American Girl Dolls Are Helicoptered, Too!

Readers — Here’s fsdaabahsf
a phenom unbeknownst to me
(a mom of boys): the de-adventuring of American Girl dolls. Once marketed as pint-size players in America’s great sweep of history, now they go to the spa. According to Amy Schiller in The Atlantic:

With a greater focus on appearance, increasingly mild character development, and innocuous political topics, a former character-building toy has become more like a stylish accessory.

What does that look like? Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri picks up on Schiller’s story and says she remembers her youth spent with dolls fighting slavery and the Great Depression:

Contrast what Saige is facing: ”Saige Copeland loves spending time on her grandma’s ranch, riding horses and painting. Her school made the tough choice to cut art classes, which means she’s lost her favorite subject. So when her grandma decides to organize a “save the arts” fundraiser and parade to benefit the school, Saige jumps on board. She begins training her grandma’s beautiful horse, Picasso, for his appearance in the parade. Then her grandma is injured in an accident, and she wonders what she can do to help. Can she ride Picasso in the parade and make her grandma proud? Can Saige still raise money to protect the arts at school?”


How I love that writing! And I don’t even get how Grandma, being injured, changes anything for Saige and her horse in the big parade. But anyway, Petri goes on about a brand extension:

The My American Girls have spawned a series of books where you fill in the blanks of her adventures. For instance, in “Bound For Snow,” “Readers can imagine themselves as the main character of this interactive story, a girl who loves to be outside in wintertime.” Yes, what a stretch of the imagination it is to pretend to be a girl who loves to be outside in wintertime. “She’s teaching Honey the golden retriever how to pull a dog sled, but the pup just doesn’t seem to be getting the hang of it.” How tough to put yourself in her shoes. A golden retriever? But you’ve got a chocolate Lab! What a great exercise. 

There’s also “Braving The Lake” — in which, spoiler alert, “Readers can imagine themselves as the main character, a girl who loves swimming at the pool but is terrified of the lake.” (Remember when Addy escaped from ACTUAL SLAVERY?)

Dolls Just Like Us. Is this really what we want? The image is embarrassing — privileged, comfortable, with idiotic-sounding names and few problems that a bake sale wouldn’t solve. 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.

Which, by the way, doesn’t just describe the dolls. It describes the culture we’re encouraged to raise our kids in, without taking our eyes off them for a single,scary second. There’s not a lot of opportunity for adventure when even “being outside in the wintertime” sounds as incredibly thrilling — and unthinkable — as heading out west with a sack of cornmeal and mule.

Poor American Girls. And poor American girls. – L.

Dream with Saige. Get matching PJ's with our 2013 Girl of the Year! Save now

Life is so exciting! Will she choose the seaweed wrap or hot stones?

90 Responses to American Girl Dolls Are Helicoptered, Too!

  1. Brenna May 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    I saw this referenced somewhere else, and was incredibly sad to see it. My daughter has just finished reading several of the original series of AG books – Kaya and Josefina, I think. I was so impressed with them. The books dealt with death, hunting animals for survival, being taken captive by another tribe, etc. I LOVED how much my daughter got into them and how many questions she asked. I was considering getting her a doll, but after reading this and taking a look at the more modern books, I have to agree that the new tactic is not the example I want my daughter to have.

  2. Chris V May 9, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I think all this press recently about the AG dolls is unwarranted. I have two daughters that both enjoy the dolls and books, and have several historical and one Just Like Me doll each. Yes, some of the historical dolls have been retired, but new ones, with books, are being introduced. Caroline from the War of 1812 is the most recent. And all the original books are still for sale, just not the dolls and all their stuff.

    Personally, I am happy that they are playing with dolls that look like people and not like prostitutes with enormous heads like so many dolls I see now. Yes, the storylines for the Girls of the Year are not as educational as those for the historical dolls, but they are books girls are reading instead of burying their faces in their ipods all day long. My girls read both the historical and the modern; one does not preclude the other.

    I do think that Mattel has not been on the whole a plus for the brand, but nor is it the appalling tragedy I keep reading about.

  3. marjorie May 9, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    ahahaha, i love the way whatever contextual-ad-placing program you use plopped a giant American Girl ad at the end of the post!

  4. lollipoplover May 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    We gave up on our American Girl doll Chrissa (a gift from my MIL) when we got our pointer puppies and one of them gnawed off her leg. I was told I could have it fixed at the American Girl Hospital for a fee that rivaled an ER copay. She could also have her ears pierced at the spa, I was told.

    Instead the girls decided to spend their money on a wheelchair they found at a local doll shop very cheap. They actually play with it all the time (and made a cast for her leg). The entire American Girl line is so overpriced (and spa services for dolls!) but my girls are fine playing with inexpensive knockoffs (even putting old baby clothes as outfits).
    Any of these dolls are still better than Bratz or Monster High or other slutty dolls out on the market.

  5. BL May 9, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    Do boys still have GI Joes?

    I hope GI Joe isn’t sitting around the bivouac talking about his feelings now.

  6. Lisa May 9, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Are you guys familiar with these dolls?:

    I came across them recently and ended up buying one for my daughter’s 4th birthday coming up this week. The dolls are sold at Target and on Amazon at a much more accessible price point than the AG Dolls and I love the message. Now that I read this article, I feel justified in being wary of the direction AG is taking the line. Anyway, I would encourage you to check out the Hearts 4 Hearts Girls Dolls if you are looking for an alternative!

  7. Rachel May 9, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    For some reason, I’ve been on the catalog mailing list since I was a kid. I never bought anything, because the prices were way out of my parents’ budget, but I still loved the catalog, because it was almost like a magazine the way it described the dolls, their stories, and the reasons behind their accessories (the J. Peterman catalog for the prepubescent set).

    Now the catalog is almost exclusively about the modern girl line and their hyper-stereotypical girlishness. No American Girl would dirty her hands with real chores, or volunteering to clean trash out of the creek, or working at her parent’s business after school. They are all busy being Innerstars!

