If you grew up with an American Girl Doll, you probably remember creating a whole Barbie-sized world around her, and maybe even had a matching outfit. But what did these American Girl dolls say about American girlhood?
The American Girl Doll industry emerged in 1986, creating 18-inch dolls that portray girls between the ages of nine and 11 of a variety of ethnicities. The girls come with a collection of six books featuring stories on various periods in American history. In addition, the company created the “My American Girl” contemporary doll line, to allow girls to customize their own doll based on hair color, skin tone, and eyeshade.
Growing up in the ‘90s, to say I was obsessed with American Girl dolls would be an understatement. I’ll admit that I chose the dolls based on their looks — I had Samantha because she had brown hair and brown eyes, and Molly because she had glasses. And with the dolls came the multiple clothes and accessories that are specific to each, which were absolutely imperative to purchase if you wanted the whole American Girl experience. Still, I was smitten. I took her to tea at the American Girl Place in Chicago, and even had the opportunity to model as her in an American Girl fashion show.
While there are now more than 50 different dolls “living” in different times of contemporary American life, the original six — Felicity, Kirsten, Josefina, Addy, Samantha and Molly — paved the way for a multi-billion dollar enterprise. But how realistic did the look of the doll fit the personality of its owner?
You loved horses as a kid and yearned to be independent. You had red hair like she did and wanted to be unique. If all of your friends wore black party dresses to the school formal, you wore blue. You are free-spirited in nature and a loyal friend.
You were very nurturing to your siblings and always put family first. Like Addy, you received Josefina because your parents wanted you to be well rounded in a sea of white dolls.
You were a blonde prairie girl whose mother made clothes for your doll. You were drawn towards crafting in your free time and had an affinity for tacky Christmas sweaters, which are surprisingly starting to come back in style.
If you were African American, you had Addy because your parents wanted to teach you about diversity. If you were white and had Addy, it was because your parents wanted to teach you about diversity.
Out of all the dolls, Samantha was the cool one. She was like the Blair Waldorf of dolls — every girl wanted her (or wanted to be her). From her glossy brown hair to her sophisticated accessories, she lived a life of luxury. If you owned a Samantha, you were the most popular in your group and had lots of friends, but were loyal and willing to help others.
You probably wanted Samantha instead, but were satisfied with Molly because, like her, you wore glasses, liked books and were bad at math. You had a lot of goals and dreams, and were very proactive in making them a reality — no matter how obscure the scheme was. You spent your free time volunteering at the local animal shelter and finding new ways to make a difference.
If you didn’t have an American Girl doll, it was because your parents thought $80 was too much to pay for a doll three times the size of a Barbie doll. You then had to purchase the tiny accessories, making Barbie’s dream house look cheap. And you may have been a bit resentful every time you received the American Girl catalog in the mail.
The American Girl empire launched a trend in little girls’ lives, creating a lifetime of memories. But like Andy in Toy Story 3, you’ve grown up now and have matured. Chances are, you still have that American Girl doll locked up on your attic with your other toys, just aching to be played with one more time.
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