Little Girls

We spent two consecutive Sundays at the Mall of America to celebrate Joan and Kate’s birthday.  The first was last week, when my mom was visiting.  She wanted to take the girls to the American Girl Store and have lunch at the bistro there.

(Joan and Kate with Grandma having lunch.)

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to visit an American Girl Store, but the experience is… well, an experience, that’s for sure.  The store is floor-to-ceiling pink, with little girls and their dolls everywhere.  Of course, there’s lots of dolls and doll-and-matching-girl merchandise for sale, but there’s also a doll salon where you can make your doll an appointment to get her hair done or ears pierced (yes, the doll’s ears) (which we did on our visit last week), and a restaurant where you can dine with your doll.

There is a line of “Bitty Baby” dolls for the really little girls, but the actual American Girl dolls are marketed for girls ages 8 and up.  There’s a line of dolls made to look like the girls, and the more popular line of dolls that each live in a different period of American history.  Each doll has a set of historical fiction books that chronicle their lives, as well as period-appropriate clothing and accessories.  So, along with spending ALL OF YOUR MONEY on the dolls/merchandise, your daughter is also getting a history lesson.

(Marin and her bitty babies drinking lemonade.)

The restaurant is designed specifically for having a date with your doll.  All of the dolls have little chairs so they can sit right up to the table with everyone else,and if you forget your doll (or don’t have one), they have a whole fleet of choices available for loan.  The waiters treat the dolls like customers, too, and bring them tiny cups and a tiny pitcher of (real!) pink lemonade and little plates of (real!) desserts.

(Joan and her doll Julie– from 1970’s– showing off their matching hats.)

The staff is really, really fantastic.  Since we were celebrating a birthday, many members of the staff knew the girls names and stopped by our table to wish them happy birthday by name.  The chef came out to talk to us– with her American Girl doll sous chef, of course.  In fact, Kate’s doll (named Kit) has a stuffed dog that goes with her.  When the waiter saw that the stuffed dog was “joining us for lunch” she quickly brought her (the STUFFED DOG) a bowl of water.

(Kate’s doll Kit– from the 1920’s–  and her dog Grace enjoy lunch with us.)

The attention to detail is fantastic; what little girl would not LOVE this place?  When I was a little girl, I would have DIED in this doll heaven.  However, as parents, it’s hard not to think of the price tags ($100 dolls and $30 outfits for the DOLLS) as a giant racket.  A giant racket that yes, we’ve encouraged in our daughters by buying them the dolls.  SIGH.

However, the next week, we returned to the Mall of America on the girls’ actual birthday to spend the day at the amusement park.  On that particular day, there was some kind of dance line/cheerleading competition going on at the mall, and groups of little girls all dressed in their cheerleading outfits were everywhere.

As I watched these various groups of girls, I was ASTOUNDED by some of their cheer/dance outfits.  I’d say about HALF of the groups had the girls (ages roughly 8-12; ie, NOT high school girls) in tops that were basically the size of a glorified sports bra, with their belly’s showing, and a tiny skirt.  Most were wearing heavy make-up and hair pieces, too.

I don’t know about you, but I see NO REASON why little girls need to be prancing around showing off their navels at a mall in January.  Many of the girls had some kind of glittery design swirled on their tums.  And then I caught a glimpse of one of the troops doing their performance, and the HIP GRINDING and GYRATING.  I just… you guys!  Little girls!  Doing dance moves that looked like sex positions!  Dressed like slutty teenagers!  And dressed up like that, presumably, by and with the blessing of their MOTHERS.

Suddenly, that American Girls store, with the 12-year-old girls having lunch with their dolls, all dressed in matching period clothing, didn’t seem so obscene after all.  I mean, sure, the prices are still a racket, but at least it’s allowing (and encouraging!) little girls to be LITTLE, ya know?  And while our family isn’t swinging by for a new American Girl doll on a random Saturday, it’s a really great place to go for special occasions, like the girls’ birthday.

(I didn’t take any photos of the cheerleaders, but here’s the girls on the log ride, the group favorite, trying not to get wet.)

I don’t want to sound like an elderly, crotchety old lady here, and I realize I’m on the BRINK of doing just that.  But really, I just don’t think it’s necessary to teach and encourage our little girls to grow up so fast, to be so sexy before they even reach puberty.  To paint a glittery design on their stomachs to draw EXTRA ATTENTION to that bare area of their bodies.  And for that, I give the American Girl store props for making it COOL to play with dolls past age five, for creating a fantastic place for our daughters to be little, just a while longer.

