To say I was obsessed with American Girl Dolls growing up would be an understatement of epic proportions. Because I was very spoiled and girly, I had three of them. Until a few years ago, I assumed it was totally normal to have multiple American Girl Dolls–an assumption that was proven to be absurd upon sharing this information with my roommate. When I told her I’d had three of these dolls as a kid, she looked at me with a mixture of horror and disgust and told me that her parents only allowed her one doll, and that was after she’d read all the books and made an educated decision regarding which doll she wanted the most. Whoa. I’d read most of the books, but certainly not all of them, and I’d lived my young life arbitrarily identifying with an American Girl, and then getting the corresponding doll the following Christmas or birthday. My roommate went from being a one-doll owner to a straight-A student and Brown University alumn. I did not make straight A’s, nor did I attend an Ivy League school. I think my parents and their over-generous doll buying are partly to blame for this.
From the tender age of six until now, I’ve continued to be fascinated by all things American Girl. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t live in a town with an American Girl Place, so I had to order them from a catalogue like some lowly plebeian. Actually, I didn’t order anything, but my parents did, and they were probably thanking their lucky stars that there wasn’t an American Girl Place within a 500 mile radius of Oklahoma City, because I would have ended up with way more than three dolls.
For those of you who are unclear on what exactly these things are, let me bring you up to speed: American Girl Dolls began as historical dolls based on fictional girls that existed during various times in American history. Each girl/doll had a set of books that served as not only as their personal biography, but also a mini history lesson on America. Nowadays, in addition to all the historical dolls for sale, there are also “My American Girl” dolls that can be customized to look exactly like you, which I think is kind of weird, but I’d be down if someone were to gift me one. The dolls cost like, $80.00 in 1992, which is insane, but the exorbitant pricing doesn’t end there, because there are also various accessories/clothes that are specific to each doll as well as the events in her life, which you absolutely must buy if you want the whole American Girl experience. I think the dolls themselves cost around $105.00 now. Actually I don’t think that, I know that, because I’ve been to an American Girl Place recently. Yes, I bought three mini-versions of the dolls I had as a child. Yes, those three dolls cost a total of $65.00, and yes, they now sit on my nightstand, watching over me every night as I retire to bed alone. The following is a brief history of my childhood American Girls:
Ahh, Kirsten the “pioneer girl of strength and spirit.” Kirsten was born in Sweden, but she and her family settled in Minnesota in the 1800’s. Kiki’s “traveling to America” story was pretty dark, because her family had to cross the Atlantic on some old-ass boat, and *spoiler alert* her bff, Marta, died on the way over, thanks to immigration during the 19th century being very dangerous/unsanitary. Kirsten wasn’t glamorous, but she was blonde, and she had a cool Native American friend named “Singing Bird” or something like that, and she wore her hair in the same hairstyle that I did from ages 3-7, so I felt like we were kindred spirits. Kirsten also had this amazing crown with candles on it as part of her “St. Lucia outfit” (because she didn’t celebrate Christmas–hello, she was Swedish!) that I thought was the most amazing fashion statement, so I needed her in my life.
Samantha is The. Most. Fabulous. of all the American Girl Dolls to ever exist. She started out as an orphan who was working in a factory, but then was adopted by her wealthy Grandmother during the victorian era in New York. A true rags-to-riches tale! She also had beautiful, flowy brunette hair, and a ton of gorgeous outfits and over-the-top accessories. I’m talking bows, socks, shoes, dresses, tights, petticoats, a brass bed, a traveling trunk. For some reason I remember her always eating petit fours in the books. GLAMOUR. Basically, Samantha one-upped Kirsten in every way. Kirsten may have had the crown thingy, but her clothing/bedding/trunk scenario were modest, to say the least. I mean, she wore an apron and a bonnet. She lived in Minnesota. It was time to upgrade.
I could start sobbing just thinking about Addy. Her story is probably the most traumatizing of all the American Girls because she was a slave. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. Addy was a slave that escaped a plantation with her mother (also a slave) to live in Pennsylvania. Addy’s story, coupled with my white guilt at a very young age and the fact that she had earrings, made her a must-have American Girl Doll. Her clothes and accessories were not of Samantha caliber, but they were still very stylish to me. There was a lot of color incorporated into her wardrobe, and she had a little handmade quilt on her bed that was to die for. To this day, Addy remains my most treasured doll of the bunch. A year or so ago, I got two little ring piercings in my left ear as an homage to Addy’s style. What? Her earring game was chic!
Molly McIntyre and Felicity Merriman
Okay, I know I said I had three American Girl Dolls, but I kind of lied. After a certain age it was clear to me that playing with/collecting dolls was taboo, so I forced my sister to ask for these two dolls so I could play with them. I’m out of control, I take total responsibility for that. Molly was the girl whose story I most enjoyed. Probably because she was the most “modern” girl of them all at the time. Molly lived in Illinois during WWII and she had glasses, and she was very patriotic, and she went to summer camp. Felicity was way less interesting to me. She lived during the colonial times, and she was really into horses, which I couldn’t identify with, but I thought she was really pretty. Even though I was psyched that my lil’ sis had these dolls, I lost interest in both Molly and Felicity fairly quickly. I mean, Molly’s hair was permanently plaited in boring braids, and Felicity was a horse-obsessed ginge, so…end of story.
A series of photos entitled “American Girls” was recently released by Ilona Szwarc. In the photos, young American girls pose with their American Girl Dolls. The whole thing is creepily fascinating in the way it portrays the intense relationships the young subjects in the photos have with their dolls. In her description of the concept behind the series, Szwarc stated that the dolls “play a crucial role for girls in a moment when they are forming their identity.” Obviously I could not agree with this more. I mean, case and point above. Presently, Kirsten, Samantha and Felicity have all been discontinued, which makes me both sad and old. Thankfully, a whole new crop of girls has popped up in their place, which is great news for my future spawn, who will no doubt be receiving as many American Girl dolls as their little hearts desire, regardless of said spawn’s gender.