    Yes, the historical dolls, books, and accessories are mostly still for sale, but the focus has switched to dolls which portray an upper-middle class lifestyle where good girls are girly-girls, and where adversity means not getting what you want without trying. It’s insulting, and embarrassing, and has finally made me tell the company to stop sending the catalogs.

  8. Yan Seiner May 9, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Coincidentally, I just shared this on my FB page:

    Depending on your employer, the language may not be NSFW. Regardless, I wholeheartedly agree with the attitude and certainly want my daughter to feel that way.

  9. Oxytoxin May 9, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    What is so bad about psychological safety, Lenore? Don’t you realize that if kids are exposed to danger, real ornot (they can’t tell the difference), they become traumatized? In fact, we shouldn’t tell them that slavery/wars/plagues existed atall until they’re in high school, and even then we soften it up for the kiddies! Then, we won’t have any more violence and art class being canceled WILL be the worst problem they ever face. Doctors made science for it, so it’s real!

  10. Emily May 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, okay, maybe “spa dolls” are a bit much for little girls, but other than that, I think the current plot lines are fine. The Great Depression is over (although, we’re in a pretty bad recession at the moment), and slavery doesn’t happen in developed countries anymore. So, most North American kids don’t deal with issues like that; they deal with things like bullying, learning disabilities (or, “fourth grade slump” in the McKenna movie), pressure to thrive at certain sports or activities, and budget cuts in schools. I think it’d be nice if American Girl maybe did a story about a contemporary girl, say, helping to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, for example, but not every story has to be earth-shattering. I actually read American Girl magazine when I was a kid (even though I’m Canadian), and the plot lines I remember were things like Molly getting lost on a Girl Scout hike pretending to be Sacajawea, and Felicity falling off her horse and breaking her arm, and Samantha having trouble learning to ride a bicycle because of her dress getting caught in the wheels, so her grandmother buys (or makes) her some knee-length skirts and bloomers instead. At the time, those were very much “First World problem” stories, sometimes with a bit of history woven in, but not always.

    Anyway, as we all know, the current dolls, books, and movies will become “history” for future generations, but I think it’s better that they don’t read like a history book–if they did, then kids would get bored. So, maybe light and anecdotal is the way to go, because it shows more of what daily life was like, through the eyes of a ten-year-old kid, who might not be as focused on the debate about Obamacare (for example) as they are about the big swim meet, or their best friend moving away, and only having infrequent contact through Skype. That might be interesting to someone fifty years from now, who’ll read the story and think, “What’s Skype? Oh, interesting–it’s a primitive online video-chat program. We have hologram-chat now, and it’s so much better.” Bear in mind that said future reader will probably be about ten years old as well, and therefore less interested in politics than in “kid issues.”

  11. TaraK May 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    I just hate the prices on all that stuff! So you can buy a pretend picnic basket full of vacuum cleaner fodder or you could choose to donate the $32 to an actual food shelf and feed real people. You could buy your AG doll a sleeping bag for $28 or buy several blankets for a homeless shelter for real people. You could buy your Bitty dolly a stroller for $48 or buy an actual single mother a stroller for her baby. See what I mean?

  12. Lisa, Practical Suburban Mom May 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Ah ha ha Lenore. As usual you nailed it Lenore. God forbid our children face actual adversity through play and reading. No lets talk about the parade or swimming.

  13. Natalie May 9, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    I don’t see the problem. Based on the other crap marketed to girls, this seems pretty tame by comparison. I pick my battles, and this hardly seems worth it.

  14. Warren May 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    Kinda funny how things come back around. I can remember the push to have dolls that would show girls they can do everything and anything a man can do. To now having dolls that go to the spa. This is funny, in a sad way.

  15. Carl May 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Emily 3:57 wrote “…slavery doesn’t happen in developed countries anymore.” Not true at all. (Yes, I’ll get back to AG dolls.)

    There are many thousands of people enslaved right now in developed countries including the USA: girls and women in the sex trade and those working as live-in domestics; foreign workers in the construction and agricultural sectors; all kept captive by employers who keep their ID documents and keep them in debt. These forms of first-world slavery are called human trafficking, bonded labor, forced labor, or sex trafficking. There are probably more slaves worldwide now than at any previous time in history. I think girls should have a chance to learn about some of this gritty reality, certainly from age 10 on, so that they can contribute their energy towards a more just world instead of thinking mostly about jewelry and makeup. It would be great to use AG dolls and other kids’ materials toward this end, though the initiative won’t come from the company.

    See for example , a coalition of antislavery organizations, or Google “slavery in USA today.”

  16. pentamom May 9, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    Emily, since when are dolls supposed to be about issues kids deal with in real life? They’re supposed to be about imagination and play, not DIY family therapy.

    And as for the “First World Problems” theme, they were problems pertinent to the historical world the girls lived in. And I guess you missed the stories about Josefina helping to save her father’s livestock from a flood, and Kirsten almost getting her little brother eaten by a bear when they were honey-hunting.

  17. Ben May 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    My daughter is almost 10 and still plays with the AG dolls and barbies with her friends. If this keeps them as little kids and not pre-teens a little longer, I’m all for it. It also keeps them away from the electronics. I never see them trying to replicate the stories from the books, it’s all about imagination while playing with the dolls.

  18. Katie May 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    For those who think the modern American girl faces no serious challenges, so it’s okay to take on less serious issues instead…there are lots of kids today facing far more serious issues here in America. Kids whose entire schools are being shut down, because they are in poor neighborhoods with inadequate resources. Kids whose mothers and fathers have been sent overseas to fight wars. Kids who live in areas devastated by natural disasters that languish for years without real assistance or rebuilding efforts. Kids of migrant laborers who miss school days and their childhoods because they have to work in the fields themselves to help their families survive. Kids who have been impacted by environmental disasters thanks to reckless corporations.

