#‎AGDoCGotY
American Girl, keep giving us Dolls of Color for Girls of the Year.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why I'm an Outsider - Prologue: Not Such a Sweet Baby Face

Otters, really doing that whole outsider thing. (Literally.)
So, if you've been poking around here, you'll note that this blog is called American Girl Outsider. I don't know how you can miss it. This is because I am an outsider to the major American Girl communities. Yes, I run the American Girl Wiki, but I started that after being put out from both American Girl Fans Message Board (AGFMB) and American Girl Playthings (AGP). The only one that I still can consider myself a part of is American Girl Over 18. When I first stepped into the AG fandom back in early 2006--right after I got Addy for Giftmas--it was dominated by an insular community of highly religious, white-dominated, middle aged women, many of which who did not like having their worldview changed or challenged.

I saw, in my high points of the fandom, at least two other communities split from the one that I first found, AGFMB. And I was pushed out by the two biggest boards by about 2008. And gotta say that shit all has changed from the little I hear from the places. Let's get this out right now--I was flat out banned from two separate American Girl message boards within the span of two years, for reasons that were petty, bigoted bullshit. At this point I no longer think that there's a board out there that would accept me as I am other than AG Over 18--which, thanks to LJ fading away, has gone near-dormant. It's annoying that I've been banned, but not embarrassing. I'm more offended by what went down than hurt, as time has gone on, because it screams of privilege and maintaining status over open mindedness and actual inclusion. While many people would say the problem was me and my brashness/personality, I believe that the fact that I am who I am was never the problem. It was an easy excuse and I was an easy target. The problem was and still is prejudice, privilege, bigotry, and Mean Girls/Nice Girls mentalities, just to name a few of the issues. 

There is a problem in a lot of doll collecting communities. And MLP fandom--yes, even before Bronies1--and BJD collecting and on and on. Doll collecting among women has a running strain of separation--the idea is that you're never too old for dolls, but that doesn't mean that you don't have to grow up, and these people have never grown up. There is a huge middle and high school mentality that has never ended and, until American Girl Fandom--and several others--actually really look at themselves, isn't going to get any better. I'm starting to feel part of the circle again with doll blogging, but it's a touch like a wounded wildcat--I'm going to lash out if hurt, and be wary. 

I will tell as much of my story as I can, from my side. But my AG rejection doesn't start with an American Girl. It starts with a sweet little Baby Face, in the early part of the new millennium.
The Sweetest Little Baby Face.
It is highly likely that you have no idea what a Baby Face Doll is. Brief summary: Baby Face Dolls were a line of dolls released in the very early 90s by Galoob and designed by a toy creator called Mel Birnkrant. Rather than the static, neutral doll faces that were often done in doll creation, Mr. Birnkrant opted to design his dolls with expressions--joy, shyness, sadness, and so on. These became the Baby Face Line. They ran for two years--1990 to 1991--before being discontinued. The full story of the rise and fall of Baby Face can be read here at How Baby Face Was Born, told by the creator himself (so with all inherent bias, mind).

We'll discuss prillycharmin and her ilk in a bit. But first, we have to go back a little more--to Giftmas 1991 when I was eleven years old. My older sister was in high school and only asked for adult things like clothes and books and perfumes, and my little sister was a toddler and so young she still mostly had things picked out for her. But I could ask for my Giftmas gifts, and I was still young enough to ask for toys, as it were. So I asked my grandparents for any of the black Baby Face dolls, except the sad one. I didn't like pouty faces in my dolls.2 I specifically asked for So Funny Natalie or So Playful Penny, but they couldn't find her. So they got me So Surprised Suzy, a brown doll with a "startled" expression.

My sweet Suzy became one of the centerpieces of my young girl toy collection. I sewed clothes for her (some of them utterly hideous), and slept in the bed with her, and adored everything about her--even pilfering some of my clothes from other dolls to dress her in them. The next year I asked for a Bible (I still own mine, even if I'm not Christian) and once you asked for a grow up thing, the rule was no more toys from Grandma Valeria and Granpa Clester. So Suzy was the last doll they ever gave me, and she meant and means a lot to me. Yes, I still have her, even if she is in desperate need of restringing. What do you expect, she's twenty-plus years old.

