Thursday, October 24, 2013

A (small turned big) rant directed towards American Girl.

Ever since 2006ish, American Girl have gone downhill in my opinion. For one, the dolls have become EXTREMELY expensive. They've always been expensive... $82 in the 1980's, when Pleasant Company first came out with Samantha, Molly, and Kirsten. But now prices have raised to $110 for just the doll and her first book.
Secondly, I feel like the company is less about "letting your inner star shine" and teaching history, and more about appearance and selling things. Nearly every single outfit has some sort of pink in it, even the historical outfits. Plus, the quality (not to mention quantity) has gone down as well. Now, you can buy pants, a shirt, shoes, and a hair clip for $30.

(My mom made me pants like that for free! $30 is a lot for a plain shirt, and a plain pair of pants. I could buy myself a new outfit for that much money! Either that or 3-10 new books, depending on the thrift store/second hand bookstore)
Pleasant Rowland, who started American Girl back in 1986 did so for two reasons: One, because there weren't any dolls on the market at the time specifically for 8-12 year olds. Two, to teach history to girls of that age range on a personal level, through stories told by the point of view of eight-year-olds.
I love American Girls for their stories. I think that they are incredibly historically rich for the projected age-range, and even for older people like me. I feel like the American Girl company of today is more about selling the products of their My American Girl (Just Like You) dolls, than giving us wonderful historical dolls.
After all, they have retired two of the dolls that come from some of the most important time periods in American history.
I'm talking about Felicity, from THE WAR FOR INDEPENDANCE! The creation of our nation as we know it! Sure, her stories still live... But the doll and her outfits, the visual aids that go with the presentation, are gone.
The second doll I'm talking about it Molly McIntire. American Girl is retiring her within the next few months.
(My Molly)
Molly comes from World War Two. Her stories, too, will live on... but I wonder, how many girls still read the historical character books? I'm sure lots do... But I'm also sure that a lot of girls would rather read the My American Girl books, and just play with the dolls.
Samantha has also been retired. She doesn't come from a super important time period in history... There were no wars or anything in 1904. But 1904 was during the Industrial Revolution. Things were changing. Edith Wharton was either writing or trying to get House of Mirth published... George M. Cohan was in New York trying to make it big... Debussy was composing... things were being invented... Women's roles were being questioned... Lots was happening. And Samantha's stories are a wonderful representation of that era. Every one who reads her books falls in love with Sam and her character.
So what dolls have "replaced" the historicals that have been retired?
Julie Albright from 1974 came out in 2008. I've never really been fond of Julie... Just because of personal preference. She's a rather simple-looking doll, with straight blond hair and brown eyes. Plus, I'm not overly fond of the face mold... I don't like the big-lipped dolls (an exception with the ethnic dolls like Josefina and Addy).
Plus, I'm not sure that 40 years ago should be considered historical... The 1970's certainly is an interesting time, and I did really enjoy Julie's books, and her collection is sooo funky. It's super cool. But, still... the '70's wasn't that long ago. Are they trying to say that my mom is historical?
Rebecca Rubin. I see her as Samantha's replacement. For one, she's from only ten years after Samantha - in 1914. Instead of portraying an important event in history, I believe that Rebecca's storyline deals with her Jewish roots, and her passion for theater... I'm not sure, I still have to read her books.
After Rebecca, Marie-Grace and Cecile came out. They are unique in that they are friends, but they are both the main characters in the books. I haven't read their books either... but I know that they live in New Orleans in the mid-1800's during the yellow fever outbreak. They are alright... Their outfits are crazy and represent what I know of New Orleans well.
The latest doll American Girl has come out with is the one I'm most happy about... Caroline Abbott. Though, like Julie, she is a rather plain-looking doll... her story is set during the War of 1812, a war that not too many people study a lot about. I thinks that's rather cool.
Anyway, a lot of that is my personal opinion...
On top of all that opinion and the expense of the dolls and their accessories, it slightly annoys me that the My American Girl's come with codes to put them online. What are they, Webkinz? (Although I think that Webkinz is owned by Mattel too... I'm not sure).
And the final part of this rant...
Do they even read the books? Kit is my main example. She doesn't like pink. She's a tomboy. She says in the first book that her mom redecorated her room in pink with frills, and she doesn't like it. She moves up to the attic when they open up their house to be a boarding house... She misses her room, but she doesn't miss the frills.
Yet, somehow, American Girl has managed to retire most of the outfits from the books, and replace them all with outfits from the movie (which I don't mind so much... some of them are cute). Of course, they also replaced the outfits with PINK clothes! On Kit Kittredge!
Look at this outfit:
It's pink, and it's lacy, and it's frilly. Not to mention it's kind of fancy for the Great Depression. Kit's family is barely making it, even with the rent from the borders. They have to sell eggs for a few extra cents, and Aunt Millie's thrift secrets help them lots (such as cutting toast into triangles to make bread last longer). Sure, Kit's mother could have made Kit this dress... but material probably would have cost money that the Kittredge family did not have.
And how about Kit's new PJ's and bedspread? They are both pink. I liked her old bedspread better... It was blue and shaggy, like something that the Kittredge family would have in the '30's. Her new bedspread is not only pink, but it looks like a comforter you could buy at the mall today - not something the Kittredge's would have, unless Kit somehow stole it out of her old room (right out from under Sterling and his mother).
Anyway... I'm going to stop ranting now. I still love American Girl, especially the books. So...
Live long and prosper!
(Woohoo, for Doll Trek!)