    Losing arts programs at school may be something familiar to the majority of those wealthy enough to afford an American Girl doll, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only stories these girls should hear. Looking at some of the other historical dolls…the chances a little girl like Samantha ever would have encountered a little girl like Nellie, much less become her friend and an advocate for better working conditions at the age of 10, are incredibly small. BUT. The story is there to highlight the fact that these were social problems to be remedied. Why not focus on similar stories in the present? The fact that so many seem to be unaware that we do, in fact, have serious social problems here at all just sort of reinforces for me the need for and importance of little girls hearing such stories. Even if they make little girls uncomfortable about the world they live in and the privileged lives they lead.

  19. Sky May 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    This makes me feel less cold about refusing to buy my daughter an American Girl Doll. “But they’re so wholesome!” people kept telling me. I don’t care how wholesome they are, I am not spending $100 for a DOLL! A DOLL!!!

  20. Kristycat May 9, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Umm… I’m actually really, really ok with a doll who teaches little girls that when authorities (like school boards) make terrible decisions (like cutting budgets for programs you consider important), you don’t have to just lie down and take it. You CAN raise funds or otherwise try to change things.

    Could it be better? Sure. I’d rather see the story told from a lower-class perspective, and I’d rather see some direct political action – lobbying in addition to fundraising, for instance. But the fact that it could be better doesn’t mean it’s bad. Getting involved in your community and school and trying to change it for the better is an EXCELLENT one – and one I would have thought Free Range Kids would be on board with.

  21. Vicky May 9, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    I have to disagree with you on this, Lenore. I haven’t read the Saige books, but I have read the Lanie series, which is another of the contemporary American Girls series. If you actually read the books, you’ll find that it’s the opposite of helicoptering. Lanie sees a problem (in this case, she reads about declining numbers of monarch butterflies) and takes the initiative to do something about it. She organizes her family to plant a butterfly garden, negotiates with her neighbor about using pesticides, etc. Her family is very supportive and encourages her to take the lead on the project. Aren’t initiative and problem solving abilities traits that we free-rangers are trying to instill in our kids?

  22. M.H. May 9, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    I have two preschool aged boys so I don’t have much recent experience with AG books. That said, I was at the book story recently looking for a book for my 3.5 year old and found one that shocked me. I found a book about a 4 year old boy who wants the training wheels removed from his bike. His parents reluctantly remove them and attempt to teach him to ride. After multiple falls his parents tell him he is not ready yet and put the training wheels back on. Needless to say I did not buy that book for my son. I don’t want to teach them to be happy with failures but instead to keep trying until they succeed.

  23. anonymous this time May 9, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Licensed toys, and dolls especially, that come with a story, ANY story, are just not my kind of toys. And don’t get me started on the ones that TALK.

    The dolls and toys I bought for my kids were identity-free, until the child decided on the identity, voice, storyline, etc.

    American Girl creeped me out from the start. I had nieces who were part of that first wave, and I always thought the whole thing seemed contrived. But whatever. Is it that important, really? Probably not.

    The tracking of the “easing off” of even the mild attempts to make these AG dolls educational or inspirational is appreciated, however, from a sociological standpoint. I still maintain that the children born in North America between 2000 – 2020 are going to be the group of humans to experience unprecedented reversals and shocks to their systems. The luxury, privilege, entitlement, and pampering they enjoy (or endure, depending on your viewpoint) is unprecedented, and not likely to happen again. From my viewpoint, it’s not likely they will enjoy this richness of living into adulthood, which will make it all the more of a shock when things inevitably shift in our world and “correct” themselves.

    LESS dolls, LESS spoon-feeding of storylines, LESS stuff in general is what I would advocate for. Get children solving their own problems and inventing their own characters. And get them outside. Sigh. I guess it’s all just going to have to go the way it goes. It’s all part of whatever divine order there is in this universe, American Girl dolls included.

  24. MI Dawn May 9, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    My girls (now 23 and 25) enjoyed the historical dolls, and I had one too (Felicity). And we did buy the clothing/furniture/etc. It was Christmas and birthday presents. A lot of times we bought clothing and things the girls liked just as well at flea markets, or my mom made them.

    More importantly, the stories gave a sense of the history of the time. We still have the dolls and stuff. They will be things my grandchildren (if any!) can play with.

    My kids really enjoyed the Magic Attic Club dolls and books, too. Those girls also came from a variety of lifestyles, races and religions, and the books were fun and imaginative.

  25. Emily May 9, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    @Carl–Fair point about trafficking and the sex trade, but do you really think American Girl is going to write a book about prostitution, and market it to kids in elementary school? No matter how well they pull that off, parents probably wouldn’t buy it for their kids, and school libraries would refuse to stock it, and public libraries would probably be a hard sell too. Also, if they did a book about prostitution, then they’d have to make a doll to go with it, and a lot of people have said that one thing they like about the existing American Girl dolls is that, unlike Bratz dolls, or My Scene Barbies, they DON’T look like prostitutes. So, while prostitution does happen (and really, thanks for reminding me), I think American Girl would have a really hard time with prostitution as a plot point.

  26. Emily May 9, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    @Anonymous This Time–I don’t think kids playing with dolls would preclude them from playing outside. I mean, for one thing, sometimes the weather is bad, and sometimes kids get sick, and they need “indoor” toys too. For another thing, dolls can be played with outside. One of my brother’s and my favourite games when we were kids was “stuffed animal picnic.”

    @Katie–When I read the stories starring the “original” American Girls, yes, I did read about Samantha meeting Nellie (and I saw it in the Samantha movie as well), but I also remember a lot of “less serious” storylines, and kids need both. Too many Very Special Stories, and it starts to get depressing, and/or too much like a history textbook, and too much fluff, and adults complain that it’s too “superficial.” That’s the problem with commercial fiction, which American Girl probably knew going into the whole game, considering that they’re writing these stories as a means to sell more dolls, and accessories, and whatnot. Likewise, kids need a balance of outdoor and indoor, open-ended and guided activities, physical activity and “down time,” etc. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, American Girl is ultimately designed to make money, but the stories with the older characters are somewhat educational, and all of the characters target kids as kids, at the age they are now, instead of trying to entice them to grow up too quickly by wearing make-up and sexy clothes, so I wouldn’t write off the whole thing. I wouldn’t want my hypothetical future child to ONLY play with American Girl dolls, and read American Girl books, but I wouldn’t ban them altogether either, any more than I’d ban, say, Super Mario Kart, or potato chips. I’d allow both, but in moderation.

