Nightmare at the American Girl Doll Store

*Not an actual American Girl doll

I very nearly made it through parenthood without ever setting foot in an American Girl Doll store. My mother took my oldest daughter when she was 5 or 6, indulging her with a tea-party lunch and matching blue silk pajamas for her and her new doll Jessie,  or whatever its name was. My son has always been a boy’s boy, and would only touch an American Girl doll as a prelude to riddling it with Airsoft pellets. So I figured I was safe: my baby, now 8,  is a hardcore tomboy, who eschews all pink and scoffs at such girly staples as Barbie and Brownies. But then, without warning, her head spun around like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist, and the demon that took up residence in her body demanded an American Girl doll.

I try hard not to typecast my children, and am generally pleased when they break out of their established family “roles”–as I was when my rock-climbing warrior boy developed a knack for poetry, or when his serious, kind-hearted older sister revealed an acid-tongued and occasionally foul-mouthed sense of humor. But the free-spirited little jock suddenly embracing doll play? It was too much.

Nevertheless, I did an excellent job of hiding my shock and horror. “Oh… really?” I replied when she professed her desire for a doll. “Well, your birthday is in July. Maybe someone”–read Grandma–“will get you one then.” She pointed out that she had nearly $600 of accumulated birthday and holiday money sitting in her “Bank of Dad” account. So I did what any self-respecting parent faced with an unpalatable request would do: passed the buck to my husband. He was so convinced that she didn’t really want a doll that he told her to wait two weeks, and if she still felt the same way, we could talk about it again.

"Jessie," a victim of neglect, orange Sharpie, and a few rounds of Airsoft

She rode out the probation period with uncharacteristic patience, then cheerfully reintroduced the proposition, which is how I found myself in that alternate pink and red universe known as the American Girl doll store. Even my daughter looked shell-shocked by the scene, and I saw her waver. But she took a deep breath, barreled past the Bitty Baby section, and charged up the escalator to find the doll that most resembled her. I was experiencing that uncomfortable sense of dislocation I have felt before in such places as a Farm & Fleet store in central Illinois or the designer couture floors at Barneys New York, when I suddenly realize that people actually shop here.

The hair salon was by far the most crowded section of the store, more mobbed than the “bistro” or the overflowing rack of doll-sized spectacles that would put Lenscrafter to shame. Girls crowded around a chart featuring nearly 100 different hairstyles they could choose for their dolls, including a double-decker ponytail or a fishtail braid for $20–more than I pay to get my daughter’s hair trimmed at Supercuts, I might point out. (For $14, the doll can have her ears pierced as well.) Smiling stylists stood behind a counter bearing five little pink barber chairs, all deeply engrossed in brushing, combing, twisting, braiding, and smoothing the hair of their plastic customers.

I started to feel a little dizzy–why was everyone acting like this was normal? where was my species?–and temporarily lost track of my daughter. Luckily, she was wearing her typical weekday outfit: pajama bottoms, a hoodie, Old Navy “Uggs” and a ski hat, so she was easy to spot amid all the plaid skirts and headbands. After a lot of hunting and dithering, she ended up shelling out $200 of her own money for a red-headed doll–which she named Kate–plus a softball uniform and a scuba-diving set. And as we walked back past the hair salon, she looked up at all the side-swept ponytails and made a face. “Weird,” she said. I couldn’t have loved her more.

About Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg spent 22 years as a journalist for Newsweek Magazine. She now works as a writer, editor, teacher, and parent of three children, with whom she strives always to maintain a varnish-free relationship.
This entry was posted in Cranky mommy blogger, Kids, Parenting, Reality check and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Nightmare at the American Girl Doll Store

  1. leslie hendrickson says:

    Thank you for making me LOL!

  2. Annie Gilbert says:

    I’m proud to say I’ve never once set foot in the American Girl Doll Store. That’s because my daughter wanted “Felicity, a spritely Colonial girl,” and I convinced her it would be terribly anachronistic for Felicity to EVER visit that dumb hair salon.
    (Unfortunately, this did not prevent me from shelling out more money online than I care to admit on Felicity’s four-poster bed, cherry wardrobe, riding habit, and velvet party dress…not to mention all sorts of complicated 18th-century undergarments. Apparently, Felicity’s family was some kind of royalty in Colonial Williamsburg…)

  3. Alia Ramer says:

    I too was surprised that my daughter wanted an American Girl doll, and suprsied about the second one, and the third. But she paid for all of the first one, and about half of the second and third. And I loved her reasoning for picking them. She chose Molly, who’s just about the same age as her Grammy. Then she wanted Emily, Molly’s friend, to keep her company. The third is Rebecca, just ’cause she’s Jewish and we (I have to admit it was we) were excited that there was a Jewish doll coming out.
    The books are the best part of the whole shebang. She’s read most of them for the girls she has, and a few from other girls. They’re well written, and not as treacly as I expected.
    What has surprised me most, perhaps, is that she’s about to turn 13 and won’t give up the dolls to her 7 year old cousin – they are permanently sleeping in their beds at the foot of hers, but she likes them there. And if that keeps her my American Girl instead of an American Teen for a little bit longer, that’s fine by me.

  4. I have to agree with several of the comments above. These dolls seem to transcend ‘types’ of girls, and belong to girls as a whole. My own eldest daughter is just about as far from a girly girl as has ever been. She never did play with dolls, or any of the other ‘girly’ toys that one would expect. When her grandmother bought her a Kit doll at age 4, I thought it was the craziest waste of money I had ever witnessed. At almost 13, my daughter’s bedroom is toyless… save for Kit. I think that I despise the general excessiveness that seems to go along with the idea of these dolls, but I love that my little girl, who has grown taller than I am, still loves her doll… and if that’s the only little bit of the little girl she was that I get to hold onto, I guess I’ll take it.

  5. Chrissie says:

    I do understand what you are saying but, this is the world ok. They are just little girls, whats so wrong with wanting it to have styled hair? Or a cute outfit to mach? Let their childhood last while it does. But I do agree about it being horribly priced. $34 for a coat set? $20 to get their hair put into a plait? Really! But word of advice, the website is better as that way they won’t get a chance to see all the little doll things in the glass cases. And I also found this very entertaining at the same time! Good job.

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