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133 thoughts on “Little Girls

  1. I totally agree. My daughter is only three, but even at her age the Halloween costumes, for example, have started getting all trashy and gross. I’m keeping her as far away from it as I can, for as long as I can.

  2. I have a couple of ‘friends’ on FB that post pics of their cheerleader daughters (ages 7-9) in lots of make-up, big hair and skimpy outfits. I think the thing that bothers me most about the photos are the girls’ poses. The put their hands on their hips and thrust one hip out or kind of stick their butts out. It’s all very suggestive and makes me uncomfortable. I don’t get it, and I will take American Girls over that any day.

  3. AMEN! And Kate is right-Halloween costumes are TRAMPY for the older girls. My oldest will be 10 in a few days and she’s 5ft tall. I’m not about to start dressing her like a 16 year old! UGH.

    I wish we had the AG store closer (closest is almost 3 hours away) just so I could take her for the day. Girls don’t need to grow up so fast. There’s plenty of time for all of “that” stuff when they’re older. Why we need to rush things is beyond me.

  4. Oh, I just loved this whole post. Getting to see a photo of your mom. The description of the bistro. The waiters serving the dolls. The chef who has a DOLL SOUS CHEF, and who brought out a bowl of water for the dog! The crazy potential expense lined up against the cheerleading issues. The mix of anecdote and tour and opinion piece. ALL OF IT.

  5. Do not get me started on the trampy little outfits that some of these dance/cheer teams put on absurdly young children. Not to mention the sexualized choreography. It makes me INSANE.

    Felicity got an American Girl Doll from her Grammie this Christmas, even though her doll (Felicity, of course, from the Colonial Period) is going to stay in her box at Grammie’s house for quite a few years! I think the AG thing is kind of a racket, but I like the historical contexts and the books that come with them, and you’re absolutely right that having our girls play with dolls as long as possible is sweet and charming in its way. It certainly beats glitter eyeshadow and belly shirts on 8-year olds.

    • RIGHT. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with dance, until the dance companies insist on making little girls dance like adult women. Couldn’t they learn the same dancing skills if the dances were set to appropriate music and the moves were not HIP THRUSTY? I mean, COME ON!

      And smart idea getting Felicity now, as isn’t she the one that retired at the end of 2010? She’ll love it when she gets older… and it even has reddish hair like her!!

  6. Ava and I are going to the MOA for our “just us” trip in March. I wonder if she’s too little for the whole AG thing? I guess Marin was into it? She has so many dolls though, I worry she would just bring home a $100 doll and then TOSS IT ASIDE. Gah.

    Cheerleading is huge here in TX, so hopefully Ava won’t be into all that. I think the competetive stuff is more a large-city scourge.

    • Ava and Marin are roughly the same age, right? Marin has two of the bitty babies. She got ONE of the bitty twins last year that she named Piper, and ALL she wanted this year was “a baby sister for Piper.” I normally would not have bought her ANOTHER ONE, but as the third girl around here, there’s so little that’s a) just HERS and b) that she wants. So. Now she has two, and she plays with them all the time.

      So, you could do the bitty baby thing with Ava. In fact, as someone who know has twin sisters, she might really get a kick out of the bitty twins! (Bitty babies are less expensive. $45 for one or $100 for the twins, I think.) (And you can buy just one twin, as we did.)

      I really think the other dolls are best for older kids. There’s so much cool history with them that I think if a child is started too young, she’ll be “over it” by the time she’s actually old enough to really appreciate them, ya know? Though, LOTS of little girls have American Girl dolls, as you’ll notice when you visit the store…

  7. Oh, I couldn’t agree more! The way little girls are sexualized makes me crazy. The inappropriate halloween costumes (this year I saw a pink furry cat costume for 5-8 year olds that came with a short skirt, midriff baring shirt, and fuzzy boots called purrrrty kitty. So gross), the crazy outfits, all of it. I even get crotchety about the hyper-sexual pop culture nonsense these days. Sex is wonderful and nothing to be ashamed of, but its also dangerous and carries real, lifelong consequences. We need to teach our (older) children about both sides.

  8. This gives such a great perspective! My friend’s daughter takes Modern Dance and her costumes are scandalous. My girls take Highland Dance – where they dance to bagpipes wearing long kilts, knee socks and poofy blouses. Hee. Your American Girl lunch sounds so sweet. While I think the prices are a little over the top, I do appreciate a company that shows such attention to detail.