  27. hineata May 9, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    At $100-plus American dollars a doll, if Sky is right, I hope they’re being produced in America, by fairly-paid American workers. If they are, may I suggest you all head out and buy one – anything to encourage industry in our own countries. If they’re being put together by some young girl in China, though, that’s obscene. The picture just looks like your average plastic doll.

    As for having stories with dolls, however, I never could get that. We used clown dolls our nana made, along with a tripod blackboard and a fold-up bed to be Laura Ingalls Wilder heading West, or the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I’m sure most everyone else here has done something similar. The only issue with using a fold-up bed as a horse is that it rips the crap out of either your stockings or your legs, and sometimes both. Blackboards are better, until they collapse. And cloth clowns are superior to dolls, because you can wrap them around door handles or bunkposts and swing from them.

    My only regret with any of the above is that we were raised on American or English stories, our publishing industry being not that great at the time at producing exciting Kiwi stories. My girls have those silly Bratz dolls, and the books that came with that drove them spare….they made up their own stuff instead.

  28. Jane May 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    I was disappointed to see this article. Whoever wrote it clearly hasn’t read the stories. They still discuss serious topics and feature independent, courageous girls. For example, the stories of Marie-Grace and Cecile (recently added historical characters from 1850’s New Orleans) address slavery, yellow fever, poverty and orphans. The girls secretly dress in costume so that they can attend each others’ balls (which were racially segregated). Marie-Grace runs errands all over town with only her dog as a companion. The modern ones, McKenna, for example, still teach terrific lessons about facing adversity and having compassion. McKenna decides to volunteer at a ranch which helps people with disabilities after becoming friends with her tutor who is in a wheelchair.

    I agree that the prices of the dolls are outrageous. Not to mention the need for more racial diversity in their offerings. But the stories are solid, and my girls devour them at our library.

  29. WendyW May 10, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    My thought when I read the title of this post on my blog-reader was “My daughter BETTER helicopter her AG doll! At that price I would not be happy if it were kidnapped because she left it alone.”

  30. Andy May 10, 2013 at 2:48 am #

    @Carl OK, sex trade exists and is a problem. However, I’m not free range enough to buy “Danny the sex slave” doll to my daughter. The market for such dolls would be extremely limited.

  31. Andy May 10, 2013 at 3:03 am #

    I did not read the stories. That being said, all stories my kids read do not have to be educational, empowering and what not.

    It is perfectly ok to add frivolous or small first world problem stories into the mix. The problem is when you isolate kids from bigger and darker themes. I do not think that they have to be buried in bad stuff all the time.

    I do not get this tendency to measure every toy or story as teaching aid. Not ever toy or book has to promote some agenda.

    Plus, I never liked arts, but I see nothing wrong with save the art class kiddy topic. It is about taking charge and solving adult sized problems after all.

  32. Katie May 10, 2013 at 6:41 am #

    With the caveat that I haven’t read the Rebecca, Cecile, or Caroline books, the historical characters are still adventuresome and, well, historical. It’s only these silly modern ones (the point of which I’ve never seen!) that have become like this.

  33. Katie May 10, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    And, @Chris V, all the books are still available in print, including the ones for dolls that have been retired. Go figure. My dd is constantly borrowing *my* original copies, white covers and all, of Samantha, Kirsten, Felicity, Addy, Mollly & Josefina. (I just never stopped buying the books! I’m 31, old enough that when the whole collection was quite new I was the right age for them.)

  34. Thomas May 10, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    After devouring all the books about the original, historical American Girls, our daughter, who was 9 at the time, asked if we could take our next vacation in Colonial Williamsburg, to see where/how Felicity lived. In my mind, AG makes history interesting to little girls, and made my daughter the avid reader she is today. Makes that $100 doll look like a great investment.

  35. Denise May 10, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    Seriously? Why can’t young girls play with dolls that are like them — maybe being embarrassed not being able to swim across the lake at camp is a big deal to an 8 year old.

    My kids have had to hear about Sandy Hook and the Boston bombing extensively at school in just the last couple of months – they certainly get exposure to “real world” problems.

    My 10 year old reads a book a day and has read all the historical AG books and Laura Ingalls Wilder books. And, at the library, there are more preteen books about kids who are orphaned, abandoned, survive tragedies, etc, then you can imagine. If she wants to read or play with something ‘light’ sometimes, please go ahead.

  36. pentamom May 10, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    I guess I’d better qualify that while my girls (and even one of my boys, for a space of time) ate up the books up through the “Julie” series, we never bought into the dolls. Not exactly, anyway — on one occasion I bought a doll of appropriate size and complexion at Target and made her a Josefina outfit as a Christmas present, and at another time we bought an inexpensive doll that sort of could have looked like Samantha just because it was pretty, and the daughter that got it decided she was a Samantha-like character and gave her a different but still Edwardianish name.

  37. Brian May 10, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    Stories about kids living through real hardship or confronting real bigotry motivate kids to take on the problems in their own lives. When we make the biggest problems that kids can face into suburban dramas then we eliminate the “role model” which really motivates.

    Fairy tales v. modern kids stories are the same. Reading about the “monster in the closet” drama is fine but reading about kids who face wolves and “real” monsters gives us courage. The stories are a source of play and when we slay dragons in play, that bully at school seems much more manageable.

    Similarly, reading a story about kids who fight for the right to vote, makes it seem possible to advocate for that arts program. Or when we read about kids who wade through swamps or get stuck in the woods, it gives kids a role model when they face that “scary” lake.

