American Girl is an American line of 18-inch (46 cm) dolls released in 1986 by Pleasant Company. The dolls portray eight- to eleven-year-old girls of a variety of ethnicities. They are sold with accompanying books told from the viewpoint of the girls. Originally the stories focused on various periods of American history, but were expanded in 1995 to include characters and stories from contemporary life. Aside from the original American Girl dolls, the buyer also has the option to purchase dolls that look like themselves. The options for the line of Truly Me dolls include eye color, eye shape, skin color, hair texture, and hair length. A variety of related clothing and accessories is also available.
Pleasant Company was founded in 1986 by Pleasant Rowland, and its products were originally purchasable by mail order only. In 1998, Pleasant Company became a subsidiary of Mattel. The company has been awarded the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award eight times.
Dolls and accessories
The Historical Characters line of 18-inch dolls were initially the main focus of Pleasant Company, which were initially derived from the 18-inch dolls made by Götz in Germany during the late 1980s to the 1990s. This product line aims to teach aspects of American history through a six-book series from the perspective of a girl living in that time period. Although the books are written for girls who are at least eight years old, they endeavor to cover significant topics such as child labor, child abuse, poverty, racism, slavery, animal abuse and war in manners appropriate for the understanding and sensibilities of their young audience.
In 1995 Pleasant Company released a line of contemporary dolls called American Girl of Today. In 2006 the product line was renamed Just Like You; it was changed again in 2010, to My American Girl, and in 2015 to Truly Me. This line has included sixty-eight different dolls over the years. Each doll has a different combination of face mold, skin tone, eye color, and hair color, length, texture, and/or style. American Girl states that this variety allows customers to choose dolls that "represent the individuality and diversity of today's American girls." A wide variety of contemporary clothing, accessories, and furniture is also available, and there are regular releases and retirements to update this line. Each year, a Girl of the Year doll is released who has her own special talent. For example, Mia St. Clair, the Girl of the Year for 2008, did ice skating; and Marisol Luna, the Girl of the Year for 2005, was a dancer.
Bitty Baby is a line of baby dolls targeted to children aged three and older. They are half the price of full-size American Girl dolls.
The Bitty Twins line debuted in 2003 to represent slightly older toddlers and/or preschoolers. The Bitty Twins were the same size as the Bitty Baby dolls. They were discontinued in June 2016.
Hopscotch Hill School was released by American Girl in 2003. The dolls were 16-inch (41 cm) tall, came with jointed limbs and painted eyes, and had a slimmer overall body shape. They, along with the stories which came with the dolls written by Valerie Tripp, were aimed at elementary-age girls from four to six years old, and were sold until 2006.
A reboot of the Historical Characters line dubbed as BeForever was launched in August 2014, complete with redesigned outfits, a two-volume compilation of previously-released books, and a "Journey Book" for each character, with players taking the role of a present-day girl who found her way to the past and met up with one of the Historical girls. The line also coincided with the relaunch of Samantha Parkington, whose collection was previously discontinued in 2008.
In June 2016 American Girl unveiled Wellie Wishers, a separate doll line similar to Hopscotch Hill School aimed for younger children and with a focus on the outdoors, positioning it between Bitty Baby and the BeForever/Girl of the Year/Truly Me dolls. As the name implies, dolls from the line wear Wellington boots, and have a body design distinct from the classic, Götz-derived American Girl dolls. The line was released on June 23, 2016. The names of the Wellie Wishers are: Willa, Camille, Kendall, Emerson, and Ashlyn.
In 2004, American Girl teamed with Julia Roberts's Red Om production company and to create the first American Girl direct-to-video movie, Samantha: An American Girl Holiday. The film spawned a franchise that was followed by Felicity: An American Girl Adventure (2005), Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front (2006), along with the 2008 theatrically released film Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. In 2009, HBO premiered An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong. In July 2012 American Girl released a direct-to-video movie, McKenna Shoots for the Stars. A seventh movie based on Saige Copeland's stories entitled Saige Paints the Sky was released in July 2013, and a television film entitled Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight, based on Girl of the Year 2014 Isabelle Palmer, was released in 2014. A ninth film based on 2015 Girl of the Year Grace Thomas was released under the title An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success, with Olivia Rodrigo playing the title role.
