A good indicator of the number of siblings one has is how much their parents spoiled them, and a good indicator of my status as an only child is the fact that I owned five American Girl dolls: Emily Bennett, Kirsten Larson, Samantha Parkington, Nellie O’Malley and a Just Like Me doll — a customizable doll that comes in a range of hair and skin shades to cover every ethnicity. Mine is a vaguely Asian-looking one with straight dark hair and almond-shaped eyes who I named Aspen, after I received her as a Christmas present during a winter break trip to Aspen, Colo.
I rediscovered the dolls, supine and stacked like sardines, during a recent deep dive through my closet, and I started wondering if they had any resale value. All four of the historical ones are currently “retired,” meaning they are no longer manufactured by Mattel. Googling “selling American Girl doll” led me down a rabbit hole of eBay listings, Facebook groups and special forums where “little girls who played with dolls grow up and become collectors who still play with dolls!”
My queries eventually led me to the American Girl website itself — I have fond memories of playing dress-up games and taking quizzes on the site.
Growing up, I was consumed by the American Girl franchise: I read all the book series, flipped through the catalogues and dragged my parents to the American Girl store to get my dolls’ hair restyled. Imagine my shock, then, when the website greeted me with the announcement that the January/February issue of American Girl Magazine would be its last.
I don’t remember when American Girl Magazines began showing up at my house — I think a family friend bought me a subscription for my birthday. Nevertheless, I immediately fell in love with them. I kept every single issue and would try to recreate the covers in my sketchbook. The cover girls were diverse but invariably cute (which was unfortunate for me because I always had trouble drawing their dimples right).
The magazine was chock full of instructions for recipes and crafts; feature stories on girls around the country; jokes and crosswords and word searches; big calendars during the summer issue that suggested fun activities for every day of the month; posters that I cut out and pinned to my bulletin board. I devoured every inch of those magazines. Cover to cover, I left no word unscrutinized. I tried my hand at the games, took markers to every coloring page and ran to the local Michael’s store for every party favor. I think I actually still have them, buried away somewhere in a storage bin. I doubt I ever had the heart to discard them.
Maybe it’s silly, but it felt like a punch in the gut when I read that the magazine is being discontinued — like little remnants of my childhood were slipping away with the grains of time. When the magazine was first published in 1992, I’m sure it had no idea that 27 years later, media and technology would so drastically reshape the adolescent experience. I don’t know where young 8- to 13-year-old girls are getting their entertainment nowadays — YouTube? Instagram? I just watched two 11-year-old girls with immaculately made-up faces throw shade at each other on Instagram Live. Witnessing that, it’s hard not to believe that American Girl Magazine — with its wholesome content and focus on keeping girls from prematuration — is of a bygone era, a casualty of the changing times.
It’s disturbing and disheartening to see American Girl Magazine go the way of Teen Vogue and Rookie — publications that also played a formative role for me growing up. I’m sad, less so for my own childhood receding in the rearview mirror and more for the little girls who won’t get to experience the magazine like I did — the feeling of sprinting to the mailbox, the thrill of a new issue still wrapped in its plastic packaging, heavy with an imminent few hours of total absorption.
Kitty Guo is a junior writing about contemporary literature. Her column, “Kitty Corner,” runs every other Wednesday.