If you’ve ever been to American Girl, owned one, or just heard about it in passing, you know that it’s an empire of girl doll paraphernalia that stretches from the dolls themselves to their clothes, furniture, pets, life necessities and much much more.
This kind of “whole life” approach to marketing a doll is not unique to American Girl, but what sets their dolls apart from others is that each has her own unique story and a unique persona. There is Kit Kitteridge – the girl from the 1930s who is a creative extraordinaire – she can fix anything and solve any problem. There is Julie Albright – who lives in the 70s and is a strong girl with high ideals and a bit of a feminist mystique. There is Addy Walker who lives in the time of Emancipation and stands for freedom. And there are a few more classics, along with a special “girl of the year” that American Girl introduces each year.
Kids who are into dolls love American Girl. It is a popular standout – not only because each doll is beautifully made, but also in large part, I think, because with each one we get to meet a new “person”, with seemingly human qualities, needs, likes, wants and ideals.
My girls have Rebecca and Saige (the girl of the year from a couple of years back) but love to see the other dolls and hear their stories. I love that these dolls can spark my girls’ imagination and get them excited about role-playing, so we make it a point to visit the store every once in a while.
But what I love the most is what happens when we get back home. Newly excited, the girls pull out their dolls. But instead of playing out the script, they decide to swap their dolls outfits, move them into a different house, and assign them different roles. Rebecca is no longer the Jewish girl from New York – she is the country loving Saige who loves to braid hair and ride horses.
The doll’s story becomes fluid. The fixed “persona” assigned to each doll by American Girl is no longer relevant.
REINVENTION IS THE NAME OF THE GAME.
The dolls suddenly come alive and become real. They are you, they are me, they stand for each of us – real people who are multi-dimensional, who can change their lives, how they see themselves, as well as adjust others’ perceptions of who they are.
That is the kind of story that draws me in.
This past week the world lost one of its greatest musicians and entertainers, David Bowie. A couple of days after his passing, I watched an old documentary he did with BBC where he talks freely about the role that continuous re-invention plays in his success.
His reasons for living out different personas or characters on stage are not what you might imagine. He surprises by speaking openly about his discomfort with singing in front of a big audience. He talks about how his creative genius is ultimately spurred by his desire to overcome stage fright – becoming someone else gives him an opportunity to conquer his fears. In turn, this continuous re-invention allows him to bring his limitless talent to the masses and to live out his dream.
This kind of mindset is not always easy to embrace, but it is often necessary to live out your full potential. And while I don’t envision a life choice as outlandish as becoming a rock star in my girls’ future, I do want them to take away the lessons that are rooted in Bowie’s story.
I hope that sitting on our floor and changing their dolls’ clothes releases their imagination and makes them dream of possibilities that are not limited to what is first handed to them. I hope they learn that re-invention is not only fun, but is necessary in this life -- real life, punctuated with challenges, ebbs, flows and transitions.