Remember When American Girls Dolls Used to Stand for Something?


American Girl Dolls, the brand that had a deep impact on the formative years of thousands of girls who grew up in the nineties, was originally founded in 1986 with three dolls— Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. Each doll came with a history and a personality which was revealed through a six-book series. Felicity and Addy were soon added to the mix, but their stories were constructed in an almost identical fashion. Tackling issues such as slavery, in the case of pre-Civil War Addy, and gender norms (in 1774, no less) with the colonial tomboy Felicity, the books dealt with societal issues that allowed for young girls who owned the dolls to grasp heavier concepts like class differences and manifest destiny’s effects on the Native American population. The books were the first introduction to American history for a lot of young girls, and they didn’t necessarily paint a rosy picture of this country’s past.

The franchise was originally owned by Pleasant Company, but Mattel acquired the brand in 1998. Since then, there has been a noticeable shift in the personalities of American Girl dolls. Gone are the days of colonial Felicity getting pissed about “sitting down things” like stitching and writing, or Samantha delivering heartfelt speeches against child labor in the early 1900s. In 2008, Mattel “archived” the original dolls as the “Historical Characters” to make room for dolls like Saige and McKenna, both upper-middle-class white girls, the former being an arts and crafts fan and the latter a gymnast. Not that there’s anything wrong with being into beading and back flips, but Saige or McKenna would never give a speech on child labor a la Samantha of 20 years ago. Pretty sure there would be a massive outcry if the outdoorsy doll Lanie decided to do a school project on the BP oil spill instead of her organic garden. To be fair, Lanie’s character implores her neighbors to stop using pesticides “that could hurt the butterflies,” but that’s about as overt the books are about the controversial issues of this generation.

Mattel is pushing the customizable dolls aimed at making mini-me’s for little girls over the dolls that came with rich historical and educational stories. Maybe it’s an attempt to avoid controversies and appeal to a broader audience, but stripping the next generation of American Girl Dolls from the stories of controversial issues that made them distinct among other dolls reduces them to fancier versions of Bratz dolls and Barbie.

[The Atlantic]

Image via Associated Press

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