    Great literature (for adults and kids) teaches us about ourselves without being literal. In fact, many times we learn best when the story is out of the literal context. That is why Shakespeare, for instance, wrote largely about other times and places than his own.

    Kids naturally get this. It is we adults that feel a need to be literal and marketers who need us to be literal and specific so they can sell more products.

  38. pentamom May 10, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Very well said, Brian. I think on some level kids translate the fantastic or “bigger” dangers or issues into real-world coping, better than they do the “realistic” stuff. If Almanzo Wilder can actually get excited about getting an ox yoke for his birthday, that’s probably more effective as a role model for a kid who needs to learn to do his 21st century suburban chores cheerfully than reading a story about a kid who did his 21st century suburban chores cheerfully. If Almanzo considers it a grownup responsibility and privilege to learn to do the farmwork, that’s more motivating than reading a story about a kid who picks up his room. “Yeah, well, that kid likes to pick up his room, that’s not me.” But on the other hand, “Gosh, if Almanzo can actually be happy about PLOWING I guess I can at least pick up my room.”

    And it’s more FUN, too. Who wants to read about learning to obey the little things your mom wants you to do? But reading about learning to do something that’s totally outside your own experience and more challenging than most things you do, is much more interesting.

  39. Susan2 May 10, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I lived for several years in Madison, Wisconsin, near where the American Girl Company is headquartered. Back then, it was an independently owned company named The Pleasant Company (remember that?). The first name of the woman who owned the company was Pleasant. Pleasant is a strong woman who started her career as a teacher, and then began the Pleasant company to create inspiring, historically accurate toys and books for girls. She now runs her own philanthropic foundation (see for more about her).

    I know several historians and archivists who worked for The Pleasant Company. They did extensive research for each doll, traveling to the part of the country where each “girl” grew up and documenting and authenticating everything, including details such as the number of spokes on a wagon wheel in the Southwest. Knowing this background, I could understand why the dolls are so expensive. It seems like the modern day dolls should be cheaper because they don’t require nearly as much work, but they aren’t.

    In 1998 The Pleasant Company was sold to Mattel, and the branching out to “regular” dolls and the move away from the historical dolls began. Many of the historical dolls that have been created since Mattel bought the company are sidekicks to dolls that were already created, not dolls represented a new era or ethnic group.

    I think these changes in the American Girl dolls have as much to do with corporate America as they have to do with the trend toward helicopter parenting in the US.

  40. CrazyCatLady May 10, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    I think the real problem here is that they have tackled the tough issues and are running out of new ideas. Yet, the company backers demand new stuff every year to sell more, more more! (Because no business in the US can be considered a good business unless it gets bigger every year.) So yes, we are left with watered down, stupid stories.

  41. Havva May 10, 2013 at 10:41 am #


    Could you give a huge thank you to the historians and archivist who worked for the Pleasant Company back in the day. I always read the historical section of the books, and studied every picture and part of the toys. When I walked into the American History wing of the Smithsonian and saw objects that looked exactly like my toys and the pictures in the books, I can not say how happy I was. The stories meant a lot to me as well. I loved how they acknowledged that a child at that age starts to see the world differently than their parents and sometimes friends. And they really showed that you could keep growing and doing what you feel is right, while respecting others. I give that a lot of credit for smoothing over the teen years, and putting my problems in perspective.

  42. Katie May 10, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    I even referenced *Samantha Learns a Lesson* in a college paper once, because, hey, the “looking back” chapter was where I’d learned something!

  43. f May 10, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I get the snark. And I’m not buying American Girl for my daughter, mostly because they are really expensive and she’s never been that into dolls anyway.

    However, my pool-loving kid actually *is* scared to swim in the ocean. A sad little first world problem, to be sure, but it’s important to her. I suspect that a book about a kid going through the same struggle might be more helpful than telling her “what a stupid problem — do you realize 100 years ago you could have died of scarlet fever?”

  44. Mr. Cho May 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    While I realize that it’s a modern world, I do think that it’s a shame that dolls no longer help to instruct young girls in the traditional roles of being an American female – things such as being a good mother and homemaker. There should be dolls that help in the understanding of time-worn things like wholesome cooking for a family, keeping a clean home, and raising happy and healthy children. I think many so-called career women are miserable, and perhaps if we could teach our children the traditional ways they might be happy unlike thier unfortunate and confused parents.

    Mr. Cho

  45. Papilio May 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    @Emily: “…Samantha having trouble learning to ride a bicycle because of her dress getting caught in the wheels, so her grandmother buys (or makes) her some knee-length skirts and bloomers instead.”

    Completely off-topic, but that’s what skirtguards / coatgards are for:
    Don’t bikeproof your clothes, clotheproof your bike! 😉

  46. Brian May 10, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    Susan–thanks for the background. That is really interesting.

  47. Barb May 10, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    @Mr. Cho: As a career woman and mother I can tell you I am not miserable, unfortunate or confused. I have a very happy and fulfilled life with 2 wonderful children and an adorable granddaughter. I still do all the cooking and manage to keep my house up without that being the center of my universe. I find it personally insulting to imply that the only good and happy woman is one who is at home all the time!

  48. Mr. Cho May 10, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Hello Mrs. Barb,
    I can see that you’ve been able to achieve the delicate balance between being a domestic artist and also a career person. That is admirable, but unfortunately it’s also quite rare. Far too many women end up being not particularly good at either due to the difficulty in balancing the two. Everyone would be happier if we would just do what God intended us to do rather than trying to upset the natural order of things. Unfortunately these American Girl dolls foster this confusion by teaching adventure rather than domestic arts.

    Mr. Cho

  49. Emily May 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    @Barb–You rock. You just took the words right out of my mind. Women should have just as much right to choose what kind of lives they want to live, as men do.

  50. Natalie May 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    And being a mother is the hardest, most important, most fulfilling job… Blah blah blah. If you think it’s the most important and fulfilling job in the world, then YOU do it. Nothing wrong with being a SAHD, “Mr. Cho”. It’s hard, and important, and fulfilling if that’s what you truly want to do.

