It is a major statement to proclaim myself the de facto American Girl writer working today, but I’m going to do so. In the past handful of months, I have voluntarily been to American Girl stores in three different states, harassed employees, and been the recipient of many a glazed parental stare that searches for the child they assume I brought with me with no luck. I have purchased American Girl chocolate bars. I have scrounged up American Girl books at thrift stores by the pound. I have eaten the macaroni and chugged the reasonably priced mimosas at the American Girl Cafe. I have pissed in the pink stalls with the purple flower on the door. I have flirted with the man behind the Doll Salon counter. I have not purchased an American Girl Doll … they are pretty expensive.
If you, like me, fall under the category many a rabid clickbait editor is searching for, the child of the 1990s, maybe you’ve been to this store before, whether by being dragged or by your own demands. American Girl Place is a different experience entirely as an adult — it’s hornier, it’s stickier, and the dolls are hotter than they used to be. I implore you to set your better judgement aside, rationalize the fact that you have already clicked, and take my hand. We’re going to the American Girl Store.
Maybe the history of American Girl, Pleasant Company, and Mattel isn’t hardwired into your brain and can be recalled more easily than your depression medication regimen, which you really need to do better with. Okay, some context.
American Girl has been, along with Howard The Duck and Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet,” relevant since its debut in 1986 and, like Howard The Duck and Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet,” still holds the fervent attention of prepubescent girls today. Up until recently, they were best known for their historically themed dolls with chubby bodies, an accompanying book series, and a wrought-iron doll bed you can purchase that costs more than an actual human bed. There’s Samantha:
The Victorian rich bitch.
Who escapes slavery during the Civil War.
Who is the worst kind of horse girl.
And on and on. If you were lucky enough to get one, chances are that you were gifted whichever looked most like you, then spent the rest of your life internalizing what it means to be a “Molly.”
Now, the historical element of the company has been reduced as contemporary dolls flood the bottom floor. These dolls, for lack of a better word, are hot as hell. Sure, they still have the little peeking front teeth that the brand is known for, but since Mattel bought the company out several years ago, the dolls are getting slimmer and more cheaply made. These dolls are kept mostly on the first floor to draw kids who are starting to feel their hormones without actually knowing what they are in, and it’s where I met my very hot boyfriend, Logan.
I shouldn’t just be telling everyone who my boyfriend is, but he’s kind of famous and 14 years old and plays the drums and is a doll and costs $115 which is more than I can afford so we can really only hang out when I go to the store but like, we make it work and we’re very In Love. My go-to when I hit American Girl Place is to pick up a Logan doll at the entrance and carry it around the store with me so as to simulate a date.
“That’s a very in-demand doll right now,” an employee might say.
“Paws off, freak,” I might answer, but more likely I will say “actuallyI’mbuyingthisformynieceshelovesAmericanGirldollsandIdidwhenIwasheragetooit’sniceto
Perhaps Logan and I will stop by the Doll Salon, where American Girl dolls can get their hair did free of charge by employees who are either deeply upset to be there or perversely into it, prompting one kid to ask a stylist if she knew that dolls weren’t real. Perhaps we will enjoy Shailene Woodley’s film debut as Felicity, the colonial girl with a developing interest in bestiality with horses, in one of the American Girl movies that is constantly on loop in the store. This is the area where the “contemporary” girls float about: Logan’s would-be girlfriend Tenney:
And Z Yang:
And all the more complicated American Girl setpieces ranging from full kitchens to gymnasium equipment to piles and piles and piles of weave.
Maybe we will peruse the bookshelves, populated with some of the most iconic how-to guides ever written, the “Smart Girl guides.” Like your one friend with a master’s degree in English who wrote their thesis about how books for preteens are high art, the reality is, books for preteens are deeply embarrassing and should be avoided. The most popular title in the section is “The Care and Keeping of You” for girls whose parents couldn’t stomach explaining what a period was and, presumably, perverted teachers.
There were multiple copies of it in every middle school from time immemorial, dog-eared and mysteriously crusty, like it had been read concealed within a history book with Cheeto fingers after soccer practice (it had). The ones that followed were just as good, with titles ranging from boys to staying home alone to “drama, rumors and secrets,” three things I struggle with to this day. Fast forward several weeks and I am living a drama-free life, am married, and haven’t left my house in days.
