Dear American Girl Place,
You promise that “lessons of love, friendship, courage, compassion, and tolerance are at the heart of every American Girl story." Please read on, to find out how right you are!
Thank you so much! I was really struggling out here in impoverished brownstone Brooklyn, trying to figure out how to explain to my six-year old daughter about the
importance of labels, and of the superiority of expensive things.
Etta had heard from pals at (public) school that American Girl Dolls were just fabulous, but when we looked at the website and saw the prices, we warned her that if she really really wanted one for Christmas, she wouldn’t be able to get too many fun doll accessories and other stuff. Plus, she has a 3 year old sister, and it would have been really hard to find a way to sit on top of Piper for the next three years to keep her from touching the impeccable and thoughtfully priced American Girl Doll.
Silly Etta, she chose to spend her own money (a mere $29.99!) a few weeks before Christmas last year, on an 18-inch doll at Target. The doll’s name is Gracie, and she came with a ballet outfit and several clever accessories.
You’d think the doll would be extra special for her because she earned every penny she paid for it, and you know what? You’d be right! It was special! She loved it. And she got another one for Christmas (named Robin) and her three year old sister got her very own Target doll too. Named Vicki, I think (but who can keep track of these random names, those dolls didn’t even come with books!). We weren’t so worried about the damage Piper would inflict on her cheap doll. We actually thought her doll was kind of cute (again, silly us!).
Poor thing, Etta thought she was lucky to have all of these great dolls--and she had loads of fun dressing them, carting them around, treating them like special little baby dolls. How on earth were we going to explain to her that her dolls weren’t REAL dolls and didn’t deserve her love and affection?
What were we going to do?!
American Girl Place to the rescue!
When her friend Julie invited her to go to the American Girl Place to have her doll’s hair styled, Etta was thrilled. “Come spend a day you’ll never forget!” the website promised. And boy did you deliver.
Frommers Guide to New York says “don’t forget to bring [your] favorite doll so it can get a makeover at the store’s own doll salon.” I know it’s craaaaazy that a Target fake (that cost only $29.99 of Etta’s real saved money!) would be her favorite doll but it was.
At least it used to be.
Back when she thought it was real.
She’ll never forget the feeling of waiting in line at the salon. The anticipation, the special feelings welling up in her body. She’d spent extra time in the morning dressing Gracie for the outing. Etta dressed extra-pretty too. Well, sort of thrift-store pretty. Hand-me-down pretty. Not expensive pretty. But she went off with her head held high. Feeling pretty and important and deserving. Courageous little girl.
When she got to the front of the line she was shown a menu of hairstyles to choose from for her doll. Her friend’s mom was surprised that the price had gone up from $10 a doll to $20, but Julie had earned this reward (and, as luck would have it, Etta really needed to learn a lesson), so it would be worth it.
“This isn’t a real doll!” the stylist exclaimed. (Thank your stylist!--we never would have had the heart to explain it that way!). And to prove that a fake doll isn’t worth the plastic she’s molded out of, she refused to do the doll’s hair.
I’m not sure exactly what’s in it for your company, because you still stood to make $20 off of my daughter for doing the fake doll’s hair. I have two thoughts on that. Either her $20 wasn’t worth the same as someone else’s $20 (in which case I’ve learned something new too!) OR it was worth the $20 to you to be able to be the one to break the news to, I mean, to *enlighten* my little girl. You do promise to teach little girls, don’t you?
And she cried and cried and cried, and your stylist held her ground. That was a good lesson for her too. That feelings don’t have a place in "the heart of Manhattan’s prestigious shopping neighborhood" (another quote from your website).
And did you realize how loyal to you all the other mommies in line were? You’d have been proud of them.
One chided Etta for not knowing she couldn’t bring a fake doll to the store. Tsk tsk. She’s in first grade now and can read by herself (taught herself, in fact). She probably should have done the research. There’s another great lesson for her. (Thanks mom in line!)
One mom muttered to another that Etta probably couldn't afford a real one. Great hunch! She's six!
One mom just smiled and said "Well, American Girl Dolls aren’t for everyone, you know.” A sentence cleverly crafted to make Etta feel like someone cared about her but also to be aware that she really didn’t belong there in your fancy store with the other, richer, better girls. How compassionate!
So, another little girl had a life-changing experience at The American Girl Place!
Hooray for you!
To think, she might have gotten through first grade with her self-confidence intact!
As a former personal shopper at FAO Schwarz (the big one on 5th Avenue!), I know that rules can always be bent, and on-the-spot judgement calls are allowed. In some places, they actually have a ‘customer is always right,’ mentality. Ridiculous!
You’re no fool, American Girl Place! You’re in this to educate little girls. And educate Etta you did. She knows she’s inferior now. Knows her dolls are worthless. Knows her feelings don’t matter. Knows that fake dolls (even fake dolls willing to shell out $20 for an up-do!) won’t be tolerated.
You say that at American Girl, a girl "chooses the friend that’s just right for her--with a story true to the character or one she creates all her own.” I can’t wait to see how Etta adjusts her own self-image to match what she’s learned about her worthless doll!
As promised, her experience at your store gave her "memories she’ll cherish forever." You cared enough to realize that there’s a limit to what I can teach her at home and you rushed in and offered up some good old-fashioned and completely unforgettable public humiliation!