'American Girl' Dolls Have Become So Un-American, It's Sad

Rant 69

american girl dollsThere 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

girls, toys


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Ang9403 Ang9403

I think I like them just the way they are. I want to get my daughter one but im going to wait until shes a bit older. 

shant... shantee225

For the record, they have changed the way you can customize the doll, so some kids can not find a doll "like" them. My daughter has natural hair, and one of my co-worker's daughter has green eyes and blonde hair. At least that's what she told me..lol

MamaT... MamaTo2b2g

Wow, dramatic much? I think you're reading waaaayyyy too much into a doll.

Julia Todd

They are still selling the historical dolls on the website.  I just bought the Caroline doll for my daughter this past Christmas, and I'm buying my step-daughter the Julie doll for her birthday.  My issue with American Girl isn't about the company stepping away from the historical aspect as much as it is the ridiculous cost for the accessories.  $20 for a miniature stuffed cat or $50 for an outfit set?  No thanks!  LOL.

Sloane Michelle Sanders

I had the Samantha and Kaya dolls growing up, and I absolutely adored them and the books that came with them. It's a shame that we're steering away from the history that these dolls were set up to display, but America is becoming more and more superficial by the day. They don't have time to worry about the stories and history behind their dolls.

bella... bellacazzate

It's devastating, really. I loved my Molly doll growing up. I was so invested in WWII when I was a little kid and my parents thought she was the perfect gift to indulge my interests. I got her when I was 7. Fast forward 20 years and I'm still interested in WWII. I recently completed a master's and my dissertation focused on WWII women and literature. Not saying it was Molly who made me this way haha, but she certainly helped :)


Tiffa... TiffanyMarie80

They still sell historical dolls - in store, online, and in catalogs.  Yes, they have retired several older historical dolls, but they have replaced them with new historical dolls complete with 6stories dealing with serious events from that time period.   The "just like me" dolls are an addition to the historical dolls, not a replacement for them.

mcfar... mcfarterson

I think the major problem with these dolls is the PRICE. OMG... And HELLO... a spa day for a doll?   I walked through this store and wanted to vomit at what its become...

eleph... elephantmamaof2

The draw for me was the historical factor. The stories, the meaning behind them, THAT was worth the money to me. These new dolls? Not worth it. They're definitely not the same as the catalogs we used to get when we were children, that's for sure!

knitt... knittykitty99

I agree with you.   I loved sharing the historical stories with my daughter.  I'm sure in the end it all comes down $$.  Too bad the company was ever sold to Mattel.

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