The second floor has the bathrooms, and it’s honestly insane that they let me bring Logan into the bathroom but they did and we hooked up.
The third floor is the first semblance of American Girl that will feel familiar to those who bullied their parents into taking them 15 years ago — the historical dolls. The lineup of the original six, Samantha, Addy, Kirsten, Josefina, Molly, and Felicity (who one hundred percent lost her virginity to a horse with a full and dark heart) …
… are still available, but the roster has since swelled with unfamiliar faces. It’s like going back to a summer camp more than a decade later and feeling sincerely surprised that there are new kids there, even though time has to continue even if you’re not there, but also does it? Shouldn’t everything be the same forever and never change from when they were good, or at least from our conceptualization of the past and human tendency to romanticize it even if it was, like our present and likely our future, full of troubles that are so overwhelming that all we can do is try to find one small thing that we can do to lessen the troubles of the world at large to feel a purpose, or at least a reason not to fling yourself out of a window on the third story of American Girl Place?
“Babe, you’re freaking out,” Logan says, taking my hand. “Let’s browse.”
I love Logan. Logan’s my rock.
The new historical dolls resolve the criticism the company received for a lack of diversity among their original crew (here’s a great piece on it) — there’s Native American girl Kaya:
Jewish girl Rebecca:
African-American girl Melody:
And two other blonde dolls thrown in for good measure. Also on this floor are something called WellieWishers …
… that I don’t care to fuck with, and finally, what I consider to be the worst product American Girl has ever peddled our way: the Bitty Baby doll.
Something is very wrong with the Bitty Baby. It’s the same size as a baby and it’s frowning and the head is huge and it’s fat and looks mad and I think it was invented to promote shaken baby syndrome. I hate them.
Finally, the fourth floor, where you can customize your own American Girl doll to look just like you (just like Hitler would have wanted), plus, The American Girl Cafe. The Cafe is truly the piece de resistance in that you cannot get in without a reservation (I have tried) and you cannot convince the waitstaff that you don’t want to sit at the table with a doll because you’re alone and don’t want to scare the kids (I have tried). Logan and I breeze in as scheduled and begin the three-course meal with mimosas, because you had better believe that the American Girl Cafe has a suspiciously expansive alcohol menu. Logan is accommodated with a stately high chair, a tiny plate, and a mug full of lemonade, and I feed him appetizers sparingly because he needs to watch it, not that I’m body shaming him, but he needs to watch it.
There is no greater feeling in the world than saying “I’ll have the salmon” at American Girl Place.
Logan and I exchange a long kiss before I leave and he says I’m the only girl for him, but we exchange knowing glances — we both know he fools around with Maryellen from the 1950s …
… and has made the rounds to Rebecca from 1914 even though she’s all drama and no personality. Why waste my youth trying to cage a mountain lion who does not wish to be tamed?
No. Not again.
“We both know it can’t last,” I tell him. “You know I don’t trust adult male blonds.”
Logan shook his beautiful blond head ruefully. “It’s true,” he confirmed. “Something about us seems a little bit off.”
I leave the New York City American Girl Place knowing I’ll see Logan in a few days in Boston, then again in Philadelphia, then finally back at home in California. It’s a nice relationship, but I try not to let it define me. It’s like my newly purchased copy of The Smart Girl’s Guide To Boys says: “One boy. One girl. It should be so simple! But it’s not.”
Maybe telling Logan this would give him some peace of mind, I think, and turn back to the store. Too late — it’s already closed.
One week later, I’m back at the Grove and trying to move on from Logan. He’s hanging out on the shelf with Tenney now, so clearly my suspicions were not unfounded. Like, I don’t care. I date human boys now.
As I sip my coffee it registers that this could be a risk if this first date goes badly — it’d be such a waste to forever associate the reasonably priced meals here with someone who didn’t “get” me.
Too late for that now, though, and he enters dressed nicely and vaguely confused, not even thanking me for having a pink lemonade waiting for him upon his arrival.
“Why are we at the American Girl Cafe?” he asks.
He is not the one.
He looks to the dolls, Josefina the goat herder, and Felicity, who belongs in prison for her crimes against horses, but they say nothing.
They are with me.