You almost likely read the American Girl doll books if you were a tween in the 1990s and of a certain disposition: bookish, imaginative, introverted, possibly on the Gifted and Talented track, perhaps a little on the arrogant side. American Girl dolls were created in 1986 by businessman Pleasant Rowland as a way to educate girls between the ages of 8 and 11 about American history. Each doll came with a book and a variety of fancy accessory sets.
Are you a fan of the colonial period? If your tastes go more toward the Victorian era, you could purchase Samantha, a lush-haired upper-class brunette with a rising interest in the labor rights movement. Felicity is a feisty redhead growing up in Revolutionary War-century Virginia (and who, perhaps more importantly, had a gasp-inducing collection of taffeta dresses).
There were problems with the American Girl dolls. First of all, they were rather expensive (buying just one doll with the accompanying accessories, books, and wardrobes could cost hundreds of dollars). The sole doll of color for a long time was Addy, a former slave who experienced a number of incredibly painful situations in a manner that many of the other white dolls in the franchise simply were not. They also symbolized an oversimplified, whitewashed vision of history. The dolls, on the other hand, became a treasured part of many millennial women’s childhoods. The books, however, were meticulously researched and evocatively written, introducing many preteens to historical events they would never have known otherwise.
The American Girl dolls have recently made a big resurgence, as co-hosts Brittany Spanos and Ej Dickson discuss in the most recent episode of the Rolling Stones online culture podcast Dont Let This Flop. It may have begun with an Instagram trend involving influencers visited the American Girl Doll cafe for boozy brunch, which resulted in a trend article in the New York Times and none other than Olivia Rodrigo getting photographed by paparazzi while visiting the NYC location (though as Spanos points out, she herself invented American Girl doll influencing in 2015, when she visited the cafe as an adult and posted Valencia-filtered pics on Instagram).
Additionally, there is an expanding group of American Girl Doll microinfluencers who produce material just for the dolls, including @klit.klitteridge and @hellicity.merriman on Instagram (the community recently became the center of some controversy when a few creators spoke out against LGBTQ Pride Month, causing massive backlash within the community). One @arenclelle TikTok user has even developed a brand around reproducing the numerous foods from the American Girl doll cookbooks. Do they appear enticing? No, not necessarily, but there is no doubt about the effort or the intention.
The fact that American Girl dolls have become a meme and people are posting pictures of them with captions like “We need an American Girl Doll who tried the original FourLoko at a party in 2011” or “We need an American Girl Doll who is an insider and has the tea on what’s happening with Funny Girl on Broadway” may be the most obvious sign that the dolls are returning (do we ever). Similar to how the original American Girl dolls did when they first came out, the memes serve up a generous helping of nostalgia mixed with a cultural critique. And even if some of the historical details in the novels may not have held up well for the Gen Z crowd, it’s evident that memes are paving the way for a revival of American Girl dolls among a whole new generation. What better way to ring in 2023 than with the bad girls who survived the Civil War, World War II, and the Great Depression in a time of unprecedented political and cultural unrest?
This week on Dont Let This Flop, Spanos and Dickson also talk about the TikTok Pink Sauce controversy, overconfident straight males who believe they are vying for Emily Ratajkowski’s affections, and why birds are frightful.
On all audio streaming services, including Dont Let This Flop7, Dont Let This Flop8, Dont Let This Flop9, influencers visited the American Girl Doll cafe for boozy brunch0, and influencers visited the American Girl Doll cafe for boozy brunch1, Dont Let This Flop6 is released every Wednesday.