Real! Live! American girls!

What do sex dolls have in common with American Girl dolls? The powerful spell of plastic perfection.

Published January 3, 2008 10:59PM (EST)

It's undoubtedly perverse, but a recent post on Feministing about a company in San Francisco that now rents out those super-creepy, life-size silicone sex dolls with whom some men have committed relationships -- to the tune of $320 a day -- got me thinking about my elder daughter's wish list for her upcoming birthday.

You see, my daughter -- a fiercely independent creature who refuses to wear any corporate logo on her body (not my doing, mind you; my second kid is a walking advertisement for Disney Princesses) -- has become infected by the cult of American Girl dolls. Now she wants nothing more than two Bitty Twins to the tune of about $100 (including shipping) for her birthday, which inconveniently falls just two weeks after Santa's trek from the North Pole. I ignored the hints at Christmas and bought her a modestly priced knockoff singleton from Amazon, which seemed to make her happy, especially after being anointed by the myth of all those industrious elves staying up all night, making her little girl's eyelashes one lash at a time.

But among my daughter's peers (and around the country, for all I know) American Girls are not dolls but "real girls." They have fictional histories (to be found in the American Girl books), lots of stuff they "need" (accessories) and a whole subculture of activities that their owners can participate in. I used to think American Girls repelled me because of the expensive consumerist fantasies they inspire. But that's not all. Like the sex dolls, American Girl dolls attempt to sell a simulacrum of a kind of perfection. In the case of grown men who can relate only to women who don't talk, move or breathe, it's pathological. In the case of a bunch of 7-year-olds, it's wholesome, age-appropriate play. But for some reasons I can't quite articulate, that still gives me the creeps. It's not like realistic dolls -- be they blow-up sex dolls or china baby dolls -- are anything new. But in our culture, where women's looks are next to godliness, the sheen of physical perfection -- whether it's in perfectly long, glossy hair or a 32D cup -- casts a powerful spell, even when that perfection is lifeless and comes wrapped in plastic.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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