‘The Gibson Girl’ was the personification of the feminine ideal of physical attractiveness as portrayed by the satirical pen-and-ink illustrations of artist Charles Dana Gibson during a 20-year period that spanned the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States and Canada. The artist saw his creation as representing the composite of “thousands of American girls.”
The Gibson Girl image that appeared in the 1890s combined elements of older American images of caucasian female beauty, such as the “fragile lady” and the “voluptuous woman”. From the “fragile lady” she took the basic slender lines, and a sense of respectability. From the “voluptuous woman” she took a large bust and hips, but was not vulgar or lewd, as previous images of women with large busts and hips had been depicted. From this combination emerged the Gibson Girl, who was tall and slender, yet with ample bosom, hips and buttocks. She had an exaggerated S-curve torso shape achieved by wearing a swan-bill corset. Images of her epitomized the late 19th- and early 20th-century Western preoccupation with youthful features and ephemeral beauty. Her neck was thin and her hair piled high upon her head in the contemporary bouffant, pompadour, and chignon (“waterfall of curls”) fashions. The statuesque, narrow-waisted ideal feminine figure was portrayed as being at ease and stylish.
So as I’m still salty about Addy most likely getting retired let’s talk about what American Girl is doing rn
Because I usually try to keep this blog positive but americangirlstar is p*ssed so let’s have a friggin discussion
Here’s the thing with American Girl thus far:
They are focusing too much on their Contemporary Dolls
American Girl was created in the 1980s by Pleasant T Rowland. She was inspired by the history around her in Colonial Williamsburg and decided to write a line of books to teach History to girls through girls like them, accompanying them with “beautifully crafted dolls and accessories that fed a girl’s imagination and taught history through the lives of its young heroines.” (American Girl Ultimate Visual Guide, page 10)
Now, remember that. American Girl was created to teach girls history through their dolls and their stories.
Which leads me two the fact that FOUR Contemporary Dolls were released this year.
[Pictured: 2017′s Contemporary Characters, with Tenney Grant, Z Yang and Logan Everett on the top and Tenney Grant, Z Yang and Gabriela McBride on the bottom]
And while it is nice to have a Black Disabled GotY, a Korean Doll and the first boy doll, their stories don’t really teach much except for the usual “be yourself” stuff.
Also released this year were two BeForevers (half as much as the Contemporary), and one of which was a re-release with NO COLLECTION and the other of which hasn’t been released yet.
[Pictured: Felicity’s Collection, including the doll, accessories, three books and undergarments; nothing else, which is much less than the other dolls]
That’s not all. Ignoring all the advertising Tenney has gotten with the BeForevers not getting much, what else shows AG’s shift in focus? The movies.
Originally, AG released movies exclusively for their Historical Characters. Samantha’s came first, followed by Felicity and Molly. Kit’s was even released in theaters. (Which I remember, because I went to see it and brought by Nicki doll along too)
After that? Chrissa- the 2009 Girl of the Year- got a movie. Now, by this point, Girl of the Year was kinda a side thing. Yeah, they got cool stuff, but they weren’t overhyped or anything. Chrissa changed this: she was extremely hyped, getting a huge collection, TWO gal pal best friend dolls and a movie. I remember seeing trailers for the Chrissa movie before the doll was even announced to the public: They called it “The Girl of the Year Movie” and it was a big deal.
After Chrissa, it started to die down a little with Lanie and Kanani, but when McKenna rolled around, for some reason she was also given a movie and big collection. Well, ok, that’s fine, until Saige came out the next year, also with a huge collection and movie. Then Isabelle, and by this point we all kinda realized that American Girl cared WAY more about the GotYs than the Historical Characters. The next BeForever movie didn’t come until 2016, with Melody and Maryellen, both of which were Amazon Prime Exclusive.
Which I guess makes sense from a business standpoint- according to page 14 of the Ultimate Visual Guide, it takes only two years to make a Girl of the Year and three to make a BeForever, since they have to make sure everything is Historically Accurate.
But here’s the thing: it’s not just that the focus is now on hyping up the Girls of the Year. Let me repeat what I said earlier:
Rowland was inspired by the history around her in Colonial Williamsburg and decided to write a line of books to teach History to girls through girls like them, accompanying them with “beautifully crafted dolls and accessories that fed a girl’s imagination and taught history through the lives of its young heroines.”
