American Girl vows to "Save Girlhood"

The doll retailer's new ad campaign laments that girls are growing up too fast.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards
Published December 9, 2005 9:43PM (EST)

Here's a bit of good news for parents sick of shopping for those tarty little Bratz dolls for their 6-year-olds. (Aren't those knee-high platform boots and sparkly micro-minis the cutest?) American Girl, seller of historical-themed dolls and books, is testing an advertising campaign called "Save Girlhood" that aims to restore wholesome to an oversexualized youth culture more familiar with all things "ho." That's according to an article earlier this week on by James B. Arndorfer.

"Save unicorns. Save dreams. Save rainbows. Save girlhood," flash the campaign buttons for the site The copy reads: "The way we see it, girls are growing up too fast. From every angle, today's girls are bombarded by influences pushing them toward womanhood at too early an age -- at the expense of their innocence, their playfulness, their imagination."

The site shows precocious girls uttering fake testimonials, such as "In the next seven years, sales of puppy stickers and fuzzy pens could drop 85 percent" and "By 2010, only 2% of girls will dot their i's with a smiley face." (Now that would be a tragedy!) It also includes suggestions for games and shopping links, as well as tips for parents on dealing with bullies and how to talk to their daughters about feelings and body image.

The campaign is a refreshing salvo in the ongoing battle to make the merchandise hawked to children actually appropriate for their ages. Meet some of the American Girls: Elizabeth Cole, from colonial Virginia, takes lessons in dancing, penmanship, stitchery and serving tea. Kaya is a Nez Perce girl from the 18th century, who loves riding her horse and hanging out with her blind sister. (In contrast, the popular Bratz chicks in the "Step Out!" series look like they're trolling for guys to buy them appletinis in their midriff-baring baby doll tops and painted-on jeans.)

The article says the campaign is unusual for the American Girl brand, which relies mostly on catalogs and television shows to fuel a "cultural phenomenon" that last year accounted for nearly $380 million in sales. It's an effort by corporate parent Mattel to deal with slower sales of Barbie, who is still a superficial label-monger but not a total slut yet. (See South Beach and Dooney & Bourke Barbies.)

American Girl is certainly tapping into a growing parental unease about the selling of sex to a younger and younger population. Arndorfer quotes Daniel Thomas Cook, an advertising professor at the University of Illinois who studies children as consumers: "They're responding to kids getting older younger. There's almost a sense of moral panic." (Lest they go unchallenged, however, as Broadsheet reported last month, some Christian groups called for a boycott because the company is linked with Girls Inc., a youth organization that supports abortion rights and advocates acceptance of lesbians.)

Broadsheet applauds the Save Girlhood campaign -- even if it makes us nostalgic for scratch 'n' sniff stickers and reevaluate owning a pony. Girls these days should hang onto their 'hood as long as possible. As soon as they turn 8, they can shop at Abercrombie & Fitch. According to Alex Kuczynski in Thursday's New York Times Style section, the new teen clothier flagship on Fifth Avenue looks like a "sprawling nightclub of a place with muscled young men standing guard at the front entrance."

Bring on the fuzzy pens.

Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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