A live-action web special based on Melody Ellison's stories entitled An American Girl Story - Melody 1963: Love Has to Win was released by Amazon, starring Marsai Martin as the title character. Love Has to Win was then followed by An American Girl Story - Maryellen 1955: Extraordinary Christmas, starring Alyvia Alyn Lind as Maryellen Larkin and released by Amazon on November 25, 2016.
American Girl Place
American Girl Place is a store that sells American Girl dolls, clothes, and accessories. The flagship and first store debuted in Chicago followed by stores in New York City and Los Angeles. A number of boutiques followed which are smaller than the main stores; they feature rotating stock and some have casual restaurants. There are smaller stores in North Point Mall in Atlanta; Galleria Dallas Mall in Dallas; Natick Mall in Natick, Massachusetts; the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota; Park Meadows mall near Denver, Colorado; Oak Park Mall near Kansas City, Kansas); Tysons Corner Center in Tysons Corner, Virginia; Alderwood Mall, located near Seattle, Washington; Chesterfield Mall near St. Louis, Missouri; Memorial City Mall in Houston, Texas; The Falls mall near Miami, Florida; Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio; Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California; SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina; The Florida Mall in Orlando, Florida; Franklin, Tennessee, part of the Nashville metropolitan area; and in Scottsdale, Arizona outside of Phoenix.
In May 2014, Mattel American Girl opened new stores in Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in partnership with Indigo Books and Music. The company has also expressed interest in other overseas ventures, as they are seeing orders from Europe and Latin America. The company has also announced that they're expanding their operations in Mexico, with two stores at El Palacio de Hierro’s Perisur and Interlomas in Mexico City, and a third in Polanco in 2015.
The first temporary boutique opened in Honolulu, Hawaii at the Ala Moana Center, running from October 4, 2014, to April 2015.
During the 2015 holiday season and early 2016, temporary locations opened in San Diego, California, Mission Viejo, California, Glendale, California, Portland, Oregon, Las Vegas, Nevada, Murray, Utah, and Indianapolis, Indiana from approximately October 2015 to early 2016.
In August of 2016 a temporary location was set up in Novi, Michigan a suburb of Detroit in Twelve Oaks Mall which closed on January 28th 2017.
The American Girl magazine is run by the American Girl company. It was started by the Pleasant Company in Middleton, Wisconsin in 1992, with the first issue dated January 1993. Aimed towards girls ages 8-14, the bimonthly magazine includes articles, recipes, advice columns, fiction, arts and crafts, and activity ideas. Girls can choose to either get a year of magazines (6 issues), or two years of magazines (12 issues).
Online marketing and philanthropy
American Girl launched Innerstar University, an online virtual world featuring the My American Girl contemporary doll line, on July 13, 2010. Access to the online world is via a Campus Guide, bundled with purchase of a My American Girl doll, which contains an access code for the creation of a doll avatar that then navigates the various games, shops, and challenges of the virtual campus of Innerstar U. In 2015, when My American Girl dolls were changed to Truly Me dolls, this website was closed down. The launch was simultaneous with Shine on Now, a fund-raising effort Kids In Distressed Situations, National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions, National Wildlife Federation, and Save the Children charities. The company has also donated "almost $500,000" over several years to national non-profit homeless housing group HomeAid. These contributions are mainly through its Project Playhouse program.