  1. I used to sit with the American Girl catalog and just drool as a kid, knowing that I'd never be able to actually get one of the dolls. My favorite catalog was a really, REALLY old one where they sold the official costumes girl-sized so you could match the dolls. I really wished they still sold them, because they were REALLY cool. I wanted Molly, since we looked the most alike ... even dressed up for her at an American Girl tea party my library hosted. (Her birthday dress. My Grandmom was an AMAZING seamstress. My sister had Kirsten's dress.) However, it was Jess I ended up with, after I expressed enthusiastic interest in her to a friend. She was a really good friend, we've drifted apart since ... but I still remember her fondly. I possibly owe my writing career to her and Narnia.

    But yeah, the American Girl focus has shifted somewhat. And the retirement of Samantha really annoyed another friend of mine, and Felicity's annoyed my sister (she wanted Elizabeth). Luckily, both managed to get their doll before they disappeared forever (V's is a six-inch, but she says she doesn't mind, since it takes up less room). I've read at the Rebecca and the Orleans girls book. They were quite good. Rebecca isn't really about Jewish traditions, it's in there ... but it's more of what sort of life the immigrants led when they got to New York. My sister quite enjoyed it.

    There was a time when I had most of the Samantha movie memorized ... or at least Nellie's line. Wow. That's a chapter in my history.

  2. I have to agree with you. American Girl Dolls has gone down A LOT since Mattel bought them out. The stories are much more about being yourself and simple everyday challenges, which none of the AG stories I read growing up were about. Samantha was trying to keep her friend from getting shipped off as a child laborer, Felicity was dealing with the Revolutionary War, Molly was trying to help America win WWII, and so on. They were books that said girls could stand up and make a difference in big events, not just win the talent show at school. I was so sad when they retired Samantha, since she was always my favorite. (She still is on my doll stand which sits on my desk in her Christmas cranberry dress.)

  3. I had Molly and all her books when I was eight, and I read the Kirsten books a couple of years later. They were incredibly important to me. They were actually part of my homeschool curriculum; they taught useful and interesting things about the past in a fun way that was perfect for my age, unlike a boring textbook. I liked Kirsten better than Molly, but I still treasured my doll. I only recently stumbled across her again and gave her to a beautiful little girl who's almost the right age for AG now.

    My grandmother also had Molly, and she loved her a lot, too. She shared a lot of similarities -- growing up amid World War II was one of the important events she and Molly both shared. But also she would read the Molly books aloud to me and point out things she remembered from her childhood as we went along. It was such a wonderful way for me to get to know my grandma when I was young. I don't see her very often, so times like those are very important to me.

    So I'm very sad to hear that their focus has shifted to selling merchandise and that their quality isn't what it used to be. I mean, it's good for girls to have a character that they can relate to, even if it's just small, everyday things, but I agree that having that perspective of history, from an almost personal point of view, is incredibly valuable. It helps shapes the view of the world today, giving it context that most little girls don't find in the multitude of other books targeted at their age group.

    This is an age of consumerism, where materialistic things are valued far too highly. The books I remember reading opened up my world, introducing me to my own history, and to enriching experiences that don't come from things and money. All periods of history are important, I have to say, war or not, as it can be eye-opening to see how people behave in times of peace, and I feel sad that girls will miss out on that.

    Wow, long comment. I guess that stirred up some memories and some pretty passionate opinions in me :) Excellent post, Abbey, very thought-provoking.

  4. I agree! I always wanted one of the American girl dolls but they were just too expensive. I found it sad and confusing that they were "retiring" Samantha. Why would they do that? I've been collecting the older American Girl books myself and I reread them from time to time. Ooh... now I want to rewatch the Samantha movie. (: