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What it means to be an American Girl

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JULY 05, 2023

As a young girl, I was obsessed with American Girl dolls. Not Barbies, not the “Our Generation” Target knock offs; only the real deal, official American Girl shit. 

It may come as no surprise that I’ve always been somewhat high maintenance. I spent all of the “family computer time” I was given watching AGSM (American Girl stop motion) and American Girl doll DIY videos — be they DIY dollhouses, pools, or accessories — on YouTube. EBay became my favorite website, where I scoured the best deals on used and heavily sought after American Girl doll memorabilia. 

I begged my parents for what seemed like forever to pretty please with sprinkles get me an American Girl doll. To the average reader, this obsession may not make sense. If you weren’t or currently aren’t an American Girl connoisseur, aficionado or expert like 10-year-old me was, let me break it down for you. 

There is the historical American Girl doll collection, complete with books filled with virtuous values for young girls and historically accurate accessories. My personal favorite was always the Victorian doll, Samantha, which is again indicative of my high maintenance. There are baby dolls, also known as “Bitty Babies” that I declared I was much too old for. Finally, there are the relatively new “Just Like You” dolls, which my parents and I agreed was the best choice for me. 

As the sun set on my 10th winter, on the dawn of Christmas morning, I unboxed the doll I had declared was “Just Like Me.” Against my parents’ strong thoughts on the matter, I believed that the doll they had selected actually looked like me. I got the doll I wanted. She had light skin and straight brown hair, and to be completely honest, she looked white. And although I am partly white myself, I look back with the knowledge my parents have known all along: She didn’t look anything like me. 

I myself tan very, very easily. I fade in between several shades of brown throughout the year and the passing seasons. I have brown eyes that are fairly light and nothing spectacular, except for some dappling of hazel — a hidden gift from my father. My hair is big, wild and coily, and when I look in the mirror it is reminiscent of a lion’s mane. However, when I was 10, I cried when my friend made that same comment about my frizzy, untamable mane in front of my entire class.

My entire life, ever since I was a baby accompanying my mother shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond, everyone has played the “guess my ethnicity” game. Or as I knew it when I was ten, the “how am I different” game. 

Friends and friends of friends loved to pet me — a constant reminder of my self-perceived sub-humanity. Stray adults and acquaintances would find me to ask me what I was and to compliment me, as if being different has ever been flattering to a young girl. 

Please do not misunderstand; this really is not a “poor racially ambiguous mixed baby” kind of pittance of a piece, but more of a realization about just how blind I was to who I really am. 

As much as I have always admired my mother’s beauty, being an olive-y shade of cream, having blonde hair like citrine beads strung of sunlight, and a slope of a nose that wouldn’t be anything less than ideal to both a skier or a plastic surgeon, I don’t look like her. And as much as to this day, I bleach my hair, I tan my skin, or I “run it off,” I will never be her. I never was the homecoming queen of high school, or the charismatic party girl, or the perpetually sought after. 

When I stand next to my mother, in the shadow of her sunlight, I am a soft lit night star. 

I bought the doll that was nothing like me. I bought her because I told myself that I could easily brush her hair when I couldn’t do that myself. I bought her in my winter shade of brown that I reflected on that Christmas morning. I bought her because she was who I aspired to be, even as a young girl with no true idea of her reflection.

To this day, at times I still am a passing shadow, walking in search of ever seeing a true reflection of myself. I became obsessed with societal boxes in hopes that I could ever fit into one. As much as society parades around saying to be different, it differs when you are integrally and irrevocably “unique.” 

Yet today, I can see that I am not my mother or my father, but someone as my own, responsible for the boxes she builds and breaks. Above all, I am someone responsible for defining and redefining herself as someone in contrast with something.

Jordan Montero writes the Wednesday column on the connection between physical objects and emotional expierences. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

JULY 05, 2023