The company has drawn criticism for the expense of the dolls, which cost $115 without accessories as of December 2014. Buyers can easily spend more than $600 for a doll, outfits, accessories and lunch in the company's store in New York. Some aspects of the doll's characters and history have also provoked controversy. Some observers questioned why Addy, American Girl's first African-American historical character, was portrayed first as a slave (in later stories Addy and her family gain their freedom after the Civil War), while Cecile Rey, American Girl's second black historical character, was portrayed as a well-to-do black girl. In 2005, residents of Pilsen (a neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois) criticized a passage in the book associated with the Latina-American doll Marisol, claiming it inaccurately depicted their neighborhood as dangerous. A senior public relations associate for American Girl responded to critics saying: “We feel that this brief passage has been taken out of context in the book." The 2009 limited-edition release of Gwen, a homeless American Girl character, was also controversial.
In 2005, some pro-life and Catholic groups criticized the company for donating funds to the organization Girls, Inc., which supports underprivileged girls and promotes abortion rights and acceptance of homosexuality.
The American Girl Place store in New York City was the center of a labor dispute with Actors' Equity Association (AEA). On August 3, 2006, 14 of the 18 adult actors at the store's now defunct theater went on strike. AEA reached a two-year contract effective April 1, 2008. All American Girl Place theatres were subsequently closed in September of that year.
In May 2014, the company was met with criticism on social media over its decision to discontinue four characters from the historical collection, two of them, namely African-American Cécile Rey and Chinese-American Ivy Ling, representing ethnic minorities. They however defended their move as a business decision, as they decided to "move away from the character-friend strategy within the line". A petition has since been filed through the activist group 18MillionRising.org for the company to provide a replacement for Ivy. The company has also drawn criticism for its recent focus on the contemporary line, specifically the Girl of the Year characters and their backstory, to which was viewed as lacking depth and more important issues in comparison to the Historical/BeForever characters' backstories. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series creator Lauren Faust also expressed her concern and criticism of the line in a Twitter post, stating it "was once radically positive for girls before it was homogenized for money".
Permanent underwear controversy
American Girl attracted considerable criticism in February 2017 when they announced that they will be changing the dolls' bodies to incorporate permanently stitched panties on contemporary dolls and certain BeForever character dolls, namely Maryellen, Melody and Julie. Public reaction to the permanent underwear—the first major change since the transition to flesh-colored bodies in 1991 following the release of the Felicity doll—was overwhelmingly negative, as fans of the franchise complained that it stifles customization and devalued a well-established and successful brand "from heirloom quality to be passed down for generations to low-quality retail."
The company then reversed its decision in a Facebook post on May 2017, stating that any existing or upcoming dolls from the line will revert to the old body design, and customers who bought a doll with permanent underwear are eligible for a "one-time" exchange to have the dolls retrofitted with conventional torsos. In addition, the company has switched back to the old "iconic boutique box" packaging following complaints by collectors who deemed the new boxes to be inferior and more susceptible to damage.
YouTube videos made with American Girl Dolls are becoming increasingly popular. In 2015 the American Girl fan community, more specifically the practice of creating and uploading doll-based stop motion videos, was featured in a news report for BBC News' Trending site, along with interviews and videos from several prominent doll community members. Besides stop-motion animations and music videos set to popular music, the report covers recurring subject matters in the said clips such as cyberbullying and other social issues among children and teenagers, along with doll customization, photoshoots and unboxing videos showing new and discontinued clothes, accessories and dolls from the company.
Besides YouTube, social media services such as Instagram and Facebook serve as platforms for fans of the toy line, spawning a community called AGIG, or American Girl Instagram, who photograph their dolls and post their photos on the service. Although mostly made up of girls usually around the age of 12-18, a number of boys and adults also participate and congregate on AGIG.
American Girl's teenage fans, particularly ones on AGTube and AGIG, will meet up with other fans at American Girl stores. At the release of Lea Clark and Gabriela McBride, certain prominent community members were included in the "Clue" videos released by American Girl. At the release of Z Yang, American Girl hosted meetups at their New York City flagship store and at their Dallas location.