There is so much more to the American Girl doll line than having one that looks just like your daughter. The company is now owned by Mattel, but belonged to Pleasant Company, which was founded by former schoolteacher Pleasant T. Rowland until 1998. The early American Girls wore historically accurate clothes and had stories of escaping slavery, living in the Depression, and ending child labor. The dolls were part of a six-book series with in depth plot lines and messages of strength, perseverance, and also carried a bit of controversy with headlines from that time.
Imagine if there was an American Girl doll who wanted to fight for same-sex marriage because she had two moms. Or one American Girl doll whose father was a veteran who served in Afghanistan and is facing post-traumatic stress disorder. Is that just too heavy? Certainly just as heavy as the original dolls' stories. Instead they are little carbon copies all about the matching outfits.
Sometime in 2008, the core historical dolls were no longer being produced. And like writer Amy Schiller says in her piece in The Atlantic:
These characters represent more than just the original characters of an iconic brand — their archiving represents a lost sensibility about teaching girls to understand thorny historical controversies and build political consciousness.
The company says they retire some Girls to make room for new ones, but they are forgetting the historical and ground-breaking roots of the dolls themselves. Instead they are made to look "just like you" and while that's cute, it looses the message and the potential to educate, make some waves, be ... radical. The dolls are more about cute outfits and blending in to some sort of mainstream -- perhaps even with blinders on.
What does this say about our society? Are we too worried to tackle the hot button topics with our children? Are we coddling them and instead focusing on pink butterflies and pretty hair barrettes rather than the stories that really affect our lives -- our future? Are we too afraid to talk about same-sex marriage, war, Wall Street, health care, or even events like Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon bombings?
Generally, yes. Yes we are. So maybe our America is just different now. By forgetting what used to matter, we are doing a disservice to our kids, to our future, to their future.
I'm not exactly knocking the dolls -- they are adorable and kids love dolls that look like them. I sure did. My daughter does, too. But we should remember the past, and learn from it -- those lessons, particularly when using toys to bring them to our attention and into discussion -- are vital. Is that American?
Do you think American Girl (or another doll manufacturer) should bring back the historic dolls and add to the line with current issues?
Image via Jeff Sandquist/Flickr