The American Girls Have Totally Gone Soft, Man

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sad-reading-girlI grew up with the American Girls (books, not the dolls, what do you think I was, rich?) I remember reading the historical tales on the bus ride home from school, the real conflict in their lives, the glossy feel of those gorgeous pages and amazingly realistic full-color illustrations. Samantha was my favorite, though Kirsten was a close second because she vaguely looked like me. Picking out a new American Girl book at the bookstore was better than the sweetest treat or the coolest toy. It was a looking glass into the past, it was a canvas on which to project the wonders and fears and fantasies of my own girlhood.

That’s why I was bummed to read Amy Schiller’s piece in The Atlantic, alerting me to the fact that the “historical” American Girls aren’t really the poster children of the brand empire anymore. It even looks like my favorites have been, for the most part, phased out:

Samantha, Kirsten and the headstrong colonial character, Felicity, are no longer sold by American Girl. These characters represent more than just the original characters of an iconic brand—their archiving represents a lost sensibility about teaching girls to understand thorny historical controversies and build political consciousness.

So what’s for sale in their place, you wonder? Something called “Girls of the Year,” who are contemporary girls with only two biographical books (instead of six) apiece. According to Schiller, these girls are frequently white and upper-middle class. And just one look at the American Girl website confirms this upsetting deviation. The slogan is “Follow Your Inner Star,” which sounds more to me like a fame-crazed Disney quip than anything remotely similar to the strong, proud American Girl brand I remember.

Listen, I’m not some grumbling curmudgeon who sits around lamenting the loss of the good ole’ days. But I’m thinking that this shift in branding comes from the assumption that modern girls wouldn’t have the patience for the stories of historical girls. Or, worse, that modern girls are just shallow, self-absorbed and don’t care about serious drama like the conflicts portrayed in historical American Girl books.

I don’t think this is the case. In my experience, little girls are passionate beings. They get enraged about social issues and obsessed with justice and fairness. They’re smart. So I think American Girl is totally missing the mark, here. And when my daughter is old enough, I’m going to dig out my old, yellowed book series and offer her the rich experience I had instead of the shallow one that’s replaced it.

(photo: Serhiy Kobyakov/shutterstock)