The way this is stated expresses that the books came first, dolls second. Which brings me to…
American Girl seems to be more focused on playing it safe than creating interesting stories… and that’s a problem.
I don’t know about you guys, but I didn’t ask for American Girl Dolls every Christmas as a kid because I liked the dolls (though they are beautiful!). I wanted them because I remember the stories. I beggede for Josefina and Kaya because I loved their stories. My sister asked for Kirsten and Addy for the same reason, my little sister can’t talk about the dolls without bringing up how great Felicity’s books are. The reason American Girl has lasted this long is because the stories draw us to the characters, and we relate to the girls.
I don’t think American Girl understands this.
According to rumors, Samantha and Addy are going to be retired this year. Let’s look at what happens in their stories:
Samantha lives in the 1904 Suffragette Period, learning about the Women’s Rights movement, and helps her friend escape poverty and abuse. She learns about Child Labor and speaks out against it.
Addy lives in 1864, during the end of the Civil War. She is born a slave, and in the first book she watches her father and brother sold and then escapes with her Mama to the North, where she learns about freedom and tries to bring her family back together.
I could literally write an essay on how important the Addy Doll is (but this post is already to long so tl;dr I’m upset that AG thinks it’s a good idea to retire her). These two aren’t exclusive in their mature storylines: Kirsten’s best friend died on her way to America, Kaya also escapes slavery, Josefina and her family are dealing with grief from her mother’s death, Kit’s books deal with the homeless situation in the Great Depression, etc.
The thing is these storylines work because they’re not sugarcoated. We want to see a character struggle so we can cheer when they finally succeed. These were also realistic things that would happen to these girls: the girls feel real because real things happen to them.
But here’s the thing. I think American Girl is trying to get away from that, to write “safer” storylines. Look at a newer historical character: Maryellen, from 1954. What happens in her story? Well… she talks about how she had polio once- before the story, and it doesn’t really affect anything until she later tries to get people to vaccinate their kids. Her sister gets married. She wants it to snow on Christmas.
And… that’s about it.
And that’s a reason why the re-focus on the Contemporaries isn’t that great: the Contemporary Dolls have nowhere near as complex storylines. Just looking at the newer ones, Gabriela’s main focus is Poetry and Student Council, Z just likes to make movies, and Tenney gets a freaking record deal at the age of 12-13! How many little girls can relate to getting a record deal? Probably the darkest storyline would be Chrissa getting bullied, which is NOTHING compared to Addy having to escape slavery.
It seems that the refocus is less because the Contemporary Dolls make more money (though they might), and more because their stories are safe. You can’t have soccer moms yelling at you for a GotY who just likes gymnastics and doesn’t have to face racism in the 1860′s. You don’t have to deal with the problems of the past if you can just market to girls who like doll clothes and expensive doll furniture.
Which is why retiring two of their most significant Historical Dolls seems like a big misstep to me; Samantha tells girls about Women’s Suffrage and Child Labor, Addy tells them about finding freedom and dealing with racism in a crappy society. Retiring them makes it seem like AG’s trying to sweep all that “dark stuff” under the rug. And they can probably argue “Well, we have Felicity to talk about feminism and Melody to talk about anti-segregation.” Well, Felicity is a cool doll with a great storyline, but she doesn’t live in a period of change for women’s right and children’s rights. Melody is a great doll, but her storyline is more focused on her singing- she does experience racism in her life, but she lives in a town that is not segregated: she learns about segregation from her cousin, kind of passively experiences changes instead of taking part in the activity around her. While Addy and Melody are both interesting characters, Addy faces more difficulties and has a much different story than Melody.
I think I got a bit off track? But my point is basically that American Girl has forgotten that their main draw is their storylines. That’s why a lot of older girls still collect the dolls; we love the stories around them and the characters the dolls represent. But AG is trying much too hard to play the stories safe, and thus the company doesn’t seem as good now.
Seriously, ask a girl who likes AG to tell you about Mia St. Clair. Chances are they won’t tell you much. Ask them who Felicity is, and they’ll get way more into the topic. Because she’s far more interesting!