Are You an 'American Girl?'
October 5, 2004
With the exception of Barbie, I had little use for dolls growing up. I did not want to be
a mommy; the simulated feeding, wiping, and burping of an inanimate object held zero interest
for me. This did not prevent my parents from trying. I was, briefly, "mommy" to a giant, heavy
doll with real hair and sightless blinking eyes that rolled back in her head when you held her
upside down. "Jenny" was presented to me on a cold Christmas morning in 1984.
I received this 'burden of motherhood' the same Christmas my brother got a Cabbage Patch Kid. Somehow my
mother managed to find one at the height of the Cabbage Patch craze. Like the later
Tickle Me Elmo fad, Xavier Robert's little orphans drove parents
to commit psychotic acts in order to "adopt" a bundle of joy from the patch. This was how "Chauncy"
came to be part of our family the same day "Jenny" was removed (we all thought it best that "Jenny" return to her
place of origin.) My mother has expressed numerous times that gay people "are not normal." Therefore, I never understood why she bought my brother
a Cabbage Patch Doll, My Little Pony and a Care Bear. He dragged around that ratty Good Luck Bear
until it had one eye and no fur. In case you're wondering, my brother is a straight boy.
He just really liked that Care Bear. Yep.
As years have passed, I've thrown off my childhood aversion to all things "female" and have since emerged decidedly more girly. I fought it for awhile, but then
I just had to give in to the fact that I like making bundt cakes and the color pink. I've never
worn so many prom dresses as I have in the past few years: White Trash Prom, Midwest Prom, Carrie's
Prom, Zombie Prom, Just Because Prom. There's nothing better than donning flouncy 1960s pink chiffon
for an evening at a dive bar. The greatest upset is that I've developed a fascination with dolls.
This is primarily a rekindled relationship with Barbie and Skipper,
however, other dolls are not turned away if the opportunity knocks. Last weekend, while visiting a friend in Chicago, I hit
the doll jackpot: the American Girl Place.
It's as American as Greed & Apple Pie
Not having been to Chicago in several years, I was excited to reacquaint myself with the City. Besides
catching up with my friend, Angela, the only planned activity was a visit to the International Museum
of Surgical Sciences. I've got somewhat of an (unhealthy?) interest in antique medical instruments,
syringes and prosthetic limbs. When I'm disgustingly rich, I intend to have a whole room in my spacious
penthouse dedicated to trephining kits, bone saws, civil war amputation scalpels and a functional iron lung.
I've already got a nice pair of 1930s child-sized polio leg braces and a wooden prosthetic leg. Next I want
a hook arm.
After I had my fill of bone crushers and vaginal specula, I was ready to check out parts of Chicago I hadn't
yet experienced. While the bus bounced us down Michigan Ave, Angela leaned over and casually mentioned that
Chicago is home to an American Girl store. At first I wasn't following. "What is this "American Girl" of
which you speak?" Upon her answer, I knew where we had to spend the afternoon.
American Girl produces several lines of high-end dolls, clothes and accessories. Each American Girl is 18
inches in height, features posable limbs and a soft huggable body and costs $84. The best sellers come from two lines:
The American Girls Collection and The American Girl Today.
History Repeats Itself
The American Girls Collection is comprised of eight dolls that exemplify different time periods throughout US
history. Kaya (1764), Josephina (1824), Kristen (1854), Addy (1864), Samantha and Nellie (1904), Kit (1934)
and Molly (1944) are American Girls who apparently can only represent years ending in "4."
Each doll is dressed in a period-appropriate outfit. No detail is overlooked - all the way down to her knickers,
underwear, pantaloons, what have you -- the doll will be authentic to a fault. (I failed to ask if the
African-descendant doll has had a proper clitoridectomy. I'll call the 800 number; I'm sure the helpful
customer service personnel will be able to answer my questions. This level of customer care leads me to
believe that they stand by the quality of their product.)
A series of six books introduces and explains the life of each doll in The American Girls Collection. Available
as a set or individually, the books come in both hardcover and paperback (the latter is convenient if you're
poor and/or if your daughter is epileptic. It's best to practice safety at all times - especially if she's
prone to removing her helmet. Those hardback corners can be sharp little devils. She could very easily lose
an eye or a piece of her frontal lobe.)
Through the books, clothing and accessories, the dolls relate important lessons about American history.
Addy is the slave doll who "escapes to freedom" in 1864. Her accessories include a pair of leg irons, bull
whip and voodoo doll. Be careful -- she might put a spell on you! Kaya, a Nez Perce Native American, is from
the year 1764. She comes with a hand-woven pouch to carry her fire water and, given to her as a token of
good faith from the white man, a blanket trimmed with shells and beads. The American Girl company leaves it
up to you to imagine what Kaya will look like once she's covered in the pustular rash associated with the
smallpox virus. Oops, I guess the white man gave her more than she bartered for down at the trading post.
It's fun to pretend!
Speaking of white (wo)men, the 1854 Kirsten doll teaches girls about the "spirit of pioneer life" and how
to obliterate the Native American population through disease, starvation and the introduction of whiskey.
She arrives with her very own copy of Oregon Trail, the shittiest video game of all time. This is how I
learned to "hunt" and use a musket in my 7th grade "computer class." Besides playing Oregon Trail for 32
weeks straight, the only other assignment was to design a "live action" sequence accompanied by music.
