Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Conservative American Girl Doll Experience

Have you seen this photo essay on American girls and their American Girl dolls? It is a commentary on American girl's and I think it is also one on our American consumerism. From the article:
 “I’ve noticed that girls do not really care as much about the books and stories that come with the dolls,” wrote [Ilona] Szwarc [the photographer]. “They are much more interested in clothes and accessories, so the educational message functions as a marketing tool for parents rather than as an inspiration for girls to learn.”
It is also a commentary on how when parents buy"educational" toys and don't follow through it does not really do anything for the kids, unless of course they were geeky like me.

I read all the American Girl books before I had my Molly doll. I am not really sure what got me started on the American Girls, but it probably was the library. My older sister, S, got her Samantha doll before I got my Molly doll. She asked for money for her First Communion so that she could get her doll. I got Molly for my birthday I think; it must have been my eighth birthday. My parents gathered the expected monetary gifts, I think I may have even put allowances toward it, and they made up the difference. I think it was the summer between second and third grade? I got glasses in third grade and I know I got Molly before I had glasses. I was so happy when I got glasses. I even picked out glasses to match Molly's. But rather than spend all my money accessorizing (though I spent hours looking at the catalogs longingly which was way better than the sappy website they have now), I just read the books over and over again.

I was the kid who spent all day everyday reading books. My parents begged me to go play outside, but I was content to have my nose in a book. What I loved about the American Girl books was how they really did give a look into the history of our country in an interesting way. I loved learning history through the books. My favorite books to read were always historical fiction; they still are! It is too bad that many American girls do not care about the history of our country and just want the doll and the accessories. Maybe that is the result of the fact that the American girl books are not good literature anyway.

So instead of reading the American Girl doll books, I am going to have my girl's read the classics about American children in history: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, and so on. I guess I should check out more the children's classic chapter books before my kids get to that age. The books that are still read that withstand the test of time are the ones that really will help our kids be better people. They teach our kids about virtue: friendship, perseverance, charity, obedience, patience, faith, etc. They teach our kids the importance of family and strong marriages. They teach our kids about those who came before us, and teach them how virtue, family, and friendship are essential for living the Good Life. The best thing about the classic books are that they were written by those who lived at the time they are describing. They don't fantasize about the past or put it down, but depict the author's experience of their present time which is our past. In this way we can really learn about our history.

As for the dolls, I doubt we will spend hundreds of dollars for American girl dolls for the kids. Clearly the dolls do not make the children happy, and my doll is not contributing to my happiness in anyway (except perhaps for the hours I spent with my best friend playing with our dolls as children). I will pass on my Molly doll when they are old enough to no destroy her. Or maybe I will just put her in a glass case and tell them stories about my childhood in reference to the doll.

4 comments:

  1. Those photos are creepy. I was glad to have started with the books, and remember being kind of creeped out at the "design a doll that looks like you!" part of the catalog. The books were an excellent concept, and probably account for why I know Revolutionary American history better than any other period (I was a Felicity girl).

    Were they really poorly written? Or is that just a theory you have now because they didn't catch on? They seem, in retrospect, to be an exercise in genuine feminism: history from the perspective of the ordinary girl.

    I did get a doll eventually, as a gift. But she was too fragile to play with much. I think I brushed her hair or changed her occasionally, but she wasn't nearly as much fun as the books.

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    1. I don't remember exactly how well written they were, but my guess is that mass produced literature is never as good as the classics. I think we were both a little geeky as kids...

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  2. I would have to say that my dolls brought me as close to happiness as a material thing ever could. I would spend hours and hours building them little worlds and sewing for them. So yes, I was accessorizing, but frugally with things lying about our house. I didn't get an American girl doll until I was past the prime age for doll playing, so I can't speak about those specifically. But I loved the books, they were the first books I can remember reading independently. After reading my first one (Meet Samantha) I immediately sought out the rest as quickly as I could, my first experience with the card catalog. It was after reading about Kirsten that we started our St Lucia's Day tradition (as kids, with no prompting from the parents).

    The books are primed for the independent 7 year old reader. So I don't know if comparing them to Mark Twain really makes sense. You are right, there is better literature out there. None of what you suggested is aimed at this audience though. I guess I would compare them to Polk Street school or Cam Jensen? Just easy books to kick start a love for reading?

    Anyway just my two cents. I had a very positive experience with the books (and the doll catalog).

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    1. Anna, maybe I did not pick the best books to name for seven year olds, but then I have not been 7 for many years and my oldest is only just about four. I think my real problem with it is not the American Girl company itself or the books, but the consumerism it embodies. Anything that everyone "has to have" and the excessive amounts of money spent on them I am suspicious of.

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