We Need an American Girl Doll Who Will Save Us

She has our teeth, our legs, and even our problems. Everyone's looking to their American Girl Dolls for comfort and belonging, and honestly, that checks out.

We Need an American Girl Doll Who...
Photo: American Girl Doll/ Getty Images/ Amanda Lauro

Years ago, my mother handed me The Care & Keeping of You, an American Girl Doll body book by Valorie Lee Schaefer. For the uninitiated, it's a real-life Judy Blume coming-of-age moment, familiar to many of us in a certain age bracket. I was in late primary school, verging into the fraught territory of a preteen hitting puberty. The book taught me how to shave my legs, brush my hair, how to care for my period, and educated me about acne. It strives to teach young girls not to be ashamed of their bodies and served as a marker of developing into a Big Girl — one who wears makeup, gets her ears pierced at Claire's, and has unsupervised Friday night sleepovers — at least in my case anyway.

American Girl (the brand) has had a notable and lasting impact on girlhood for the last several decades. Surprisingly, however, the brand has managed to transcend adolescence, remaining an important cultural touchpoint for adults today. Case in point: American Girl Doll memes have permeated social media among the millennials and gen z-ers, who connected with American Girl at an early age.

The term, "American Girl Doll Legs," coined by Katie Coulter, went viral on TikTok a few weeks ago, showing how the brand still represents body image for many people. According to her, "American Girl Doll legs" are softer and shorter with a knee that has less definition. "When I was in college, I felt really insecure about my legs and never really been able to put my finger on exactly why. I knew that it had something to do with my knees because when I looked at photos standing next to friends, their knees were more defined whereas mine were soft," says Coulter.

The phrase has proven popular for anyone embracing their curvier-shaped leg on social media. "Having American Girl Doll legs means having body neutrality and acceptance," Coulter tells InStyle. "It means knowing that your self-worth does NOT depend on your appearance or shape of your body."

While "American Girl Doll legs" represent a continuation of the body acceptance conversation started by The Care & Keeping of You, they're just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the brand's lasting impact. AGD memes are almost inescapable at the moment (think "we need an American Girl Doll who"), and you can find them at the nexus of almost every online conversation. This widespread appeal comes as a bit of a surprise, even for the creators who are part of the American Girl resurgence. As Eliza Whisler, who creates memes under the handle @juuliealbright, explains, "I was actually one of the first accounts! We made this account as a joke expecting it not to gain too much traction."

Whisler continues, "American Girl tackles girlhood throughout many decades, through many different lenses, and many different struggles life may send our way." American Girl Dolls (and the memes about them) allow us to see and accept ourselves. Whisler's favorite doll, Julie Albright, is the namesake of her Instagram account and her first doll ever. "We saw ourselves through the dolls, whether it be relating to a historical character or creating our own with the My American Girl line," says Whisler. And that connection remains in adulthood — albeit, in a more meme-ified package.

When Pleasant Rowland founded the American Doll company in 1986, she was unable to find dolls for her nieces, according to Forbes. Girlhood was (and still is) often disrespected, mocked, and ignored in male-dominated industries, and it still does not receive the cultural credit it deserves. Clearly, Rowland was onto something, however, as she quickly built the brand into a lucrative business and sold it to Mattel in 1998 for $700 million. Since then, over 32 million American Girl Dolls and 157 million books have been sold. The resale value of an American Girl Doll today can be worth hundreds, if not thousands, depending on the doll's condition.

Girlhood isn't so trivial when it profits in a multi-million dollar industry. American Girl Dolls are expensive (the average American Girl Doll costs $115 for purchase on their website), and there's an inherent privilege to owning (or having owned) one. In the age of American Girl Dolls' second life online, however, the experience is relatively free, taking payment in the form of comments, shares, and likes. Girlhood finally seems to be gaining legitimacy as a lived experience. American Girl Doll memes are witty, political, and honest, and they reflect a cannon of the struggles of girlhood, adulthood, and living today.

Another American Girl Doll meme page, @Hellicity_merriman Barrett Adair and a friend, quickly amassed over 140,000 followers. Adair's favorite American doll is Samantha Parkington. "American Girl Dolls have their own backstories and personalities—unlike other brands of dolls out there," she explains. "There's a whole lore around AG characters that allow us to be much more creative and make fun of their idiosyncrasies and relate to their personalities or problems." Like all of us, American Girl Dolls have quirks, failings, interests, and whole personalities. Physically, they more accurately represent the actual bodies of girls, as compared to dolls like Barbie, whose impact on impossible beauty standards is well-known.

A few of Adair's hyper-specific captions include, "we need an American Girl Doll who cried when Nick Jonas was diagnosed with diabetes." Another says, "these smug bitches should've had a chapter about what to do when you get a UTI after hooking up with a sociopath 'for the plot,'" in reference to the American Doll Body book.

"It's cute that when we were girls, we found the dolls relatable and even empowering, and now that we're adults, we can turn them into memes about life in 2022 and still find them relatable and empowering," says Adair. Recently, American Girl memes have been a humorous way to air out frustrations over reproductive rights. "I even saw comments saying that our meme reacting to Roe being overturned was how people found out about the news. I've seen versions of American Girl protest posts all over social media, and even American Girl doll signs at IRL protests," she adds. The overturning of Roe v. Wade will have (and has already had) catastrophic consequences for all bodies with a uterus, not just women and girls. The right to choose is the right to make choices over your body, to be in touch with your body.

Lately, I've been thinking about the girl I used to be. She was awkward, funny, and had a mouth of braces. She had synchronized handshakes with her friends and lived off of inside jokes. She was embarrassed over her body and mortified to talk to her first crush. She spent her free time reading next to her Molly McIntire American Girl Doll, and she dreamed of a world full of choices. She wanted to dye her hair, get tattoos and piercings, have her first kiss, and go to college. A lot of my girlhood was waiting and preparing to choose who I could be. That feeling never goes away — and maybe that's why American Girl Dolls haven't either. They remain, as always, a way to process who we are, what we want, and who we want to become.

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