Suzy: Hanging with Neth long enough to drink.
Jump back to the past. In the early 2000s, I was on the net in my dorm at TAMU on my Compaq computer--like you do. In one of my jaunts between Harry Potter and Pokemon searches and chatter babbling to my then new boyfriend over the AIMs, I got a pique of fancy--was there data on Baby Face Dolls on the net? I still had and loved my Suzy, and I remembered that there had been more than just her in the collection. So I busted open the Google--still young, the Google--and oh hey! There was! And there was more than just data--there was eBay! And a website that had the whole history of the line by the guy who designed them. And even a Yahoo Mailing List, where I could sign up and meet other like minded doll collectors. Ooo, maybe even some my own age. Yes. Mailing lists, where people would sent an e-mail to the group e-mail and then everyone would get it--either in a daily digest or as they came in. (How old are those? How old am I? [/Reggie the Koala]). This list had a lot of people on it, one of the most prominent being prillycharmin, who even ran a sales site where there was a lot of stuff for Baby Face girls to wear.

I signed up, and I introduced myself as a Baby Face collector who was still in my middling years of college--I liked reading, art, sewing and craft, and I was young, naive, and trying to find my place in communities. And the members of the community appeared to welcome me with open arms and open hearts. They were mostly white, middle aged women--some were grandparents--and while I was different for being young and black, I thought I should give it a shot. So I stayed. I found a white Suzy (with her bangs all messed up and shorn) and a Cynthia, and started working on a little collection of them--even getting the black Penny I wanted as a child. I have a sizable number of Baby Face dolls actually, but there is currently no room to display them so they're tucked away in a box.

Either way, at some point, I got a white Suzy whose bangs were not hacked to shit. And I had seen people redesign and customize their dolls, and white Suzy was pretty common. So I decided to customize my damaged one, like I had decided to do with some ponies. I have--since early college and some before--been inclined to the gothic style of dress, and I was just starting to explore and ultimately become a pagan3. I had even started wearing a pentacle and going to the Pagan meetings at the college and making friends and trying to find what would work for me and my beliefs. Paganism felt right and happy for me--I was even learning to read tarot cards and reading tons of books and getting the starting items for what would become my altar. So I decided that "Suzy" would be reborn as So Gothic Kiara Raven.4 I shaved her bald, black markered over her scalp to blend it, hot-glued black curls around her face and worked them into a presentable ponytail, very carefully painted black nail polish on her lips, and made her a blue dress with black webbing. I can't say I did an excellent job--I was working with what I could get at Wal-Mart and the nearby Hobby Lobby. But I thought that I did okay for my first custom. I took a picture of her--before, middle, and after--with my roomie's digital camera, and posted them to the mailing list and my website. This was fall 2002. And this was when it all went downhill. 

So Gothic Kiara Raven. The Beginning of the End.
There was noted silence on the list. Some polite, half-hearted comments on the fact that it looked like I could really sew and design. The kind of hemming and hawing where people aren't sure what to say.

Then someone said that, though I had shown a lot of talent, that I hadn't used it properly. Kiara looked scary and wrong, and she was worried about the mentality that made me want to take such a sweet, pretty doll and destroy her like this. prillycharmin and several others on the list backed that person up. There was a discussion and warning towards me--in that sickly sweet, condescending way that older women talked to people younger than them--on how I should watch myself. That dabbling into goth and "spooky" things and death and darkness--even Harry Potter, which had quickly become my favorite series--was like dancing with the devil. It led to a slippery slope of worshiping Satan and witchcraft and homosexuality.5 I was potentially tricking myself into getting attacked by evil spirits, and Jesus wouldn't want me using my gifts in such a dark, evil way. I could invite demons into my soul and fall from heaven's grace. They even wondered if I was actually dabbling into "Satan" worship, and someone talked about how they had a friend who started with what they though was innocent study of astrology, fell into the evils of tarot and card reading, and ended up crazy when the "demons" attacked them and messed their mind up. 

I was hurt. Painfully, achingly hurt. Here I was, sharing my talent and my creativity with people I thought I could be friends, and they told me that my soul was in trouble for it. What had I done wrong in making Kiara who she was? Why were they rejecting me like that, over something so innocent as black lipstick and goth dress? And the thing was, my friends at college who--while many of them found dolls and pony collecting weird--didn't outright call my dolls creepy to my face in a mean way like that. Some even thought Kiara was a lovely twist on a doll, turning her into something less disturbing. And considering I was also dealing with finding my sexuality as well as my paganism, I was really wounded by their rejection and condemnation of me. I actually cried alone for a bit, and wailed to my brother and my boyfriend about it and had to be comforted by their statements that there was nothing wrong with me for what I'd done to make Kiara over. 

