In case you've missed the banner ads running in The Seattle Times, the immensely popular American Girl franchise is opening its first store in the Seattle area next month. Hundreds, if not thousands, of squealing girls, obsessed with American Girl's baby-sized dolls portraying historical characters, are sure to come. At a store opening in Washington, D.C. a couple of weekends ago, families started lining up the day before to get in. As the parent of two girls, am I excited? Not exactly.
But the dolls are also ridiculously expensive, at $100-plus apiece. American Girl vice president Wade Opland insisted to The Washington Times recently that parents love the "value equation" offered by his products. "Our dolls, our books are keepsake items," he said. "The doll becomes [a girl's] best friend."
He's deluding himself. No toy should cost that much unless it's a massive piece of equipment that comes with a big slide and swings. The dolls' popularity does not speak to their value, but a culture of excess in which kids have been led to believe that they're impoverished unless they have a flat-screen TV, a Wii, and hugely elaborate sets of plastic figures and accoutrements (see also Playmobil).
At the upcoming American Girl store here, to be located in Lynnwood's Alderwood Mall, parents will get even more opportunities to spend lavishly, and it won't be for history lessons. As at other stores that have been opening across the country, this one will have a doll "salon" (pictured above), where girls can treat their plastic "best friends" to a hair-styling ($10 to $20), an ear-piercing ($14) and a spa package complete with facial scrub and cucumber stickers ($12).
My suggestion: Buy a cheap knockoff at Toys R Us and encourage your daughter to indulge her obsession with a spa treatment--at home.