Why I’m raising my daughter without an American Girl doll

3 mins read
American Girl

Gretchen CroweGrowing up, my best friend had the American Girl doll “Molly.” Molly Jean McIntire, to give her her full name, was one of the company’s original historical characters — characters whose lives were set at a particular time, accompanied by stories that helped teach young people about that era. Released in 1986, Molly represents years surrounding World War II. The stories associated with Molly promote traditional values like kindness, patience, fortitude, selflessness and teamwork. The books offer the perspective of a different time, through the relatable eyes of a child.

That was nice and all, but that’s not the only reason I loved Molly. The books took a back seat to what I was really interested in: her little wire glasses, her brushable hair, her little navy beret and darling matching A-line skirt. I couldn’t get enough of her alternate third-grade school outfit, complete with lace trim on the cuffs, a Peter Pan collar and a plaid, pleated jumper. Molly, with her two-tooth smile and her round little cheeks, was something to be treasured, and how I craved her.

Alas, for 9-year-old me, Molly, or any American Girl doll, was not in my future. The high price tag, matched with my natural proclivity for losing or breaking things of value, made investing in a doll like Molly — or one of her adorable sisters Samantha, Kirsten, Felicity, Addy or Josefina — a nonstarter.

So perhaps you’ll understand why, when walking through a high-end shopping center in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, recently, the little girl inside of me felt drawn like a magnet to the American Girl store. “I’ve never been in one!” I gasped to my husband, who I’m pretty sure would have preferred alien abduction to actually having to enter the establishment. But he humored his starry-eyed wife, and we walked through big glass doors into one of the 10 brick-and-mortar American Girl stores in the country.

That’s pretty much when the stars fell from my eyes. I don’t know what I was expecting: rows of Mollys with braids tied by hair ribbons, their little navy berets propped at an angle on their heads? A library of child-friendly paperbacks examining the Civil War era, the early 1900s, World War II, and so on? A trip back to the innocence and simplicity of childhood? Not so much.

Instead, we were greeted by a paradoxical double whammy: an absolutely magnificent ode to commerce under the protection of “you do you, girl” culture.

The “stuff” was everywhere. This is a silly critique of a store, I know, but it’s true. Box after box after box of any kind of doll or doll accessory money could buy, with matching stuff for the young purchaser, filled walls and displays. Hats, purses, shoes, hair clips, carriers, glasses — if a marketing associate could dream it up, it was available to buy. Almost completely absent was the focus on history, and with it the opportunities for learning about another time, or to experience life through the eyes of another young person during a pivotal era. In their place are the generic outfits — “Fun on the Slopes Travel” (“When the powder’s fresh, hit the slopes with this set!”) — and the outfits’ accessories, which naturally includes a pink pet carrier and a stuffed puppy. So. Much. Stuff.

The stuff, no doubt, is easily justifiable in the eyes of American Girl. Each doll needs to represent the uniqueness of the individual buying it, especially since a lack of diversity was an early and appropriate criticism of the brand. In an almost shocking fashion, the pendulum has now swung almost entirely the other way. Enter the “Truly Me” collection — a customizable set of dolls that ooze “you do you” culture. The marketing language says it all: “A Truly Me™ doll is a friend who knows just how to celebrate who your girl is right now. A little artsy? 100% sporty? Someone who is simultaneously strong and wild and sweet? Mix and match to create an outfit of the day that expresses her vibe in exactly the right way.”

You do you, girl. You be you. Whoever you are now, we celebrate; whoever you are next, we celebrate, no matter what. American Girl doesn’t officially have a transgender doll in its lineup yet, but the stage is set.

I have no problem with strong, independent, individual girls. I’m doing my best to raise one right now. We’ll just be doing it American Girl doll free — same as me.

Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.

Gretchen R. Crowe

Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News.