Before I had a daughter, I was in denial about the overwhelming power of the American Girl franchise. When my daughter got one as a gift, I experienced a brief and mild mourning period for my ability to stem the tide. Then I discovered that American Girl is not just a doll. She is, for better or worse (definitely worse for the wallet) the cultural currency of the female 4-8 set. I’ve seen the relief on girls faces when they discover their mutual bond: You have one. You get it. You’re one of us. As skeptical as I am about “must-have” marketing pressure and the idea of commodities having emotional value, I have to admit I see the good side of this much more clearly than I thought I would.
With their characters and stories, American Girl dolls have meaning beyond the generic doll. They also lend themselves to that taxonomy thing girls like to do, the one that’s at the root of all those women’s magazine quizzes: Which type are you?
The Hairpin did a brilliant anthropological analysis of the various American Girls of their youth, attributing various slightly tongue-in-cheek personality traits to each:
Did you know, when you picked her out, that Samantha was the cool one? Or were you simply drawn to her glossy brown hair, sophisticated accessories (she had a fur muff!) and rich demographic? Either way, every girl wanted a Samantha. If you owned her, you quickly learned the value of cachet.
By virtue of acquiring a status symbol early on (a Samantha doll was the designer jeans of third grade), you never quite had to worry about things the way other girls did. You therefore grew up to be confidant, capable, and nonplussed. You’ve always been well liked. You aren’t the funniest in your group, but you’ve never really noticed or cared. If you thought about it, you could probably recognize other women who had Samanthas. But that’s not that impressive: everybody can.
You had Felicity because of one or more of the following reasons:
A) you had red hair
B) You thought she had the prettiest clothes and accessories.
C) Fewer people had Felicity, and you wanted to be unique.
D) You actually wanted Samantha but your mom thought Samantha’s dress looked like the top of a peanut butter jar so you got Felicity instead. (Just me? OK.)
You grew up to have an affinity for lovely things, a possibly inflated sense of your own uniqueness, a teensy hint of self-righteousness (remember how she refused tea when they raised the tea tax? “Thank you, I shall take no tea!”), and a latent familiarity with Colonial Williamsburg.
Inspired by this hybrid of cultural anthropology and comic genius, I decided to apply the same analytical sensibility to the American Girl Dolls of today. What does your daughter’s American Girl Doll say about her future? I can’t even begin to imagine. Well, Ok, I’ll try:
It’s hard to be a kid in the Great Recession! When you complain to Kit about how your parents can’t afford to buy you any more American Girl products, she understands. And then she tells you how she ate boiled socks for a week once, and you feel like a jerk for complaining. You will grow up understanding the beauty in small, inexpensive things, and refuse to throw any of them away.
You might love this doll because of her flawless curtain of long blond hair. But your parents secretly love her because her hippie style makes them like they’re still a tiny bit cool even though they’re buying into the American Girl monopoly. Check out that Bargello miniskirt! Do you think Julie went to Monterey Pop? You will spend your life showing your parents how uncool they truly are.
You feel a connection to indigenous cultures and want to honor America’s past. You were traumatized by the way Native Americans were treated in the Little House books. Or, you like the feeling of Suede. I see you majoring in something obscure at a small liberal arts college, or selling handcrafted jewelry at a flea market.
You are Jewish, and for once there is a Jewish doll! How can you turn your back on her for all those blonde goddesses? Imagine the guilt!! Your respect for your culture and personal identity is admirable. But there is the possibility of future backlash. Intermarriage?
My American Girl
You are either too young or too self-involved to bother with the historical angle. Why read someone else’s story when you can write your own? There may be reality TV in your future.
Is your doll not represented? This might be a good thing… But check out the rest of The Hairpin’s hilarious list here—including what not having an American Girl doll says about you.
Unique and unforgettable: 50 Toy Fads That Hooked Us!