I still have her. But I never showed Kiara to anyone else on the list again. I didn't talk about how I actually was pagan, and that I did read cards and went to pagan meetings and had made lots of friends who had loved me for me. And I left, bit by bit. I stopped reading the e-mails that came in, and didn't reply to anyone's emails towards me. I barely communicated back. Slowly, I started to drift away from the mailing list and, when it transitioned into a message board at some point, I didn't continue on with them and I let myself leave their community. I started to turn towards pony collecting to fit in with collecting communities--they didn't think that being goth was wrong at all, even if they didn't know I was pagan. But somewhere inside, I felt like letting a lot of the more personal aspects of who I was--specifically, the gothic, pagan part--needed to be downplayed if people in doll communities were ever going to like me and accept me into the group.

That semester had a lot of shit go wrong. But when it came to doll collecting, that was the first time I was really and hurtfully rejected for who I was. That was the first time online I ever felt like a doll-collecting outsider. Like what I liked, what I believed--who I was as a person beyond a doll collector--was something that people wouldn't like about me, and that if I was going to be part of online doll collecting communities I was going to need to appear "normal" and "mainstream" and not disturb people by who I was.6

That was bullshit. These people were wrong to reject me like that. To this day, I believe every single one of those people were wrong to say those kinds of things, and to this day I've never forgiven them, even if they probably have forgotten about me. I got rejected from a doll collecting community for being "creepy" to a bunch of Christian, White middle class women who had the privilege leverage to make me feel like I was in the wrong for being myself and sharing a small aspect of who I was.

It was a pattern that, unfortunately, didn't stop happening when I first stepped into the American Girl Collecting community in January 2006.

And it all started with a sweet little customized Baby Face named Kiara Raven.

Next:
Part One: Finding AG Fans, or How Periods are Bad for Children

--Neth

1 Do not get me started, I'm taking doll fandom today.
2 Apparently no one did. Black Sarah is considered one of the rarer dolls.
3 Specifically, I'm eclectic pagan. This means that I forge my own path, instead of following any specific locked path such as Wicca, Hellenic, Kemetic (Egyptian) or African Traditional.
4 Yes, that's the site I made about it. My domain site needs massive updating, but it's all mine.
5 I am one of the many examples of the statement "Sorry I haven't been going to church, I've been busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian."
6 I have since said "fuck that entire shit." You love me whole piece or you get the entire fuck out.

27 comments:

  1. RocketbossgiovanniOctober 9, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    As a transgender pagan in the doll community, I have to say I'm glad you're doing this, I know that a lot of the time collecting and even just fandoms can be raging fucking assholes, but I never expected anything like this. I know form what I've read on your blog that you've had issues with the community and quite honestly I'm excited to hear more.

    Also I love your blog.

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    1. I went into this community utterly blind. I wasn't as blind when it came to American Girl, but I was hoping for better--and I was sadly and infuriatingly mistaken.

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  2. I think Gothic Raven looks adorable, but I'm a huge fan of shiny patent black lips. Half the time I lurk on communities BECAUSE I don't feel like dealing with internet drama. It's the same mindset that earns me the perma-adjective "cranky". Thank goodness for blog space, right? Total control!

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  3. I totally forgot about Baby Face Dolls! I loved mine and I think your So Gothic Kiara Raven is adorable! I'm sorry you weren't treated right. It always amazes me how "good, religious people" can be so horrible to other people.

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  4. I'm sorry you were treated so horribly. Luckily with the wide arrange of so called "strange" dolls on the market today, I think the online doll community is attracting different types of people from different walks of life interested in different things other than just old fashioned, white, Christian women. But a percentage are still judgmental idiots. I think Kiara Raven is adorable btw! I had to laugh at the comments you got about her.

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  5. I've been waiting to read your rant about the fandom and I'm so glad it's finally here. I can't believe what they did to you! Please write more - I love reading slams of hypocritical Christians.

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  6. I've been kicked out of 2 AG message boards. The first was after i asked where i could get tiny ritual tools like an athame for my dolls. I didn't get any warnings about the peril to my soul but I was told that my posts were too offensive to other members. Recently i was booted again for being too sad and depressing. I made the mistake of writing about my deceased mother and her love of AG dolls. The mod said that the board was only for "happy doll talk".

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    1. The first one sounds a lot like AG Fans MB, and the second--well, what the hell? If you can't talk about sad things, then what are you just there for, squee? Fuck that shit.

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    2. Yes the first was AG Fans. That time I wasn't upset because there was way too much " thank you Jesus for bringing me that two dollar Goodwill doll" on that board. Their saviour was so busy finding them cheap thrift store dolls and winning their eBay auctions that he had no time for trivial stuff like war and kids dying. I'm ashamed to admit it but being banned recently did make me cry. It's probably more about grief then missing out on the chance to join in the " your new doll is so cute" discussions though.

