My oldest daughter fell in love with Felicity years ago. Felicity is a young girl living in the American colonies just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. She deals with political issues – some of her family are patriots and some are loyalists. Her favorite horse is nearly beaten to death by its owner. Her grandfather dies and her mother nearly dies in childbirth. This is some pretty heavy stuff.
The American Girl company, however, pulled it off with grace and good humor and the story was inspiring and educational while still being immensely attractive to young girls. We read the books, we watched the movie and we drooled over catalogs of hundred dollar dolls.
Eventually, my daughter saved up enough of her own money to buy a doll for herself, but by then Felicity had been retired. We bought a ‘look alike’ doll instead, and a few Christmases later I found her a Felicity on eBay. By then the gift was more sentimental than anything, but she loved it.
Last year my younger daughter decided she wanted an American Girl doll, too. We started looking through the dolls and I was shocked to see so many wonderful, historical dolls being retired and replaced by “Just Like Me” dolls and “Bitty Babies”. What happened to inspiring? What happened to rich, vivid history?
It turns out, I’m not alone in my opinion. Alexandra Petri published this article over on the Washington Post. Some excerpts:
“The whole point was to give you an entry point to history. Felicity or Samantha or Addy reminded you that, during the Civil War and the Revolutionary War and all the fascinating important times of history, there were Girls Almost But Not Quite Like You.”
Not so any longer. In our culture of sameness and oneness and we’re-all-equal-ness it seems we no longer want our daughters to stretch themselves in their imaginations.
“Maybe we get the dolls we deserve. After all, the redirection has been to shape them in our own image. You can wear what Saige (yes, SAIGE) is wearing. Saige, in turn, will have no more adventure than is readily available to you. You can indulge in a spa day! A spa day, with Saige. No more trekking across the prairie or dealing with wartime rationing.”
Maybe we do get what we deserve. Maybe American girls have actually gone from brave, principled and heroic to shallow and self-interested. Maybe the new dolls are a reflection of modern America, just as the historic dolls were reflections of their respective times. Today’s girls just don’t face the same challenges of starvation, slavery and war. Today’s challenges are finding the right outfit, feeling left out and maybe having your favorite extracurricular cut from your school. Maybe the publishers of American Girl books want to address today’s issues. I get that.
But let’s face it: acting as though those challenges are the worst thing that can happen is the area of pre-teen girls. We, the adults, are supposed to guide them into the understanding that, actually, that stuff isn’t such a big deal. That’s why we need Addy and Samantha. We need role models for our girls who overcome actual challenges, and do so with grace, courage and imagination.
Bring back the good stuff, AG. Until then, I’m afraid this family of girls will be searching for our inspiration on eBay.