Sunday, September 26, 2010

American Girl Place

A few years back, I was in Chicago looking for gifts for the children while on a business trip and walked into American Girl Place. The first thing that was clear to me was that it was not the sort of place you should go to without a child. The second thing that was clear was you should not go to that place with a child. Otherwise you will not leave without anything other than an empty wallet. I vowed to stay clear of it.

I have kept that pledge but, sadly, Child No.3 managed to successfully lobby her mother to take her there today (the one in Boston that is). The stated aim was to attempt to allow Child No.3 to rid herself of her savings and experience an allowance budget constraint. Suffice it to say: goal achieved. But the scars may stay around much longer.

As an economist, I am in two minds about American Girl Place. I have never heard of a place so shamelessly tailored towards extracting money from people. The day began with a booking at the American Girl Bistro. But apparently, before getting there you needed to purchase an American Girl doll. Why? Because otherwise your child will be the only one sitting there having macaroni and cheese with an empty doll seat beside her. 

American Girl dolls are ordinary dolls; unlike say Barbie. But there many varieties so you can find one that looks just like your daughter. From the picture you now know exactly what our six year old daughter looks like -- fully accessorised. So a doll was purchased, another outfit, sunglasses, a necklace, shoes to match the new dress and a dog. All that completely eliminated our daughter's savings with a debt that will take three months for her (or several teeth as she pointed out to me) to put her back in the black. That meant, of course, that there wasn't enough money left over to:get the doll and my daughters matching hair styling (yes, the doll could have her hair styled at a price that exceeded the cost of my own haircuts!). It also meant that there would be no matching dress for my daughter. Nonetheless, now in her new poverty, she and her brother set about expropriating American Girl Place's business by making her new doll's furniture themselves out of discarded stuff around the house. Take that!

As a business, American Girl Place is fantastic in a Dr Evil type of way. But it is for this same reason that I have my second mind: it panders to every awful stereotype about girls that there is. It does so relentlessly and makes no attempt whatsoever to do anything other than exclude boys. There is pink everywhere and other horrors that Child No.3's mother cannot bring herself to speak about.

You know there are times when people ask me what I do for a living and I say sheepishly, "economist." But it could be worse, I could be an American Girl Place 'doll hairstylist.'