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    3. Oh, AG Fans is part one when I actually get into the actual AG side of my outsider-ness. Sounds like they've haven't gotten any better!

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  7. one of the best parts of tumblr for me has been that I've been able to talk about my interests in "SJ stuff" and my love of dolls and to find others who similarly share both interests--or at least those who tell me that I'm mentally unstable for looking at the way racism intersects w/doll collecting, but I digress.

    I'm glad I found you, and glad that you (eventually) found a crew of doll folks who are not turdbuckets.

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  8. Your creation looks mild compared to a lot of dolls out there these days in the aisles of WalMart, Target and TRU, Just before your time, Nethilia.

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    1. An evil part of me wonders what the women who clutched pearls about a goth baby doll would think of Monster High (I am so big on Monster High!). Probably lamenting that there's no more sweet baby dolls for little girls to mommy.

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    2. Ha, ha. Monster High is mild compared to those living dead dolls, some of them baby dolls, and zombie dolls.

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    3. I collect Monster High. I've actually read a lot about hat an evil influence they are. The Born Again folks really seem to hate them. They're worried that they might lead the kids into Paganism. I managed to find my own way there without being led astray by a doll.

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  9. "Before your time" is spot on. I kinda get all schadenfreude giddy wondering what exactly religiously hateful old ladies think seeing aisles full of MH and such like nowadays.. and yes I've had my experiences with these types of people too, in real life and online. It's one of the reasons I absolutely refuse to participate in any kind of local doll communities, especially meetups. (the other is the sort of catty, belligerent high school mindset that it seems pretty much only doll ladies (esp of the bjd sort) are capable of.)

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  10. I have such very mixed feelings about the major AG collector boards. Mostly I keep my head down there because whenever I say anything designed to be a little bit challenging (which I do, every now and then, because I'm me), everyone ignores me anyway. I'm white and relatively privileged and I demonstrate my ability to use smart-sounding words properly whenever I do wade in, so I don't think anyone's paying very much attention to me, which is fine with me. (I'm also queer and extremely left-leaning even by Canadian standards and super outspoken IRL, so I probably COULD be pissing EVERYBODY off without even trying too hard, if I wanted to lol.) I figure that forums that huge are mainly good for finding a few other awesome people that I can then spend some time talking to off-board. I've made a very conscious decision to just not read threads that I know are going to piss me off, though, for the most part.

    Anyway, I don't know what I'm trying to say. Nothing, probably. So, subject change! I'd forgotten all about Baby Face dolls. I never had one; the doll I always wanted desperately (other than AG) was a My Child. Gothic Kiara Raven is ridiculously cute! And you know what she reminds me of? The first time I ever encountered the concept of OOAK customized dolls (and in a way I guess also the concept of Adult Doll Collecting, other than the stereotypical idea of fusty porcelain doll collecting) was one day in the early days of my exposure to the internet, when I stumbled upon a website that was full of goth-inspired custom Kelly dolls (like, Barbie's little sister Kelly). They kind of blew my mind, they were amazing.

    I'm really sad that LJ is dying out the way it is. I just joined AG > 18 in the past year so I've never seen it active, plus I've had a little bit of other LJ-based fandom over the years and for a long time LJ was how I kept in touch with friends from university. :( Do you think that there is another forum that AG > 18 could migrate to where it would see a bit more action? I'd love to get to know that group of people, but LJ is really heading nowhere fast...

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  11. I'm a practicing Christian who thinks So Goth Kiara Raven is harmless, funny, well-crafted, and absolutely adorable! (By "funny" I don't mean anything negative, just that her combination of spiderweb-patterned dress, black lipstick and Surprised Suzy expression make me smile.) :)

    And I too am really sorry you were treated that way. It's a pity...those grandmas no doubt thought they were winning souls for God, when actually they were doing the exact opposite and turning people away. Well, at least you were able to carve your own piece of the Internet where you can be who you are without meeting that kind of thing again--or if you do, it's your place and you can tell them where to go with their sermons.

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  12. If it's any consolation, even though Playthings banned you for shitty horrible reasons, I still say you had some of the smartest posts I've ever seen on that forum (especially in the book thread; everyone has a lot to say about the dolls, but barely anyone thinks/talks about the books with that much thought). And note I joined Playthings AFTER you were banned!

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  13. Well at least I know to keep my mouth shut if I can't say anything nice. In this case, I can. To me, Goth Kiara Raven is unique, which is a big thing in my world.

