I'm sure no matter your age, you remember the American Girls dolls. I was too old for them by the time they became popular, but some of my younger cousins read the books or had one or two of the dolls. Therefore I know about them probably as much as you remember: There were 4 or so of them with names bordering pretty and funny, and each came with her own story from America's history. Are you with me?
Well, that's not what an American Girl is anymore. I read an article recently in The Washington Post about the "new American Girls dolls," a brand and product evolution that we need to blatantly oppose in our own lives. They're now called "My American Girl" (choose one who looks just like you!) or you can have Miss Popular, the "Girl of the Year" (just like all your friends have!) Now, this is where you're going to get really fired up. Let's compare the stories of the American Girls of our childhood to the dolls we're being asked to buy for our daughters/future daughters:
The original Girls, who you may remember as Samantha, Kirsten, Molly and Felicity, among others, struggled through wars and traversing the country and overcoming the most difficult adversities in our nation's history. At one point in Kirsten's story, someone dies of cholera. In “Meet Addy,” “Addy and her mother make a terrifying journey north, holding fast to their dream that the war will end and one day, their family will be together again in freedom." In "Meet Molly," "World War Two turns Molly's family upside down. While her father is away, war threatens to break out on the McIntires' home front, too."
Today, as described by The Atlantic: "Saige is white and upper-middle-class, just like McKenna the gymnast and Lanie the amateur gardener and butterfly enthusiast, both previous Girls of the Year. Even in their attempt to encourage spunky and active girlhoods, their approaches to problem solving are highly local—one has a bake sale to help save the arts program in a local school, another scores a victory for the organic food movement when she persuades a neighbor to stop using pesticides."
Consider Saige's story: ”Saige Copeland loves spending time on her grandma’s ranch, riding horses and painting. Her school made the tough choice to cut art classes, which means she’s lost her favorite subject. So when her grandma decides to organize a “save the arts” fundraiser and parade to benefit the school, Saige jumps on board. She begins training her grandma’s beautiful horse, Picasso, for his appearance in the parade. Then her grandma is injured in an accident, and she wonders what she can do to help. Can she ride Picasso in the parade and make her grandma proud? Can Saige still raise money to protect the arts at school?”
Seriously? What are we supposed to learn from Saige? How to battle "unfairness" like a spoiled child, unable to see a bigger picture or muster the kind of motivation it takes to make a change in this world? No thank you! Give me adventure that makes a life worth living. Give me something beyond the local bakesale and butterfly garden. Give me mountain climbing, and art museums in Paris, and even tragedy and poverty if it rewards me something more than the victory of winning back the Arts budget for my school.
Whether Mattel is leading the charge by dumbing down their product or whether we the consumers are demanding dumber products, I can't say. But either way the result is that our children are limited to the cushy comfy lives we may be blessed to give them, in which they learn absolutely nothing of how to create a riveting and rewarding story of their own lives.
So here's what I'm asking you to commit to: Don't be a Girl of the Year. Don't give your daughters the stories of "My American Girl." Write your own story to be better than this, to mirror the valor of the original American Girls. Let's give ourselves and our children ambition beyond what can be accomplished with minimum effort in our own backyards. And let's give our stories to our daughters that they may learn our lessons and grow to write their own adventure-filled stories as well.