    • I LOVE the idea of highland dance! How cool! And I agree, the prices are over the top. But someone pointed out to me that Lego sets (for boys about the same age as my daughters) are $100 a pop, too, so. I think it’s ok for special occassions…

  9. I don’t have anything to add, really. I agree with all of it. Also? Is it wrong that I sort of want to go to the bistro at an American Girl store? Just to watch waiters serving dolls with teensy desserts?

  10. I have had to come to grips with the fact that I’m officially a crotchety old woman who says things like “when I was a kid” etc because even though my daughter is only 18 months old, I am afraid for the pressures on her in the future. My son is almost 8 and there are times when I feel like he is under pressure to grow up too fast and it upsets me and it doesn’t even involve skimpy clothing. Sigh.

  11. I’m still having a hard time getting past the stuffed dog getting a bowl of water. hehe
    I can only imagine how much that place is loved by little girls!!

    As for the skimpy clothing. Yeah. That is a pet peeve of mine. Little girls do not need to be sexualized like that.

  12. (I’m not ignoring your rant about the sexualization of little girls. I just have SO! MUCH! to say about it and it’s not appropriate to hijack your comments.)

    A couple of months after Sam was born, Gerald and I were supposed to take a trip to Minneapolis and all I could think about was Mall of America. I’ve never been and I’m not even really a shopper, but MALL OF AMERICA!! Sadly, we didn’t get to go. Now, I’m pretty sure Maddie and I should come and visit you this summer and we can all go together! To quote my daughter, “isn’t that the most fabulous idea ever?!”

    • AAAEEEEEIIIII!!! Erica, YES do it! You and Maddie should plan a trip with Tess and Ava and we’ll ALL MEET UP!!

      Also, if you need a place to stay while you’re here, we’re about 1 hour south of the Cities.

  13. Wow – the American Girl stuff blows me away. A bowl of water for the STUFFED DOG? That is awesome! And that the wait staff knew your girls’ names? SUPER awesome. It sounds like such a special time!

    I don’t know much about kids’ toys, but it is nice to know that some of them are wholesome and even educational (as opposed to those Bratz dolls [are they even still around?] and their ilk that seem wholly… icky).

    • Bratz dolls are banned in our household. Once my girls asked why they couldn’t have them and I said it was because I didn’t think they were good toys for little girls. That was the end of it. (WHEW.)

  14. My mom just took my little sister (adopted) to the American Girl store in LA for her birthday on Sunday – she also turned 8. And my mom was hoping she wasn’t too “old” for everything. We have been showering her with AG stuff for Christmas and we all gave her money to shop with for her birthday, too. Hers looks just like her and she also got Rebecca on Sunday and while we know it’s crazy that everything costs so much and they’re Just. Dolls., it’s so nice that she can be a little girl for now (she will have some issues from genetics and past experiences, most likely) and enjoy herself. So amen to crazy consumerism that is actually doing something good for a change. Doesn’t hurt that I was desperate for an AG doll myself when I was little. 🙂

  15. What I wonder is who are these moms who ALLOW their kids to dress in the skimpy dance costumes and such? Every time this topic comes up, all of the comments are along the lines of what is posted above. We mostly seem to have littler kids (mine are 2 and 6 mos), so does something change? Or do those moms not participate in the mommy blogger culture?

    • I have no idea. I just, I studied those mothers, some of them walking around carrying big trophies, and… I just don’t get it. I suppose they’re immune to it? They think it’s cute not trashy/slutty? I DON’T KNOW!!

    • I wonder about their motivation. What leads a mother of a young girl to think that this sort of dress/behavior is a positive thing? I only have one girl (4 boys) and she is 13, so I don’t think that attitudes about this necessarily change as your girls get older. I have always been hesitant to encourage ‘grown up’ type behaviors. PG-13/R movies, boys, make-up. It’s difficult to navigate through it all. It’s nice to see my own sentiments reflected in this post and in all of the comments though.

  16. My kid is just now beginning to show interest in American Girls. I have no idea how she even knows about them, but you can be sure she will NOT learn of the store from me. She would think she’d died and gone to heaven.

    As for the slutty tendencies in young girls, I don’t get it. I cannot imagine letting my child dress like that. Not in a million years. In fact, I’m hoping by the time our girls are teens, nun-wear will be all the rage.

  17. Oh girl, I feel SO STRESSED (already!) about having a little girl. The stuff that’s out there – baby mini-skirts, OMG! – no good, no good.

    Also, I can’t believe that ride is indoors! How fun!