    No “Mr. Cho”, it was the home makers who were miserable, and that’s why Betty Friedan sold so many copies of her book.
    Also, another fun fact, Canned food cookbooks and microwave dinners became popular long before women started out on careers. Apparently not everyone took fulfillment from the joys of cooking.

    Psst! Bonus points for anyone who can guess which one of the regular posters is Mr. Cho.

  51. Natalie May 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    “Mr. Cho”
    I think the Fox News website would appreciate your comments.

  52. Ann May 10, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    I disagree with the criticism of the AG dolls. AG still makes all of the historic dolls (except for a few who have been retired and replaced by others). My daughter has learned so much about WWII, the depression, and other time periods through reading the AG books. She has often spouted off historical facts about something I wouldn’t necessarily expect her to know about, and it was something she learned from an AG book. I think the Kit movie gives a great view of the depression while still being a cute, fun-to-watch movie. Saige is simple a “Girl of the Year” doll. Those dolls are always modern day dolls with modern day issues (bullying, sports pressure, whatever). They are sold for one year only. Don’t criticize the one Girl of the Year doll when so many of AGs dolls are really wonderfully educational.

  53. Mr. Cho May 10, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Hello Natalie,
    I don’t mean to make you upset, I am merely stating my thoughts. I’ve never posted in this chatroom before, so please do not confuse me with a regular here. Most women do find cooking to be fulfilling, but there is nothing wrong with not enjoying it as long as the household agrees to alternative food preparation plans. It’s a team effort at the end of the day. You maintain that women were miserable to be domestics in the past, but I do wonder why so many women are miserable in the workplace in today’s world. Neither thing is necessarily easy or fun, but one cannot sit by poolside all day doing nothing.
    Mr. Cho

  54. Ann May 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    And by the way, I’m pretty sure this is the first and ONLY time I have disagreed with one of your posts! 🙂

  55. Ann May 10, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    Mr. Cho, your comment has just inspired me to invent dolls for boys that teach them to be good fathers and homemakers. Men can cook, clean, and do laundry too. Thanks for the great idea!

  56. Mr. Cho May 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Hello Ann,
    That would be good, but let’s not forget that the reason fathers have had to resort to this is due to the abandonment of the home by the mothers.

    Mr. Cho

  57. Natalie May 10, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    Ann, add back rubs into the mix and I’ll help fund that kickstarter.

  58. katrin May 10, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    When my daughter outgrew AG stories, we moved on to History Mysteries Each one took place in a different historical era and had a strong young girl as the heroine. My daughter loved reading about capable young women and the settings really gave one a sense of time and place.

  59. lollipoplover May 10, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    “Everyone would be happier if we would just do what God intended us to do rather than trying to upset the natural order of things. Unfortunately these American Girl dolls foster this confusion by teaching adventure rather than domestic arts.”

    In the natural order of our household, my husband vacuums, cleans toilets, and cooks (his speciality is eggs). Our kids chip in too. It’s called sharing the domestic load. I actually enjoy cooking (yeah me!) but don’t see any of these chores as an *art*. I should be a prize-winning Laundry Artist for some of the stain removals I’ve achieved but I don’t think they give awards,unfortunately.

    Do you honestly think young girls would enjoy playing with dolls that iron and starch collars? Scrub toilets? I’ll take an exciting adventure any day over cleaning out a litterbox. Really, it’s not an art.

  60. Yan Seiner May 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Mr Cho must have gone to this school:

    Of course we could go way back to the real traditional roles, to the time when people ate each other…. Any idea how long evolution takes to develop a disease that’s only spread to humans from eating diseased human brains? Or was that part of Creation too. 😉

  61. Rebecca Menes May 10, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    The author of the blog clearly did NO research on modern American Girl dolls — Addy is still available, and still fighting slavery. In fact, the AG stories have always combined the exciting and the hopelessly bland.

    What the blog is really doing is being snotty about things girls like.

  62. Mr. Cho May 10, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Hello Lollipoplover,
    It sounds like you have a domestic team there, and it sounds like your husband allows this type of arrangement. This is a good thing that you are happy. I do wonder how happy the other women’s husbands are with the status of thier personal situations.

    Mr. Cho

  63. Mr. Cho May 10, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    Hello Rebecca,
    I do not sense snotty. I think you are wrong and perhaps oversensative.

    Mr. Cho

  64. anonymous this time May 10, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    “I think these changes in the American Girl dolls have as much to do with corporate America as they have to do with the trend toward helicopter parenting in the US.”

    In my mind, Corporate America and Helicopter Parenting are so deeply interwoven as to be nearly indistinguishable.

  65. Jenny Islander May 10, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    “Snotty about things girls like?”

    If my girls start begging me for toys that are nothing more than props for the aspirational lifestyle nonsense that was the reason I steered them away from Bratz and their ilk, darn straight I’ll get “snotty.” And they’ll get bupkiss.

  66. pentamom May 10, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    “The author of the blog clearly did NO research on modern American Girl dolls — Addy is still available, and still fighting slavery.”

    She never said they’re not still available. She said the type of new dolls they are bringing out has shifted from adventuring and girls that faced real challenges to things that are more run of the mill, less inspiring.

    Is she not correct that the newer stories are focused on less adventurous situations than the older ones?

  67. Sarah in WA May 10, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    I’m a mom of boys, but an AG store opened in my local mall. My friends with daughters mostly have a love-hate relationship with it.


    *The books. This is for many reasons already described above.

    *The dolls are fun and fairly innocent compared to many other girl toys on the market.

    *The expense. (This makes me glad I have boys.)

    *The ridiculous array of accessories and services marketed to the kids. Nevermind the fact that the doll is $100, she also “needs” a million accessories, outfits, a car, etc. The dolls can have their hair braided in the salon for $20 (!!!). The dolls get a special seat at your table in the cafe, and of course you can have your birthday party there, for a price.

    *The seeming inconsistency between the messages of the books and the materialism of the products.

