My Daughter, American Girl Dolls, and Me: It’s Complicated

This post originally appeared at the Rochester, MN Moms Blog.

Shortly after my daughter was born, an American Girl Doll catalog arrived in my mailbox. It had been years, decades even, since I’d leafed through one of their catalogs, and memories filled my mind as I pored over the pages. It wasn’t just nostalgia I was feeling, but also a bit of buried resentment and disappointment, as well.

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My daughter browsing the American Girl Doll catalog

American Girl Dolls and Me

As a child, my first exposure to the American Girl Dolls had been their books. Oh, how I loved to read their books. Samantha, Kirsten, and Molly became my friends. Then, I’d look at the catalogs, and dream of owning a doll. I couldn’t decide which one, for sure, but I was leaning towards Samantha.

Every time an American Girl Doll catalog arrived in my childhood mailbox, I would make lists of all the accessories and clothing I wanted along with the price of each item (including the doll). The price of a doll back then was a mere $64.00, if I remember correctly.

I knew I would love my doll. I’d dress her up and take her everywhere with me. I’d play with her, and we’d be best friends.

The problem was, even though I’d hoped and hoped to own a doll, I knew I never would. I was old enough to understand that our family couldn’t afford one, and– even if we could have– my parents would have thought such a doll to be an extravagance, especially when there were other much more affordable dolls to choose from.

But, just as any other brand name and popular item, there is a certain allure to these dolls. From the branding, to the highly imaginative play, to the companionship, to the exclusiveness of owning one. I wanted to be a part of that club.

Then, the American Girl Doll company planned the launch of a brand new doll, and they were holding a contest to name the new doll. Whoever submitted the winning name would receive a FREE doll! This would be my chance to finally own my very own American Girl Doll!

After a lot of thought, I finally picked a name and wrote it on the entry form with a shaky hand. I knew this would be the one they picked. It was golden!

I waited and waited, but never heard any news that I had won, so I assumed my name hadn’t been picked. Finally, the catalog with the big reveal came and I was eager to discover what name they had picked.

There it was in big, beautiful letters along with a picture of the new doll.


My heart started to pound and I felt a rush of anger. That was my name! That was the name I’d written on my entry form! They had used my name, and I hadn’t received a doll! I was heartbroken as angry tears rolled down my cheeks. Right then and there, I decided I would never have anything to do with American Girl Dolls ever again.

And, I didn’t. That is until their catalog arrived in my mailbox decades later.

Looking back, I can only assume that I had misunderstood the contest rules, but it was none-the-less devastating to my young self.

Then there was that one day in Costco

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Samantha and I chillin’ in Costco

Recently, on a trip to Costco, I passed an aisle that was decked out in pink. I noticed the American Girl Doll branding and couldn’t resist going down the aisle. There she was in a big pink box. Samantha. She was beautiful. The detail on her face and clothing was remarkable. The sudden desire to take Samatha home (for my daughter, of course) surprised even me. How could the desire to own one of these dolls, a desire I’d buried deep down in my childhood psyche, be so strong even in adulthood?

But, what about my daughter? Will my daughter have her very own American Girl Doll someday? I mean, why not? There’s nothing wrong with owning one of these dolls. In fact, there are many benefits to a young girl, but couldn’t a comparable generic doll from Target provide those same benefits?

I tend to share my parents’ belief that American Girl Dolls are an extravagance. A doll that retails (now) for $120 is, to me, a lot of money, especially since my husband and I only budget $100 per child for Christmas gifts each year. For some, that’s a drop in the bucket, but for many others, that’s considerably more than they are able to spend.

But, it’s more than money. For me, as a young girl, an American Girl Doll was a symbol of social status. The wealthier girls had these dolls. The poor girls didn’t, and I knew which group I belonged to. While I couldn’t name it at the time, these were unspoken social cliques that created social distinctions. Do these distinctions still exist?

It seems strange that a child’s toy would force me to face deeply embedded issues of unspoken class distinctions, consumerism, and my own battle with the desire to have something out of my grasp, but there I was in Costco doing just that.

My Daughter and American Girl Dolls

A part of me wants to live vicariously through my daughter and get her a doll now, but ultimately, what I’ve decided to do is wait and see if my daughter even wants an American Girl Doll when she gets older (she’s a mere two years old). If she expresses an interest, I won’t deny her the experience, as I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

However, I’ll help her understand the implications of purchasing an item that many aren’t able to afford, and she will need to contribute to the purchase. Hopefully, it’ll be a chance for her to learn the value of an item, how to be a conscientious consumer, and how to delay gratification as one saves for something special.

Then again, maybe I’m overthinking this? Or, maybe one day my daughter will write a blog post, or book, or deliver a podcast about how she wished she hadn’t gotten an American Girl Doll in the first place.

Oh my goodness, parenting is so much harder than I ever thought it would be.


This post originally appeared at the Rochester, MN Moms Blog.


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Sarah Monson
Music is my passion and writing is my outlet. Through both, I desire to be a positive influence in people’s lives. I live this out through my call to serve at NewDay Covenant Church, as a volunteer at the Olmsted County Detention Center in a class for detainees I began called “Your Story / Your Song,” and as a songwriter currently working on "The Worthy People Project" in which I tell the story of people who find themselves in the muck, mire and margins of life. I have three young children I swore I would never have and am married to a wonderful man who can build something out of absolutely nothing. We savor the simple things as we grow food, drink wine, laugh and roll down the windows to breath deep whenever we pass a freshly cut field of alfalfa. With an aversion to travel, I prefer to stay at home and let my thoughts do the wandering. For more on my life and music, please visit Sarah Monson Music.