    • The whole amusement park is indoors. It’s HUGE. Lots of big rollercoasters and everything! And it’s lit by skylights, so at night it’s lit by the ride lights, which makes it seem like you’re at a state fair or something…

      Also, as far as raising girls… I’ve found that while this ODD behavior exists, I (SO FAR) have not had a hard time keeping my daughters away from it. They wear dresses and leggings from Land’s End and Hannah Andersson, and we don’t buy Bratz dolls, and they are in basket ball and tennis, not dance. (Though, I don’t think our dance here is like that… we’re small-town, doncha know.) This may change as the teenage years approach, but for now it’s been no issue for our family. I know my experience won’t be your experience, but you WILL have a great deal of control over what your child wears, who she plays with, etc for YEARS AND YEARS. Maybe that helps?

    • And, ha, ha, ha, they don’t JUST wear dresses… we’re not Amish or anything. But their clothing is innocent and age-appropriate and they (even the 8 year olds) don’t fight it. Just to clarify. 🙂

      On Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 5:18 PM, Marie Green wrote:

      > The whole amusement park is indoors. It’s HUGE. Lots of big > rollercoasters and everything! And it’s lit by skylights, so at night it’s > lit by the ride lights, which makes it seem like you’re at a state fair or > something… > > Also, as far as raising girls… I’ve found that while this ODD behavior > exists, I (SO FAR) have not had a hard time keeping my daughters away from > it. They wear dresses and leggings from Land’s End and Hannah Andersson, > and we don’t buy Bratz dolls, and they are in basket ball and tennis, not > dance. (Though, I don’t think our dance here is like that… we’re > small-town, doncha know.) This may change as the teenage years approach, > but for now it’s been no issue for our family. I know my experience won’t > be your experience, but you WILL have a great deal of control over what your > child wears, who she plays with, etc for YEARS AND YEARS. Maybe that helps? > >

  18. My daughters are just 9 and almost 7 and whilst still very much little girls (I choose their clothes and get no complaints from them, so nothing age-inappropriate), happily playing with Pet Shops and PlayMobil and Lego, the influence of schoolfriens with older sisters is insidiously creeping in – I caught my older daughter trying to find (and succeeding) Lady Gaga videos on YouTube (I’ve now passworded everything!) and that bothers me no end.
    I’ve started introducing them to “modern music” that I find acceptable, so they don’t feel totally out of whack with their trendy friends (my daughters have one advantage – being half British means they can sing along to songs in English which their French friends can’t; this gives added “coolness”!). I’ve also given in to the High School Musical frenzy – it’s really soft core and fluffy, though they think it’s grown-up. The music is horribly memorable, but well. It’s all pretty innocent and harmless (much less disturbing than Miley Cyrus… luckily they don’t seem to be interested in her).
    Halloween is a challenge, but we manage to find (or make) what I consider suitable costumes, but they’ve both been given make-up as presents (not by me, I add) and even THAT bothers me.
    *sigh*
    I love having girls and wouldn’t change it for the world, but it’s not easy, is it?

    • I was against High School Musical, too, until I watched one. I, um, kind of liked it. And it’s pretty squeaky-clean as far as content. I think in all three movies combined, Troy and Gabriel (the main couple) kiss MAYBE twice. And the music IS fun for my girls. They are also into Taylor Swift right now, which again is pretty harmless. Not “25 silly songs” harmless, but you’re right… I don’t even WANT to keep them from EVERYTHING their peers are doing, or they’ll feel left out and weird. (My parents did this, and I always felt out of the loop.)

  19. I LOVE this post! And I totally want to fly halfway across the country to go to this AG restaurant. I love the entire concept! And my doll-obsessed two-year-old is totally going to have an easy time of it convincing her mother that she needs an AG doll. (I think I need one too.)

  20. My daughter is going to be 8 this summer and we have spent her past 2 birthdays at AG in Chicago. Her obsession is having the “doll of the year”. She has asked for the previous 2 (and received last year’s, Lanie for Christmas from Grandma) but she thinks she should COLLECT THEM!!! OK, sweetie, save all your money and go to town. I will not be facilitating your COLLECTION!

    We have avoided the bistro because the first year we went I didn’t get a reservation soon enough and then last year I just didn’t want to deal. Now I think I might want to go, especially because my niece will be three and would love it too!

    I think one of my favorite things about AG was the place in the bathroom stall to hang your doll while you pee-GENIUS!!!!

  21. Love this post, MG. Spot on.

    And I’m coming with y’all to the MOA. (Not really but I CAN DREAM.)

    PS. Your mom? Could be your sister! That’s some good aging genes right there!

      • But, erm, I feel compelled to add, she and my dad were married, though very young. I was born 9 months and 3 days after their wedding, no joke. My grandma says all the neighbors were counting on their fingers…

  22. Dude. I think if I was raising a girl, I would be terrified. There is a reason the universe gave me two boys. There is a special place for people like you in my heart.

