As I was scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day, I came across a series of tweets about how many of the “classic” American Girl dolls were now archived.
I couldn’t tell if it was still way too early and I hadn’t had any caffeine yet, but what? Archived? The “classics”? Wasn’t there just a singular series of American Girl dolls that elementary school student girls knew and loved? Like the Revolutionary War Felicity doll? Civil War era Addy? Sweden turned American Midwest immigrant Kirsten? In the 10 or more years that I’d ditched reading American Girl doll stories for reading flashcards for AP U.S. History in my junior year of high school, much has changed for the American Girl franchise.
Suddenly, I remembered how in the midst of a melodramatic and entitled, temper tantrum, when I was 8-years-old, I told my parents that I would run away from home, if they wouldn’t buy me a Felicity American Girl doll. They just simply laughed in my face. In the end, neither events occurred: I lived in my parents’ home until the day I moved into college (albeit coming home for breaks), and I’ve never owned an American Girl doll.
Despite the seemingly-capitalistic aspect of the American Girl doll experience that I never got to experience, there was much I cherished about this series. I went through phases with each character, allowing me to become immersed in an era of American history. Then, I’d jump many time eras forward or backward to a different doll of a completely different familial, historical, racial and societal background. The dolls that I immersed myself in as an elementary school student only served to propel my future love for the topic of history in school.
As I was looking at the more recent dolls (since when did Girls of the Year become a thing?), I realized that American Girl was straying away from their past focus of writing storylines about girls dealing with historical issues. But this change was not a bad thing at all; indeed, it was the complete opposite. The dolls now are much more diverse, forward-thinking and deal with more relatable topics to younger girls that the past dolls didn’t.
The 2017 Girl of the Year Gabriela is an aspiring poet from Philadelphia, who attempts to overcome her stuttering through her writing, as well as being the first African-American Girl of the Year. The 2018 Girl of the Year is named Luciana, a proud Mexican-American girl hailing from San Antonio, Texas, and has high aspirations of becoming the first woman to walk Mars. These are only the last two dolls; there are countless more dolls going back years with equally diverse and interesting backgrounds.
It slowly dawned on me that even though the #GirlLove movement has only been born through the rise of social media and the last couple of years (the actual social media movement of #GirlLove with the hashtag and all, not girl love itself), the American Girl dolls have been working toward their version of girl-love since the creation of the franchise. The overall message of the franchise is acceptance and appreciation for girls from all types of diverse backgrounds; isn’t that what the #GirlLove movement is about?
As I’m writing this, it’s 1:41 a.m., and I’m slowly coming to the realization that I’m an 18-year-old college freshman who has completely fallen in love with American Girl dolls again. I never was able to buy an American Girl doll or have “tea” with my doll at a huge flagship American Girl store, but I was able to fall in love with countless different sides of American history through the diverse lens of characters my age, when I read the books. I still have countless memories of scribbling in random notebooks different storylines I dreamt of for the dolls (was this foreshadowing my awkward and embarrassing phase of being a Harry Potter fanfiction writer, when I was twelve?).
Currently, it’s my freshman year, and I’m a journalism major with a possible history (or honestly, any humanities field) minor. Even though the dolls are completely fiction, there is nothing fictitious or fake about the love for history and writing that I learned from the American Girl dolls that in the end has paved the path for my love of learning now.