In defense of spending $100 to buy ‘just a doll’ for your daughter

When I once mentioned to a friend that my girls were going to a summer day camp based around American Girl dolls and asked if her daughters wanted to join, she laughed.

“Wouldn’t that mean they would need American Girl dolls?” she chortled. “Like I would ever spend that much on a doll!”

My silence, I suppose, got a tad awkward, because shock quickly replaced her laughter. “Wait, you mean your girls have them?” she gasped.

I nodded, totally guilty of knowing full well how darn expensive those dolls are, but also — at the same time — not really caring at all. Because you know what? I’m actually really glad my girls have American Girl dolls.

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The story behind the dolls begins about 20 years ago, when I was a little girl with big glasses just poring over my own American Girl doll catalog. I mean, really. How cool was that thing? If I’m being totally honest, I still love looking at it. And no, I don’t find shame in admitting that.

But back to the story. So one slightly nerdy girl who once dreamed of owning her own American Girl doll and who turned that love of reading her catalog into a love of reading went on to have daughters of her own, and her reading led to a writing job that somehow led her to a work trip to Chicago. Where, of course, she packed up her 5-week-old, preschooler and first grader, plus her niece and pregnant sister-in-law to visit the American Girl store.

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It’s not like I rushed to the store and bought up every doll I could, dazzled as I was by the interactive displays and shelves upon shelves of doll clothing better than my own wardrobe. Instead, I tried to take my time introducing my daughters to the dolls for what I loved them for — all of the historical fun. Kit with the typewriter, Caroline with the war, Julie with her groovy bell bottoms? Still totally awesome. I wandered through the exhibits with my girls, delighting in seeing history literally light up before their eyes.

I encouraged my girls to pick their favorite doll’s story, and instead of leaving the story with a shiny new doll wrapped up in that elusive pink and white packaging, we left with one discreet book. For a full year, we dove into their stories at bedtime and on rainy afternoons and I loved seeing my girls get excited about history and taking on the bold spirit of Caroline as an “adventurer” and Julie’s skills on the basketball court. And, of course, the magazines. I can’t tell how you fun it’s been to watch them sprawl out on their bedroom floor, looking over the pages for hours.

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After a full year and much debating on both my husband’s and my part (but mostly mine because I’m not sure my husband has ever dealt with a single Christmas present), I was confident that their love of American Girls was more than just an admiration for the shiny, long hair that will never exist in real life — it was a genuine excitement for learning.

So, yes, they each got a doll for Christmas. That’s all they got, because the dolls are $100 each, and I know how insane that sounds; but then again, it’s pretty easy to spend $100 on other, smaller toys too. In my mind, $100 bucks for a doll that (should) last their entire childhood wasn’t so bad. More importantly, the real gift was starting the process of raising engaged, excited readers who got an early opportunity to see that there’s more to being a girl than being pretty.

Already, the dolls have helped my girls try new things, spurred a love of baking in the kitchen and brought them together in ways that have never stopped being adorable to me as a mom. (Seeing them snuggle up together in their beds with their dolls? Priceless.) They each love their books, have tried gymnastics and dream up elaborate adventures just looking at their magazines.

Don’t get me wrong: I will never, ever actually buy anything from the magazines (seriously, guys, one “accessory” set is over $500!), and thank goodness there are knock-off American Girl accessory lines. But when it comes right down to it, I love that my girls love their American Girl dolls and for the fun, imagination and love of reading they have inspired, I consider that $100 one of the best investments I’ve ever made.


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