reading about Felicity witnessing the stirrings of Revolution in Boston, Kirsten enduring a dangerous wagon trek across the country, or Addie being a slave, you can now read about girls who are just like you, facing the exact same boring modern "problems" as you do everyday.
I see that Mattel bought the Pleasant Co. in 1998. I am sure this is when the original intention of the dolls really started to go by the wayside.
Anyways, here are some articles which discuss this much more eloquently than I can:
Even More Terrible Things are Happening to the American Girl Doll Brand Than You Thought
American Girls Aren't Radical Anymore