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Lauren F. Winner

American Girls As We Want Them to Be

Girls' stuff, kiddie lit, and U.S. history.

When I was eight years old, my older sister began to subscribe to Seventeen. I was very jealous. Having outgrown Cricket, I had no magazine to read and had to content myself with flipping through my parents' National Geographic or sneaking into Leanne's room to look at Seventeen. Never one to be outdone, I decided to create my own magazine, Eight. I spent days laboring over the cover art, crayoning a girl, with magenta-streaked hair and pink glasses (like me), standing in a black sweatsuit with purple trim (like me), sporting jellies on her feet and plastic bangles on her arm (like me), clasping a kitten and a book in her hands (again, like me).

The articles I wrote for Eight, however, did not have very much to do with me at all. They were modeled after the articles in my sister's magazine, all about dates (which I would not go on for another six years), earrings (which my parents did not allow me to have for another two years), and make-up (which I still do not wear very often). I missed American Girl, which was launched by Pleasant Company in 1992, by a scant eight years. Now, girls seven to twelve have a magazine of their very own.

The magazine is not Pleasant Company's only product, of course. Most famous, and ubiquitous, among their merchandise is the American Girls Collection, billed in promotional material as "Books, Dolls, Dresses, and Other Delights." The heroines of the American Girls Collection are nine-year-old girls from different historical moments: Felicity, living in pre-Revolutionary Virginia; Josefina, introduced last fall, a New Mexican girl in 1824 (when New Mexico was still part of Mexico); Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant to Minnesota in 1854; Addy, a Southern slave who escapes to Philadelphia with her mother; Samantha, a wealthy Victorian orphan from New York; and Molly, a bespectacled midwesterner waiting out World War II.

And then there are the dolls, one of each girl, which can be purchased, along with one paperback book, for $82. The dolls arrive ...

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