My first bout with computer animation involved a crudely fashioned Superman soaring through the air to his
theme music. While cruising the skies and protecting innocent women and children, the burrito he'd had for
lunch suddenly caught up with him. Uh oh, what do you do when you're a mile above the earth? What the hell,
I figured if seagulls do it, why can't Superman? Luckily, a dump truck happened to be driving by below to
catch Superman's excrement, thus saving the day and making the world a safer place for everyone. In lieu of
the fact that the exercise revolved around human fecal matter, I still brought home an 'A.'
Separate from The American Girls Collection, The American Girl Today is a modern take on the "American girl."
These dolls can be customized with the hair style and color, skin tone and eye color of your choice; you
are able to closely approximate your own daughter's, grand daughter's, niece's and/or pedophile fantasy's features on the doll. One
can usually arrive at a close match unless you happen to be one of those Orientals. I didn't see any dolls
with the requisite yellow skin or slant eyes. If this describes you, don't worry; it just means that you
are not American.
The American Girl Today dolls arrive in their "Ready for Fun" outfit. Embroidered jeans, jacket and T-shirt
announce that this girl is hip to her synthetic core. Dozens of additional stylish outfits are available for dolls
AND human girls. Since your living child's hair, skin and eyes presumably match her American Girl, identical
outfits ensure that, eventually, you won't be able to distinguish the plastic doll from the plastic human.
The beauty in this is that if you "accidentally" kill your real child, you'll have a mini replica that will
never talk back, won't get herpes and doesn't require you to forego your annual cruise in order to pay for braces
or cleft palate surgery. Upon cremation, you can store your real daughter's ashes inside the head and limbs of
the American Girl. It's a perfect keepsake!
Separately sold accessories for both The American Girls Collection and The American Girl Today include doll hair
and skin care sets (to "clean her vinyl face, arms and legs with cleansing powder"), special backpacks to carry
your doll, miniature dolls for your doll and miniature backpacks so your doll can carry her doll while you carry
your doll. Christ. You can buy a myriad of vanity sets, beds, wardrobes, patio furniture, strollers, storage
trunks and a hundred other miscellaneous things to try to make your daughter love you. This rationale is
silly -- everyone knows the only way to make her love you is to buy her a pony. Or a new daddy.
If you don't find the dolls creepy enough on their own, entering the American Girl Place will convince you that
innocent fun has truly become an obsessive sickness. The American Girl Place, located at 111 East Chicago Avenue
and 609 5th Avenue in New York, is a multi-chambered house of horrors. Future debutantes and mothers draped in
wool Burberry ponchos clog every corner of the three-level monolith. The store is so much more than the basic
transaction of merchandise for money. A visit to the American Girl Place is designed to be an event worthy of
several hours and several hundred, if not thousands, of dollars.
Elaborate doll displays are everywhere. Either trapped in plexi-glass cubes or carefully arranged in wall niches,
dolls are pulled by sleighs, atop horses, in carriages, jazzercizing in purple leotards, snowboarding down white
cotton mountains. Primarily they stare at you, always STARING, with those blind eyes. It's enough to drive one
to madness. Businesses do not usually allow photography due to copyright laws and I was hesitant to take many pictures.
I managed to take a few that turned out poorly due to my haste. It was only when we were leaving that I saw a woman
with her camcorder fixed on her daughter, ordering her daughter to "Say where you are. Say it, goddammit!"
As can be expected, there were few men in the store. The majority were husbands with slightly crazed eyes or grandfathers
arguing with their wives that "we don't need to spend any more money on Chrissy right now." I did see a little girl in a
stroller looking at the Bitty Baby Starter Collection with her two daddies. Bless their hearts.
More than Meets the Eye
If you want more than mere consumerism, there are several entertainment options. The in-store theater features the magical
Circle of Friends: An American Girls Musical. Human girls dressed like the dolls perform several times a day to the delight
of anyone willing to pay $26 a ticket. I so desperately wanted to see the performance, but the last show was sold out.
More so, spending $26 to sit in a theater with 50 eight-year-olds made me feel more than a little weird. It's probably
illegal to even consider going in if you have a penis.
Next, the Doll Hair Salon, run by "specially trained staff," offers hair care and styling for your American Girl. For the
price of ten dollars, your doll is seated in a mini beautician's chair while an employee recreates the perfect pony tail.
Allow me to repeat: you pay someone $10 to brush the hair of something that is not, was not and never will be alive.
Morticians have it better. More complicated styles, such as braids and ringlets, are $20. It's an art after all.
Girls and their dolls can take advantage of the Photo Studio where their faces will be immortalized on a fake cover of
American Girl Magazine. (When you subscribe to American Girl Magazine, you will get six issues a year for the low price
of only $22.95 -- that's 19% off the cover price!)
To cap off your spending spree, you can enjoy a meal or snack at the American Girl Café. Brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and
dinner all tempt your tummy. Birthday parties are also popular; I peeked into the dining room and the smell of sugar icing
almost knocked me over. Reservations are recommended.
If you're planning a trip to Chicago or New York in the near future, The American Girl Place offers special package deals
that allow mother and daughter to completely lose touch with reality for an entire day. For $250, they enjoy "a meal for
two at the café, two tickets to the musical, CD of Circle of Friends: An American Girls Musical original cast recording,
$120 spending money, souvenir doll T-shirt and a pretty red envelope with ribbon tie to hold everything." It's worth
shit without that pretty envelope to bring it all together.
Before last Saturday, I'd never heard of American Girl. Now I consider myself somewhat of a reluctant expert.
The worst part is that I would totally buy this stuff for a worthy kid. Presently, I don't even KNOW any kids and
won't be pouring my money into the American Girl Empire any time soon. However, until the time is right, I'll keep the
memories of American Girl in my hope chest with the rest of my dreams.