Checking in on The American Girl Catalog, 18 Years Later
American Girl dolls took up a significant amount of my childhood. My 18″ dolls felt more substantial and soulful than Barbie, and all came with books like Meet Samantha and Felicity Learns a Lesson. Back in 1995, I picked my dolls based on which ones had survived the most horrible wars. I started with Addy, an escaped slave, and then got Molly, who lived through WWII, but wasn’t as personally affected by it as I would have preferred.
These dolls taught me how to care about history, helped me develop empathy for people going through horrible shit, and basically taught me how to read chapter books. Are kids today getting the same experience? Randomly, an American Girl doll catalog showed up at my house the other day, addressed to the family who used to live here. I decided to open it up and see. Here’s what I found.
The catalog is SO social media. @lovelivautum, a 14-year-old named Valerie D., was flown out to shoot this beautiful pic of the dolls at xmas. Heart!
Most of the dolls now are Truly Me dolls, which are supposed to look just like you.
My boyfriend and I decided my “truly Becky” doll would be one of these two. I look more like the one on the left but I have highlights, which trick people into thinking I am blonde.
There is no Asian doll, although it’s possible that CLD45 is Asian.
You can buy your doll outfits like, “Recess Ready,” “Starry Hoodie” and “Coconut Cutie.”
You can even get her poofy 80’s bangs.
Or a retainer.
Or a hearing aid!
There’s also a line of expensive dogs way less cute than Beanie Babies.
$28 big ones.
For the most part, the catalog made me think the target demo is little blonde girls who are rich enough to ski. Like chica below.
The girl of the year is named Grace Thomas, and she wears a pink beret and a shirt that says, “Paris Je T’aime.” Her dream is to open a “real” bakery in Massachusetts with her friends, “artsy Maddy and math-whiz Ella.”
Grace Thomas is kind of a basic b*tch, I have to say.
Even worse is 50’s-era Maryellen Larkin. In keeping with the times, her bio is written in 50’s-era Mad Men sexism, “I have a heart full of high-flying hopes and a head of of pie-in-the-sky ideas, even though they don’t all get off the ground.”
There’s also a funky new doll named Julie Albright, who I think is aimed at my mom. Her Dr. Evil chair and hippie hair are so 70’s! But my mom isn’t the doll-buying demo anymore. Why not a grungy 1994 chick wearing plaid whose main drama is Kurt Cobain dying? Wouldn’t this appeal to Gen X moms more?
I won’t hate Julie though. She plays on the BOYS’ basketball team and knows everything will turn out groovy in the end.
Hold the phone. There’s a doll with my name, and she’s Jewish in a WWI era. There might be some potential with this one.
And they’re not dumb enough to get rid of Addy. She’s still the most badass of all the dolls with her cowrie shell necklace.
I dunno, American Girl corporation. It seems a little bit like you’re pandering to little ladies who want to go to Paris and make cupcakes for a living instead of doling out the hard truths about life you used to. Kids like those truths even more than they like being able to buy tiny plastic croissants. At least I think they do.
I still enjoyed looking at the catalog, but seeing real life reflected wasn’t as exciting as seeing history was to me as a kid. Let’s just agree that if you ever retire Addy, you’re blacklisted.