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  14. It's really remarkable that your custom doll sent these women into a tizzy. She's well done but I don't find her at all scary or disturbing. These must be the same Christians that want to ban Halloween because it's a Satanic holiday. We haven't come too far from the days when a goodwife spotted a crow in the field and thought she saw her neighbor flying away on a broomstick.

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  15. So Gothic Kiara Raven is excellent for a first custom!
    I´m sorry about your experience. It´s not just Christians - unfortunately, you find fanatic blinker-wearing idiots like that in pretty much any group of people. Apparently their self-esteem, faith, conviction or whatever term applies, is so poor that they feel threatened by anyone who dares to even mention something different. Sad, really. Anon above me is right, we haven´t come too far. But even knowing it´s not you who has the problem doesn´t make being laid into like that any less hurtful...

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  16. First, I have to ask. How did Otters come to be known as Otters? Because that's an awesome name/nickname.

    Secondly, if a place full of middle-aged fundamentalist Christians spewing hate at anyone different from them is the inside, I think I'd rather be an outsider. Not like I'm not that in a lot of other places anyhow.

    Thirdly, I think So Gothic Kiara Raven is the cutest thing ever, at least from your description. I always when I was a kid wanted a doll who was unique, and not like the norm, and it seemed like when I was growing up, all the dolls were blonde and blue-eyed, even though I know that mustn't have been the case. That's why I never got into Barbies much, and when I did, I preferred the black Barbies much more than the white ones, because I'm not blonde and blue-eyed and even though I can't see my dolls, I still didn't want them to be blonde and blue-eyed either.

    When I got older, I got kind of into the goth subculture, so Kiara Raven just melted my heart with sheer adorable. Though this is many many years after the fact, I will say what I'd have said if I was on that list. Oh my gods! She's adorable! You did a great job!

    -Rhymer

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    1. Short story with Otters: A few nights before I received her, I dreamed of her frolicking with otters in the water. The next day I went to the nearby aquarium, and saw otters again. So I nicknamed her Otters. Her real name is Amber Kathleen Flynn, but no one calls her that.

      There just were not a lot of unique dolls in the past--it seemed that all the white dolls were blond and blue, and all the black ones or any other color were pretty much the white dolls in different colored vinyl. I'm kind of glad that there is more variety, but there's still missing chunks!

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  17. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I might have once been like those people who banned you. There are seriously, so many issues that people don't want to stand up and face/want to brush under the table. Many people are also afraid of people who are different and afraid that they might get "poisoned" by spending time with them or trying to learn more about them. When I went into college, I think that the best thing I did was force myself to sit in the "uncomfortable" chair and learn about things that I was very uncomfortable with. While your blog does sometimes make me feel a bit uncomfortable, I think that's a good thing because it's helping me open my mind and learn about things I never knew about before.
    You remind me so much of one of my best friends, and she makes me uncomfortable sometimes, but I learn so much from her, and it's helped me so much in my journey to be more understanding and accepting of people. In this journey I've also learned so much about so many problems in the world that I never even realized existed before or even considered. It's probably going to be a long journey for me, but I'm sure it's going to be a good one. I'll openly admit that there are still many things that I should be fine with that I still feel uncomfortable about, but that's still work in progress. Thank you for being part of my journey. I love your Kiara Raven by the way!

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  18. I commented for the first time yesterday or the day before and damn, I have been wanting to make a goth AG doll and now after reading your post I feel a whole lot less weird ;D

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  19. I'm just finding your blog recently and I'm really enjoying reading you reviews and other posts. I like your attitude about things. I'm on AGPT but I mostly stick to selling and the customs boards. I even had a bad experience selling once. Such a shame because I thought I would have a lot of fun there. I prefer some of the individual blogs now. I tend to binge on them when I'm sick (as I am now. Kidney infection. Ew) and I'm glad to have found yours. I'm agnostic and bisexual so I don't really fit that mold either. I just try to keep my eyes away from the more argumentative posts because I'm afraid I'll get too opinionated. Thanks for making me feel like I'm not the only one! :)

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Trolling, pointless bigotry, and hating for the sake of hating will be removed, as will any post screaming "first" because no one cares. Cursing is fine, as I curse myself. I still expect you to act like you have home training. This is not a Free Speech Zone. I reserve the right to delete comments or tell you to piss off. You post, you stand by your words, and all the consequences of those words, even if that consequence is getting your ass handed back to you. Don't come in my space, spit on my floor, and expect me to call it a swimming pool. I can and will cuss your entire ass out. If I told you not to comment, and you comment, your comments will be deleted.

If you are under 13 your comments will be removed; you're too young to be on the internet unsupervised and you know it.