American Girl: Lessons in shopaholism

The brand's superstore introduces young girls to the all-American shopping spree.

Published December 21, 2006 12:04AM (EST)

Self-disclosure: I'm a holiday curmudgeon. So, admittedly, my revulsion to the Washington Post's feature on American Girl mania in Manhattan might be extreme. The article introduces us to the American Girl Place on Fifth Avenue, which commands a 40-minute wait to even cross its heavily guarded threshold during the holiday shopping rush. Once inside, girls can have a professional photo snapped of them with their American Girl (possibly, even, in matching outfits), treat their toys to a sassy new do in the doll hair salon, or enjoy brunch, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner together. For the truly well heeled, there are special vacation packages offering a hotel room "equipped with doll beds, doll brushes and doll jewelry."

Despite having owned -- and adored! -- an American Girl doll in my younger years, I find this all a bit frightening. The brand has been routinely touted as the wholesome alternative to the sexed-up set now so successfully marketed to young girls. "Unlike sexy clotheshounds Barbie and Bratz, the American Girl is obsessed, in various incarnations, with horses, reading and friends -- not boys," writes the Post's Robin Shulman. Indeed, parents can combat the much-discussed phenomenon of kids getting older younger, provided those parents have $87 to throw down on an American Girl doll. The collection features girls from different historical periods and a growing series of books that detail their individual adventures, offering "child-scale history."

But, man. This story stomps out some of my warm-hearted feelings and relief at seeing girls playing with the "spirited," "independent" and "spunky" dolls, rather than 'hoed-out tartlets. There's a disconnect between the company's message of encouraging girls to "stand tall, reach high and dream big" so that they might "become the women who make a difference tomorrow" and the "I live to shop" mantra of the American Girl experience. Take the photo atop the American Girl Place's corner of the Web -- we see a pint-size "Sex and the City"-type foursome happily toting shopping bags larger than their own torsos. "Here rises a four-story, hearts-and-friendship world that seems to tap young girls' fantasies, and it's all for sale," Shulman writes.

American Dolls might not be training young girls to dress with the flair of a woman for sale, but they're certainly training them to be adorable little consumers with an insatiable thirst for shopping, shopping, shopping! Ten-year-old Hannah Orcutt, whose mother had spent at least $1,740 during their weekend trip to the superstore, said, "Going to the store made me want to get more of the American Girl stuff. It's hard to think what, 'cause there's so much there. I just wanted the whole store."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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