When I was ten years old, I discovered the American Girls series in my school library and quickly devoured it, moving steadily through Felicity, Kirsten, Abby, Samantha, Molly, and Josephine. I absolutely adored Felicity, was a bit bored by Kirsten, wanted to be Abby, secretly loved Samantha, hated Molly, and was intrigued by Josephine. Shortly thereafter, I discovered the American Girsl catalogue and subscribed, eagerly looking forward to the monthly magazine. Once I got it, I would spend days holed up in my room mixing and matching the furniture and accessory sets to develop the perfect room. I’d rank which outfits I’d buy first. I’d circle and re-circle the sets I wanted or cut them out and paste them into a little notebook which contained story after story about me and my doll or just the dolls or just the girls or a combination of all three. I got a summer job to purchase the then $80 doll and book, though I was never given permission to do so. This went on for at least three years before I finally got tired of dreaming of something I’d never be able to get and abandoned American Girls in their entirety.
But I’m an adult now. I have a full-time job with benefits, and I can buy whatever I want, including an $80 doll and her $450 bedroom set. I can put them on a shelf right next to my degrees. And having suddenly realized that about a year ago, I set out to fulfill my childhood dreams.
Unfortunately, American Girls and Mattel (which bought them out) had other plans. As of today, only Addy and Samantha remain of my original American Girl dolls and as best as I can remember, they don’t have any of their original clothes, furniture, or accessories. They don’t even have as many of them, and they’re certainly not of the high quality I remember as a pre-teen. The catalogues now focus on the new guard (Caroline, Julie, Kaya, Kit, and Rebecca) and all the clothes and individual dolls you can buy to look like yourself. The colors are bright and overly wrought, and the pictures are over-sized to distract you from the dearth of options. And, as Alexandra Petri from the Washington Post pointed out in this article, the stories lack conflict, gravity, or importance. She sums the problems up neatly in her closing paragraph when she says, “Life comes to them in manageable, small bites, pre-chewed. No big adventures. No high stakes. All the rough edges are sanded off and the Real Dangers excluded. It’s about as much fun as walking around in a life vest.”
If you tool around Buzzfeed and The Toast, you’ll find numerous women waxing nostalgic for their American Girl dolls and how much they meant to them as kids, but you won’t find many who’ve re-connected with the brand. Most of us are disillusioned and unhappy, and I find it suspect that we can’t at least buy limited edition versions of the ones out ten or twenty years ago. Look at something supposedly made for men like Marvel and DC – they’re constantly putting out the vintage swag. So if American Girls is going to become increasingly more bland and processed, they should at least start putting out collectors’ items. American Girls was a huge part of many people’s childhood – I can guarantee we’ll lay down massive cash for it as adults.