    This last point is what really gets me. The books have positive messages about strong girls, but when you walk into the store it’s all about hair ties, shiny baubles, new outfits, and more and more STUFF. Of course, they’re a business that wants to profit, and I understand that, but to me it just takes away from their core message, according to the books.

  68. CrazyCatLady May 11, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    Mr. Cho said “Hello Lollipoplover,
    It sounds like you have a domestic team there, and it sounds like your husband allows this type of arrangement. This is a good thing that you are happy. I do wonder how happy the other women’s husbands are with the status of thier personal situations.”

    Yes, my husband is happy with our life. He was raised to be able to take care of himself. He can cook, he can clean. He hates doing dishes so he makes sure that we always have a dishwasher even when I felt it wasn’t something that we could afford. But he was right, we couldn’t afford bickering over who was going to do the dishes! There are things that my husband knows how to do, like sew on buttons and how to use a sewing machine, but he is not that great at it. So I end up doing the mending. I know how to change the oil in the car, but honestly, he can do it much faster. I trained as a teacher. So when it came to homeschooling the kids, he felt that I was more qualified.

    My sons, and my daughter, are ALL learning how to cook, clean, wash clothes, sew and do car and lawnmower repairs. NO ONE enjoys picking anyone else’s dirty underwear off the floor, and bad habits like that WILL make for strife in any relationship – be it a marriage or sharing a dorm room.

    I have known several stay at home dads. They have taken care of the kids, because the wife had the better job, with better health care coverage. It made financial sense. So the dad stayed home, took the kids to the park, cleaned up after them, and got dinner on the table most nights. Mom had her things that she did too. Everyone was, and more importantly, IS still happy, and married. And not because a book says they should be, but because they are happy and want to be.

  69. Katie May 11, 2013 at 6:09 am #

    The original article was decrying the “Just-Like-You” and “Girl of the Year” dolls.

  70. EAM May 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    Don’t worry about American Girl dolls — almost nothing in this snarky, mean-spirited blog post is true. The only “research” this person seems to have done involves reading an equally inaccurate and mean-spirited article in the Atlantic from a little while back.

    Some people just hate anything that appeals to a feminine aesthetic, especially things that little girls like. Best to ignore those people. Addy has not been retired, and new historical dolls have been added in greater numbers than have been retired. So what that American Girl now includes a wider range of face molds, wig arrangements and hair colors in their Just Like You line? The dolls are cute and more choice is a good thing. As for the hair accessories and salon chairs — little girls like to comb doll hair. They just do. Do we really have a problem with that? Are we seriously insisting that every game a child plays involve yellow fever, racism and class warfare???

    BTW, don’t you love how the blogger lets us know that her parents were rich enough to offer an American Girl doll, even if she was far too exciting a child to be interested in dull things like the pioneer movement. What a little brat she must have been.

  71. EAM May 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    As for the complaints that American Girl stuff costs too much… have you checked the prices at the Lego store lately? Even fairly basic sets start in the $109 range, the same price as an American Girl doll. And one can get a lot more play out of a single doll than one can out of a single Lego set. Do you know any kids who have a SINGLE Lego set?

    Somehow we have decided that because Lego sets are marketed almost exclusively to boys that they are educational and important (even though lately they involve nothing but battles of some kind — even the CIty Forest sets involve cops chasing bank robbers into the woods, for some bizarre reason) while dolls, marketed almost exclusively to girls, are frivolous and too expensive at any price.

  72. Natalie May 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    @ Yan Seiner-
    I read your blog. Have you watched MissRepresentation? Or checked out #notbuyingit? You’d fit right in.
    And this is one of the reasons I like the free- range movement, I think it will give my daughters the tools to not internalize what’s going on around them to the extent that it actively impacts their lives. It’s impossible to be completely removed from the way women are represented in western culture unless you live in a cave, so I try to foster independence so that they won’t care as much what others think. And I try to find alternatives to the way femininity is marketed towards them. If you have daughters, you will probably like Peggy Orenstein’s blog “fight fun with fun”. And her book- Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
    You might even find movies that pass the Bechdel test. 😉

  73. Yan Seiner May 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    @Natalie: It’s not my blog, but thanks for the complement. I am a fitness instructor among other things, which means that a lot of us are concerned about health in general, and health of teen girls in particular, especially since we’re mothers and fathers of such.

    I’ve tried to bring my daughter to be independent, strong, and confident. It’s hard especially since the media and the modern US society insists that young adults are really “children” incapable of responsible thought.

    I love that article, it’s in your face, it’s powerful, and it just screams rage. It’s what every teen girl should be made to read, before she’s immersed in this culture of “learned helplessness”.

    I’m not really sure what happened; if you look at Ginger Rogers or Marilyn Monroe, these were big, powerful women who lifted weights. Monroe is said to have kept a barbell set under her sofa.

    Somewhere in the last 50 years we’ve gone from that to Kelsey Chow and Angelina Jolie, who are anorexic stick figures incapable of doing anything except pretending to be strong and power.

  74. Mr. Cho May 11, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    Dear Yan,
    I’m sure that Angelina Jolie could do QUITE a bit.

    Mr. Cho

  75. Natalie May 12, 2013 at 1:46 am #

    @Yan Seiner –
    My daughters love ballet, although they don’t take lessons. I always make a point to tell them that the ballerinas we see are wicked strong and it takes a lot of hard work and training to do what they do.
    That being said, I think that eating disorders are also found among ballerinas and female competitive athletes, which kind of goes against what that blog was saying. I agree in that sports, weight training, etc, raises self esteem, but it’s not a cure all. It sure helps, though.
    So Ginger Rogers lifted weights? Awesome. Maybe the next time I rent one of her movies I’ll tell that to my daughter. It makes sense, with the way she moves.

