Friday, January 20, 2012

Let’s talk about… American Girl

This one’s for you, M!  Thanks for a compelling topic today!

Today I received an email from someone close to me who had taken a picture of an American Girl doll store in the Midwest.  After a few email conversations (the first of which alluded to the store being a “girl’s paradise”), it was determined that said person was a creeped out by the store.  My observations over the last few years tell me that people typically fall into two camps when it comes to American Girl – Creeped or Love.  I happen to fall into the Love category.


So let’s talk about the American Girl.

American Girl has a pretty rich history, its company starting in 1986.  I first remember the books, but there were dolls and accessories back then as well.  What I loved about the books… historical novelettes about girls “celebrating girls and all they can be”.  I especially love this quote from their site, especially because it was so true of the books:

“These nine-year-old fictional heroines live during important times in America’s past, providing “girl-sized” views of significant events that helped shape our country, and they bring history alive for millions of children.”

Who wouldn’t love a book like that for their daughter?  Back then and even today?  And in many ways I’d like to believe that this is partly why American Girl has stayed so popular over the last 25 years. 

Unlike today where you can find a doll that goes with pretty much any story out there, I don’t remember many dolls in the 80s and early 90s that went with stories, and such rich stories at that.  (Cabbage Patch?  Care Bear?  But the stories were typically for smaller children and not tweens.)  As a girl entranced with the novelettes, who wouldn’t love to own their own historical figure doll?

I personally never owned one of the dolls, but I was a doll lover.  You can ask my parents or my sister or my grandparents and some of my friends – my dolls were my life.  I took care of them, loved them, dressed them, did their hair, etc.  I think that if one of these stores would have existed anywhere near where I lived growing up, I might have died for want of going to one.  Even as a 12-year-old.  (Though I’m pretty sure if Adam knew this about me when we started dating, we might not be married today.  Good thing he’s only known this for about a year.  Ha!)

Today I can say that I don’t mind that my girls, who have no issue playing with traditionally “boy toys”, have a tendency for mothering and are also very loving of their dolls.  Julia especially exhibits this trait and I love seeing in her the girl that I once was.  I secretly squeal with glee in my heart when the girls go to bed with 8 stuffed animals and dolls at night.  (When asked if Julia was going to be a big helper when the new baby arrived, she said, “No, I’m going to be the mommy.”  Sweet!)

So while my girls also do not own any American Girl dolls or books as yet (and I’ll take this moment to say that the prices are really the only thing about the company that I can’t handle…), I love that there is a doll company out there that touts that which American Girl does.  I look forward to the day when I know I can purchase an American Girl doll for them and they will lovingly care for their dolls, when I can take them to the American Girl store and expose them to “doll paradise”, when they are old enough to read the books and focus on what they could be and how they can influence the world around them, even as children, instead of watching the trashy tween shows on television or reading the trashy tween magazines (though goodness knows there will be time for that some day too… *sigh*).  Do I need American Girl to do this?  No.  Do I love that there is a company out there who focuses on this flavor?  Yes!

Is it wrong that I encourage that?

So I’ll ask… how is American Girl and its history, its present, and it’s future – which, by the way, DOES cater to girls of many ages (and, because so many of those first girls are now mothers, ALSO their mothers) – creepy?  (A dad taking his daughter to American Girl is simply a man who can swallow his pride and his ego for his child.)

Is it only creepy for people who a.) aren’t women or b.) weren’t girly girls or c.) didn’t raise girly girls?  I’m just wondering.  Or is it actually creepy of me to encourage my daughter’s nurturing side, to support a company that supports girls in the way they do, and to hope that through their love of dolls – and maybe someday American Girl dolls, my girls might grow to be loving and amazing mothers… or teachers… or caregivers… or the President? 

So another train of thought…

There are stores strictly for baseball cards, comic books, and other valuable paper memorabilia.  There are stores strictly for “hobbies” – planes, trains, automobiles, ships, and the like.  There are stores dedicated to Legos.  And… let’s point out that the main demographic of these clientele of these stores is… drumroll please… adult males.  Is that creepy? (Most people don’t think so… after all, it’s about collecting and building and memorabilia, etc.)

Is it creepy that there are Barbie stores and Disney stores and other toy stores touting all sorts of different items in adult sizes and child sizes?  Do you know that the last Disney store I was in was largely attended to by… adults.  Is that creepy?  (I don’t think so… and most people don’t, because, after all, Disney has been around FOREVER and is as much about the memorabilia as it is anything else.)

So how is a store that is specifically for girls, caters to girls, and sells products strictly for girls (and yes, boys who play with dolls) – a store that promotes history, promotes play, promotes make believe – creepy?  Will it stop being creepy when it’s iconic and focused more on memorabilia than on fulfilling the dreams of little girls?  (Guess what, folks, 25 years is closing in on the memorabilia stage, so watch out!) 

Suffice to say, that little email exchange really got me thinking today, particularly because I’ve seen a number of blog and Facebook posts of late that speak to the creepiness of American Girl.  I think we tend to find things creepy that are unfamiliar to us.  I can accept that people find American Girl stores creepy, but I wanted to point out a few facts behind the company itself and also point to other things – and particularly stores – in our society that are equally as creepy if you look at them in a certain light.  As for me, I’ll continue to promote the love of dolls in my house, and considering that my darling husband has already humored me by going through one of the American Girl stores without our children, I don’t doubt that someday he’ll venture back in with them… even if as an adult male he was a little creeped out.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I was not a doll girl growing up. My daughters each have 4 American Girl dolls (gifts from grandparents 4 years in a row!) and they LOVED them! They played and played with them, and their friends had AG dolls too, and they would all get together and play. One of their favorites was playing Miss American pageant with them. You can debate that whole issue, but I went with the creativity side of things. They had outfit changes, talent competitions, and judging each time (math skills in there too, adding up scores!). I think they will look back very fondly on their AG dolls. The books were great too.