  23. Ok, I’m feeling the need to comment. First, I totally agree with most of the comments about girls growing up too fast. My daughter is 7 but is very tall. It worried me that at age 7, she was in the largest size sold at Oshkosh and is currently in Gymboree size 10. Not sure what I’ll dress in her in a year! She refuses to wear jeans, and most of the other clothes out there look too trashy!

    However, she is in dance class. She started when she was 4, and her sister started at age 2 1/2! They hate sports and anything involving balls. My youngest is not allowed to do gymnastics for health reasons. They LOVE dance. And when you start at age 3 and 4, it’s all cute and their little brides and bumblebees and you oooh and aaaah. You then fast-forward 5 years, your entrenched in something they love (and are good at), and you have basically no say in it (you could switch studios but their pretty much all the same.) Now, my 7 year old does not have costumes that show her belly and isn’t gyrating yet. BUT, she does have *required* hair extensions and I actually have to go to make-up and hair class to learn how to apply the “standard make-up”. And required jewelry. Looking at the older girls, she will probably at some point cross into the “inappropriate” catagory. And at that point, my choice will either be to let her do it, or force her to quit. Either one is pretty much a no win situation.

    • Ok, well, first of all, these girls were more of the cheerleader/dance-line variety. Like, they all had cheerleading-type skirts on and tennis shoes, not dance shoes.

      Second, I think you CAN speak up about your concerns as your daughter gets older. I think as parents we DO need to say “Hey, wait a minute, I’m not comfortable with my daughter dancing like that or dressing like that.” There are probably other parents that feel the same way, and once one person speaks up, perhaps others will come forward. I think it’s our responsibility to do just that. There are plenty of music and dance moves in this world for a dance company to choose from; they don’t HAVE to choose sexually loaded ones.

      In fact, my niece was in dance in a nearby small town and her mom decided that $240 for a dance WARM-UP OUTFIT (NOT the costume) was too much for an 8 year old and refused to buy it. In the end about 1/2 of the other parents refused to by it too. Because COME ON! Who needs to pay $$$ for something not even worn ON STAGE???

      (Incidentally, that same niece is 14 now and while her little-girlhood was spent TOTALLY in dance, she’s now a excellent athlete, playing soccer and basketball. Totally her own decision. So, you just never know!)

      As for the make-up, I don’t have a problem with it for performances. It’s much like the play my daughters were in this summer and they were so thrilled to wear stage make-up. It’s the overall inappropriateness and SLUTTINESS that I witnessed, not the single elements of dance. As a whole, I have no problem with dance, only with having little girls dance like teenagers or adults. In fact, I don’t think teenagers need to get on stage and dance like that, either.

      I do disagree with you though that there is nothing you can do but let her do it or force her to quit. I think we can- and MUST- stand up for protecting our daughters’ innocence. And if the dance instructor wouldn’t listen? I’m afraid I’d force my daughter to quit, rather than let her walk around the MOA like that. Our family values are that little girls don’t dress and act like that. Period.

  24. your mom looks amazing! I’m not sure if I’ve seen photos of you and I just assumed that was you until I saw the caption and I was all GRANDMA? What??? Now I will go read the post, ahem.

  25. The sexing up of little girls is an ongoing frustration for me. I feel like once they outgrow the 4-6x size range it is so difficult to find inexpensive clothes that look like they are still for little girls. When I taught I had one of those cheerleaders in my class – the day before a competition she would COME TO SCHOOL in that hair and make up… In this particular instance her mom was really young and used to do all kinds of inappropriate things with her. The mother thought all the girls were so adorable in their slutty outfits.

    So yes, I will sign over a chunk of our bank account to the AG brand if it means my girl can stay a girl a little while longer.

  26. Hey there! I just found your blog, but I am SOOO with you! I get disturbed when I see little girls being dressed up and exposed to too much too soon. Lately, I’ve been seeing little boys dressed as thugs, and I have to say, this bothers me too. I’m going to force my kids to wear KID CLOTHES for my sanity.

  27. When she was about 9 my niece asked her mom (my sis) for an American Girl doll for Christmas, which led all of my other nieces to ask for American girl dolls, too. My sister balked at the INSANE price tag but OUR mom talked her into it. She was like “Oh my gosh, if the child wants a doll BUY HER A DOLL. She’s only going to want to play for dolls for so long.” So all the girls got American girl dolls for Christmas. And it IS totally a racket. But a NICE, enjoy-your-childhood racket.

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