American Girl dolls have been around for decades, but they’ve recently been reaching audiences in a new medium: memes.
“The 2020s feels like a historical era; it feels like we’re living through something big,” said a 24-year-old identified by Samuel as Lydia B. who runs the Klit.Kittredge meme page on Twitter -- named in honor of American Girl character Kit Kittredge. “I think a lot of people are latching on to the idea of what an American Girl who lives in 2020 might be or look like.”
Educator Pleasant T. Rowland founded American Girl in 1986 after being inspired by a trip to Colonial Williamsburg to create the American Girls Collection dolls. At first, six 18-in. dolls were introduced: Victorian-era Samantha, 1880s pioneer-era Kirsten, World War II-era Molly, colonial-era Felicity, Josefina of pre-U.S. New Mexico, and Addy, a slave from the Civil War era who is eventually freed. Books were also released along with the dolls.
According to Glamour, over time different characters have been added and some have been archived, According to American Girl, more than 160 million American Girl books have been sold since 1986, as well as 36 million dolls.
By 1998, American Girl experiential retail stores opened, including a first in Chicago, IL. That year the brand was acquired by Mattel.
According to CNBC, American Girl sales jumped during the pandemic. Last February, the outlet reported that the brand saw a 12% jump in sales during the holiday quarter, its first year-over-year growth in four years.
“Mattel executives attributed this strong growth to its direct-to-consumer business,” said CNBC.
As American Girl saw a boost in sales, a new brand identity started forming online. Samuel noted how Ziwe Fumudoh included an American Girl doll sketch on her late night “Showtime” TV show. Social media influencers and meme pages have also used imagery of the dolls.
“Millennials and Gen Z women who have grown out of their doll phase have found community in the meme pages taking over Instagram and Twitter,” Samuel said. “The dolls have become a rallying cry, both for the nostalgia of our childhoods and as a protest against the series of unfortunate historical events we’ve been living through.”
In addition to Klit.Kittredge, American Girl-influenced meme pages include @cottagecorekirsten and @juuliealbright on Instagram. One of the more common meme formats is the “We need an American Girl” meme.
For example, a meme on the @hellicity_merriman Instagram page reads “we need an [sic] american girl doll who throws condiments against the walls when overturning democracy isn’t going her way.”
Political digital strategy professional Barrett Adair, 27, and her best friend, "C," run the @hellicity_merriman page, which has gained 159,000 followers since it launched in February. Adair said some of their followers even learned that Roe v. Wade was overturned via their memes.
While Rowland was inspired by Colonial Williamsburg to create dolls, Adair and C were inspired to create memes by a Buzzfeed quiz.
“Then from there, we had to read the Betches article of ‘American Girl Dolls Ranked by Betchiness,’” Adair said. “From that moment on, it was just something that she and I really bonded over. We made every new friend take this quiz; we’ve made the guys we date take this quiz. Our friendship was this shared knowledge of the brand and the characters.”
In the past, the American Girl brand itself has waded into controversy for promoting messages. In 2005, some conservative family groups criticized its “I Can” campaign to support Girls Inc., claiming that it supported abortion rights. What does the company think of today’s memes?
“Nostalgia continues to be part of the zeitgeist right now and is driving many of the recent social trends sparked by avid American Girl fans,” Jamie Cygielman, general manager of American Girl, said in a statement, according to Samuel. “We also know it’s fun to be reminded of our favorite childhood memories, so we aren’t surprised when our fans — many of whom grew up with us and are now parents themselves — continue to bring American Girl into the cultural conversation.”