American girl Children
Louis Vuitton Adults
article and illustrations by hailey kobrin
The experience of going to the American Girl Doll store is comparable to buying a Louis Vuitton Bag. You are primped and prepped to purchase a doll who looks just like you, or if you have a big nose and beauty marks like me, like the whisper of a generic brand ‘girl-with-brown-hair’. The store itself is sparkling clean, with dolls in glass cases lining the perimeter, displayed almost like saintly relics in a monastery. The employees, dressed in signature red aprons, provide impeccable customer service. Many a window-shopper leaves the store with a scary doll, the sight of which will torment a child in the dark for the next 18 years before you even realize that you’re signing a credit card receipt for a $100 plastic doll and $150 doll-bed. They are especially good in the sales department for people who spend up to 8 hours a day braiding doll hair.
The American Girl Doll is an icon at the same hierarchical vein of a designer handbag, in their manufactured perfection. There has been lots of writing about Barbie as the icon, but frankly, I find her to be very boring. In a metaphor that is not supported by any findings other than my own personal observation, Barbie’s aura encompasses an aged older Hollywood dame who has retired from stardom to live her best life, versus the American Girl Doll, the young and fresh “It Girl” du jour. In this metaphor, Barbie is Barbara Streisand, formerly the iconic Yentl, now focusing on mothering her three clone-dogs, and the American Girl Doll is what the concept of Alexa Chung was to the early-mid 2000’s: nearly a normal girl, but with a whack load of cash so she can focus on doing things like blogging and jobs that regular people can’t afford to have.
The Doll, in my study, as the precursor to a handbag, demonstrates a desirability in her perceived perfection, the capturing of a moment in time, in the case of American Girl Dolls, the wholesomeness of childhood. Collectively, in Western society, we are obsessed with beautiful preservation (a concept that I have written about, and mulled over as a fine wine multiple times over the course of my life). We cherish beautiful features. We strive to own beautiful objects. We gravitate towards crafted luxury. Similar can be said for the appreciation of the American Girl Doll, and for luxury handbags, in which we sometimes forgo the ethics of their expensiveness, and construction for the sake of grandeur.
It is outdated to claim that only girls play with dolls, reinforced by Free to Be You and Me’s hit single, “William Wants a Doll”. Sung by Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas, the song follows the narrative of a young boy who beseeches a baby doll, to hug and hold, respectively. Whereas the song argues that William’s desire for a
doll stems from his paternal instincts, I think that William’s yearning for a baby doll arises from his appreciation of stagnant objects that he can exercise care and grooming for, which all people experience. If William wanted to be a dad, he would’ve asked for one of those diapered baby dolls with silicone skin that piss and shit. I theorize that the children who desire parenthood in that capacity grow up to collect meticulously painted unborn baby dolls. The caretaker and curatorial role of ownership, extending to both the doll and the handbag collection, is very different from the parental role. Down the line, I like to think that the fictional William became an Instagram influencer with a penchant for a severe eyebrow and Fendi monogram boots. As for the doll, it likely sits, collecting dust in his parents attic. No good parent would do that to a child.
If the Free to Be You and Me compilation coincided with the release of the American Boy Doll, William likely would have been disgusted if he received a Cabbage Patch doll for his birthday over the hyped American Boy. This hits close to home. One year for Hanukkah, I was initially excited by the 13-song MP3 player my parents selected for me, but then, I looked to the right. My sister burst into tears as she unwrapped her new American Girl Doll. I was absolutely green with jealousy. Instantly, my MP3 player meant nothing to me, as I set sights on the doll. At the time, she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, with long flowing blonde hair, a delicately freckled nose bridge, and a sweet, toothy smile. More importantly, my sister was overwhelmed with joy, and I wanted that. After much begging, I finally received an American Girl Doll for my birthday the following year. Once I finally got her, I began to imagine all the clothes I would buy her when I saved up enough change.
Sadie and I looked nothing alike, but I loved her as what I had originally confused as parental love. However, I now know that she acted as an extension of my personal tastes and interests. I tucked her into bed every night, brushed her coffee brown hair meticulously, and changed her once a day. We even took a trip to New York City Together, where we brunched at the American Girl Doll Store. Looking back, that was truly my Breakfast at Tiffany’s moment. As I grew older, I invested less and less in Sadie. My tastes turned towards spending time with people who I could carry two-sided conversations with. Later on, when I became very obsessed with browsing for allegedly haunted dolls on eBay, Sadie’s porcelain eyes seemed to glow like Chucky’s when I caught glimpses of her in the dark. Finally, one night I tucked Sadie into bed, and she never got up.
Abandoning Sadie did not make me a bad parent. I was always cognizant that she wasn’t a real person. To me, Sadie acts as a hallmark of my childhood, as a toy that I indulged in innocent fantasies with. The problem lay in the collectable quality of American Girl Dolls. Once I had Sadie, I wanted more and more doll clothes. I was captivated by the variety of outfits that I could dress her in, the props and home decor that I could buy her. Whereas a real child has free will, I could enact my own personal tastes on her with seemingly no consequence. If I thought her hair needed a cut, I could snip them myself with kitchen scissors with no protest. My parents would tell me that my doll didn’t need haircuts. I didn’t understand why. Now I know that like the classic Chanel Boy Bag, the American Girl Doll appreciates in value, like all collectibles. A quick search on eBay presents the cold hard facts: a retired version of the Caroline American Girl Doll BASKET is $65.00. Though $65.00 is incomparable to the price of a Louis or Prada, I could not imagine forking over that money for a doll-sized woven basket without second thought. Yet, I know many children who would nag their parents until mom or dad eventually caved and bought a stupid $65.00 basket for their Samantha doll. Why? Because how would their Samantha doll bring her imaginary produce home from the imaginary market without a $65.00 basket!? Would she carry them with her hands? She can't! She doesn’t have opposable thumbs, duh!
article edited by hannah ziegler
article layout by miya strauss
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Just like the fantasy situation with Samantha’s basket, the handbag is a maturation of the same aspirational fantasy. Just like Samantha couldn’t carry her apples home from the market without her basket, how could I pull my wallet out of my bag, without my hand-me-down Louis Vuitton monogram, so people know WHO THE FUCK I AM. Just like I curated my doll’s identity, my second-hand Louis Vuitton bag is a part of my own curated identity. I don’t own many expensive things, but when I strut the hallowed halls of the shopping mall and I delude myself into thinking heads turn when I carry my tiny Louis bag, I feel exactly how I did when I strutted the halls of my elementary school in grade five, the summer after I got my American Girl Doll.
American Girl Doll Children grow up to be Louis Vuitton Adults. A childhood that is instilled with the appreciation of a rich fantasy life also instills a growth into luxurious, material, delusional fantasies. I am extremely blessed to be able to grow up with the childhood equivalent of a Birkin bag, and now, I accept my fate of never being able to afford an actual Birkin. As for Sadie, I think about her often, and I’m glad another girl is enjoying her instead of the fate of being abandoned in my parents cold basement. Maybe one day, her owner will transition to a tasteful Speedy bag, and Sadie will be passed to her daughter.