Nostalgia girl summer, or how I suddenly went down a deep rabbit hole revisiting my favorite childhood toy

I was an advanced reader in first grade. I immediately loved it. Early in the school year, our classroom had a little library where we could each check out a book to read for a few days. They were the very simple “See Jane Run*” books, and my teacher noticed that I was reading -and finishing- them on the way back to my desk. Since we had an awesome student teacher (who was later hired and became my second grade teacher) who could look after the class, my wonderful teacher took me to the bigger school library by myself and helped me select my very first chapter book: Meet Kirsten.

It was 1991. While American Girl books (and dolls) had been around a few years, they were new to me. Reading about Kirsten, a 9 year old girl from Sweden whose family immigrated to the US in the 1850s, sparked for me a lifelong love of reading: I quickly devoured Meet Kirsten, and the other five books about Kirsten, and then moved on to Samantha, Molly, Felicity, Addy, Ramona Quimby, The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women (which is still my favorite book, and I re-read it at least once a year), the Babysitters Club, and many other books about girls who were confident, flawed, fun, and – well, real (even though they weren’t actually). 

That year for Christmas, I got a very special gift: A Kirsten doll. These dolls were pretty pricy back then (and, um, still are). I immediately took out her braids so she would have wavy hair like in her birthday book, and so I could learn how to do different kinds of braids. Over the next few years, I would receive most of her outfits (which, uh, cost as much as a very nice outfit for an actual child), and two years later, a Molly doll, because I related to Molly a little more than Kirsten (she played pranks on her brother, tap danced, desperately wanted curly hair, made her own Halloween costumes, and liked to knit. All of which definitely shaped who I was as a child and who I am now). 

As an adult, I eventually gave my Kirsten doll to my niece. I bought her a new outfit at the American Girl store in Manhattan (and fully admit that it was because I wanted to go to the store, since my AG shopping experience had been 100% catalog based). I kept Molly, and all of their original outfits at my dad’s house, with the plan of eventually giving Molly to a daughter of my own if I ever have one. When I worked at Warby Parker, which takes Halloween very seriously, I knew I had to be my favorite glasses-wearer for Halloween on year. All the women there knew exactly who I was. The guys thought I was Madeleine.

In April of this year, my dad and stepmom came to visit us in our new house, and they brought some furniture and other things I had been storing at their house – including my Molly doll and all of the clothes. I immediately decided it would be fun to take on the project of restoring her to her original glory – her hair was very matted and frizzy from years of braid practicing.

A mere week later – I saw on Instagram that a lot of my friends were sharing a post about “Which American Girl doll are you?”  Not a totally new idea; there have been plenty of similar articles/quizzes on Jezebel, Bustle, Buzzfeed and others over the years. (I’m a Molly – no surprises there). But what was special about this one was that it was promoting the 35th anniversary of American Girl dolls, and they were re-releasing the long discontinued original historical dolls.

And that’s when, on an impulse, at 11:30 PM when I should have been sleeping, I darted out of bed and went to my computer to buy a new Kirsten.

The re-release of these dolls has been interesting to watch unfold. When I shared on instagram that I was buying one, my inbox was flooded with messages from friends who were considering doing the same. I even found out that one of the doll’s houses in the books (Samantha) was based off of a Victorian house that’s just a few miles from where I live! I drive by it a few times a week, and it’s identical to the illustrations in the books. There’s a very specific audience that would want these doll: women in their 30s who had the dolls as kids, or women in their 30s who DIDN’T have these dolls but really wanted them. We now have jobs/money, and kids of our own.

The marketing around them has been interesting.  I’ve been getting emails about all of their newer dolls and products. I don’t want those (but I could see how they might think I would, especially if I had a daughter in that age range). I almost wonder if the re-release was actually a play to capture data of women who had a strong affinity for the brand, and were of an age to have daughters who could potentially become new customers. In that regard, it’s kind of a brilliant lead gen strategy – it’s alarming how quickly I was willing to drop $160 on a doll. If they re-released the rest of their outfits and books, I’d probably buy the few that I don’t have from the original run. 

So I’ll continue spending my spare time freshening up my Molly doll’s hair, and changing their outfits seasonally. If you’re lucky enough to have a video call with me, you’ll see them in my background.

*I know that’s not the standard way to reference those books. It’s an episode of Daria where Jane takes up running. But you knew what I meant.

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