  76. Emily May 12, 2013 at 2:09 am #

    @Natalie–Have you thought of putting your daughters into an organized ballet class? If you can find a good one, that keeps an eye on the dancers, and nips eating-disorder kind of behaviours in the bud, then I think it’s a good idea. Ballet is a really good workout–I found a “ballet-inspired” workout video on YouTube, called the Balletone Cardio Workout, and it’s awesome. After 40 minutes, I was pouring sweat. Anyway, with kids, age five or six is usually a good time to start something like ballet (or gymnastics, or karate, or piano, or whatever), because at that age, they’re old enough to follow simple instructions, but too young for self-consciousness to be a problem.

  77. Natalie May 12, 2013 at 2:26 am #

    @Emily –
    We’re a bit limited in extra-curriculars. My husband and I each work outside the home a full day, so we’re limited to what the school offers onsite after the school day has ended. They actually do have a very good variety (my daughter does gymnastics), but they don’t have ballet. They asked for suggestions for next year so that would be a good one to put in.
    I don’t like doing classes on the weekend because I don’t want to feel that if we go somewhere, we’ll be missing a class. And sometimes, it’s just fun to hang around the house and do nothing.
    In any case, thanks for the suggestion. Balletone. They like working out with me, although that usually entails jumping on my back at various points in the exercise. This one they might just let me do! The last workout tape we did together was Zumba, and we did some kind of Indian-inspired dance workout before that.

  78. Jenny Islander May 12, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    @EAM: So living a coddled life and worrying about upper-middle-class non-problems constitutes a feminine aesthetic? Really?

    Molly, Kit, and Josefina are proof that a toy can be plenty feminine without being dull, dull, dull!

  79. Meg May 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    I don’t think it’s about, “Helicoptering.” I think it’s about marketing.

    Once you have one successful line, you have to keep thinking of others!

    I find the dolls and their accessories to be hideously overpriced, but I have no objection to the stories or the dolls themselves, which are wholesome and positive. Much better than the distorted body image and hypersexuality you get with Barbie or a Bratz doll.
    I enjoy historical fiction and history, but it isn’t all I read or think about. I remember the kind of dilemmas in the Babysitter Club books being very real to me as a young girl.

  80. Emily May 12, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    @Natalie–Wow, it sounds like your kids have some good extra-curricular options at their school. How old are they? Is this elementary school, middle school, or high school? If they’re older, then maybe there’s a dance studio that’s within walking, biking, or public transit distance of the school, and they could handle getting there on their own, and home too, if dance class ends before work does. In any case, your daughter who does gymnastics, will probably have a natural advantage in dance, because ballet is very much a feat of strength, and some other forms of dance involve gymnastic tricks like cartwheels, handsprings, walkovers, etc.

  81. pentamom May 12, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

    Why do people keep showing up here and at the blogs linked in the article “disproving” the point by saying that the older dolls are still available?

    No one said they weren’t still available, the point is that there has been a shift in approach so that all the stuff coming out in newer lines reflects a less genuinely adventurous feel and deals with less dramatic issues.

    If a library stopped buying any books about science but still kept old science books around, wouldn’t that be something to take note of? It would mean that the people running the place were less interested in promoting knowledge of science than they were before. This is the same kind of thing — the people behind AG are less interested in depicting girls dealing with non-first-world problems and things outside modern girls’ immediate or near-focus experience, and have changed the ethic into one that’s more of a mirror for girls to look into and see nothing that isn’t pretty much like they way they already think of themselves. Anyone who doesn’t see that as a loss is missing something.

  82. Natalie May 13, 2013 at 9:15 am #

    That was an excellent response, and one I wholeheartedly agree with. While the non-historical AG girls aren’t as bad as Barbies and Bratz and they actually do have interesting back stories which I think are good for girls to read, (its not just about going to the spa, the article grossly exaggerates to get site clicks) it’s sad that the focus isn’t historical dolls anymore, and that they are retiring so many.
    I’m all for educational toys, and you really need to work to get them. Corporations do research for mass marketing, and masses don’t want to teach their girls history through dolls, I guess. Perhaps Smaller, niche companies are more willing to cater to something they believe in even if sales aren’t as large, as the poster pointed out with that excellent history about the AG doll development.
    Sad? Yes.
    I remember Donna posting something about how she wished Americans were more knowledgeable of their rights. I wish people were more educated about science. They don’t understand how research works or what its limitations are. I wish people had more of an innate desire to learn things, period.

    But it’s hard to compete with reality TV.

    Did you ever see Morning Glory? It deals briefly with News content. They make an analogy to food: bran muffins vs donuts. Donuts digest quicker and have lots of sugar so they taste better. Bran muffins don’t taste as good, take longer to digest, but are better for you. Donuts usually win.

  83. Virginia May 15, 2013 at 3:07 am #

    I really don’t see what the fuss is about. The “dolls of the year” are intended to model the kind of issues that their young owners might actually face. The historical dolls, although not marketed as heavily as they were initially, are still available. In any case, the kids playing with the dolls will ultimately decide what stories they star in!

  84. NicoleK May 16, 2013 at 6:09 am #

    I think Mr Cho makes a good point in that there’s nothing wrong with domestic toys. My toddler loves her toy broom.

    Having domestic toys like a toy stove or supermarket doesn’t mean you can’t have bubble guns and soccer balls and foam swords and chemistry sets.

    There’s something to be said about toys that help kids practice real world skills, for both boys AND girls.

  85. NicoleK May 16, 2013 at 6:11 am #

    As for me, Felicity and Samantha were my favs and they’ve retired them, and I’m not enthused about any of the current ones, so probably won’t push my kid in that direction if she’s into dolls. We live in Switzerland anyhow where they don’t care about America much. If they still had the ones I liked it’d be nice to teach her some of her heritage via dolls, but the new ones are meh.

  86. NicoleK May 16, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    We’ll just read the Little House books instead. Though they’ve taken out a lot of the racist stuff, which is too bad. I think it is important for kids to know how things were, that people, ordinary people, were somewhat racist. If kids don’t understand that, how can they understand how important all the civil rights stuff was?

  87. Warren June 1, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Actually when someone doesn’t understand then its up to other viewers that they will assist, so here it happens.


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