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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

AG Complaint Department: I'm a Mattel, I'm a PC Part 1

Marisol's a "Mattel", Josefina's a "PC". I don't care.
If you're part of the AG Fandom--and honestly, 90% of the people reading this blog are part of the AG fandom, it's a niche topic I'm talking on here--then you've probably had to deal with a lot of Pleasant Company nostalgia on message boards and among collectors. To paraphrase Douglas Adams and make a long story very short, "In 1998 Mattel bought American Girl from Pleasant T. Rowland, Founder of American Girl, for seven hundred million dollars. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded by nostalgia goggle collectors as a bad move."

Spend any time around some boards and you'll pick up the vibe. Pleasant Company love and Mattel Hate is everywhere. Many collectors will talk wistfully of  the days when Addy's Meet Accessories came with authentic gourds and Felicity's eyes were a soothing green and Samantha's hair was apparently so fresh and curly you could just fluff it all day. Many people will pay more to have a PC doll or accessory set rather than get a Mattel one. There are multiple posts around the internet telling you how to tell a PC doll from a Mattel in the same way people try to tell authentic coins, stamps, or vintage items. Some people say that PC stuff is automatically worth more than anything Mattel made. In fact, many people call dolls and items made before Mattel purchased the company PM--or "Pre-Mattel", as if the ownership by Mattel has tainted our precious 18 inch semi-historical dolls.

If a person prefers PC stuff, that's one thing. I'm not going to bitch too hard about that. But many of them shit all over Mattel's releases and turn their nose up towards anything not PC, and in the process come off wholly, willfully ignorant. I recently came across a post on a blog (I won't link) that stated the following without a hint of irony:
Let's face it, anything Pleasant Company is better quality. Those of us who collect PC can see the difference. Kit's candy making set would have had a metal not a plastic double boiler with plastic candy molds. And Kit would not wear a PINK dress, still they insisted on giving her a pink polyester chiffon dress. 
I find this hilariously stupid for the big glaring reason that Kit, released in 2000, was released wholly by Mattel. Yes, random blogger, I'm sure that the Historical Character that was never released by PC would have totes released her stuff the way you're saying.

Not everything PC has released has been better. I don't deny that Mattel has done a lot of weird, unusual, badly planned, and altogether shitty things since they got the company. But so did Pleasant Company and Pleasant Rowland in the twelve years before Mattel stepped in, and I'm not about to let the early years of the company off the hook for their actions.

This is going to be a side series--basically, I'll just go into four to five things about Pleasant Company I don't like with each post, because there's no way I can get this in one post.

Fat Ass PC Bodies

Lemme tell you a short story about upcoming reviews. I managed to get my hand on Gwen's1 and Chrissa's Meet outfits, because once in a while AG sells Girl of the Year stuff as secondary extra outfits under other names and you might be able to hop on it. (Sonali, of course, came in her own.) I got Gwenni in Gwen's because the beauty of such is not lost on me, Sonali in her own, and decided to stick Tara--a PC girl--in Chrissa's. The dress fit. The bracelet--the useless bit of outfit it is--fit.

Then I tried the shoes. And Tara's fat PC feet would not fit in Chrissa's shoes. I tugged, I sighed, I attempted to stretch and pull and wheedle her into them. Nothing worked. Eventually I gave up, put her in another outfit, and wrote it off.

This hasn't been the only thing that hasn't fit Tara, Michi, or any of my few PC girls. I've come across tight arms, uncomfortably close pants, and busted elastic. 

This is because PC dolls came out chunkier than Mattel dolls. They have bigger feet, thicker limbs, and are bulkier in the body. When Mattel came along, they slimmed the bodies down and redid outfit lines and shoes to match the new dimensions of the bodies. Maybe it was to make the dolls more in what they felt was good. Maybe it's because they didn't have the original drafts. Maybe they wanted the dolls to stand up a little more. Maybe like the story of the olives,2 shaving off an inch in the middle saved millions in supplies for making clothes and shoes. Either way, if you're buying clothes for most dolls, they're going to be sized for a Mattel doll--generally, everything after about 2000-2002.

Many people bitch about Mattel "slimming" down the dolls, and the suggestion of taking out a little bit of the middle fluff to get a doll to fit in an outfit has led to people whining that this is beyond the pale. Shut up. I've done it. Josefina needed to be able to fit tin the Mattel sets I buy her, so I took out maybe a poof of stuffing and squished her some around the middle. She doesn't look "anorexic" (way to compare a doll to a eating disorder, assholes) or like a Barbie.3 She still looks like an AG girl.

If you have a PC doll and she won't fit in that new pretty outfit you just picked, don't bitch and moan that Mattel is trying to ruin your life. The dolls have been "slim" since the early 2000s. While you can't shave down their arms, you can take care of those linebacker shoulders and middles and remove some stuffing. The doll won't miss it.

Pale Makeup

Kirsten and the very pale makeup: A story in one part.
PC dolls come with very, very pale makeup. There's a hint of blush, and a hint of lip color, but nothing as sharp as the Mattel ones. Because of this, to me they look more than a little washed out--like they're coming down with something.

Yes, the argument goes from some people, little girls shouldn't wear the makeups and heavy blush and lipstick makes them look too painted.  But we're not dealing with actual little girls, contrary to people's ways and treatment of their collection. We're dealing with dolls. Firm blush and a slight high contrast to the lip color to make them pop are something that make a plastic doll face look more realistic and less like a doll. There's a level of blushing and tints that need to be done to avoid weirdness.

I have done a face up on BJDs and customized MLP as well as AG dolls--and while a pale blush or pale tints to lips might seem okay, the fact is that to keep a doll out of the Valley of Uncanny, you have to put more color to a very pale plastic than you would think they need.  

Shitty Meet Shoes For the First Three Girls 

Phoning in the Shoes.
When American Girl was released in 1986, there was no guarantee that they would be as successful as they were. With the notable exception of Barbie and AG, can you name a doll or toy line that has been or was out for a consecutive ten years? Off the top of my head there was ten years of 80s MLP, G.I. Joe, maybe Transformers, Legos, Raggedy Ann...and that's it. And the only doll line I can think of is Barbie, AG, Raggedy Anns, and G.I. Joe. There's generic baby dolls and general styles of dolls like teddy bears. But every year there's dolls and toys that come and go, hundreds that sprung up for a year or two--maybe five if they could really get some love--and then tapered out or were shut down by the company for not turning a profit or enough of one. American Girl could have been a flash in the pan that could have easily fizzled out and been a thing that was just in the late 80s and quietly faded away. So Pleasant Company went with several cost cutting measures in the doll line. Kirsten ended up with fairly non-historically accurate pie bangs like the other two so as to save on wig styles. Another thing they did--and I hate--is in the next point.

And the three of them got really bad shoes.

I've bitched about Samantha's and Molly's shoes before--hideous black plastic lumps of doll shoes that they got and that Nellie was subjected to as well. (Emily escaped with respectable t-straps.) But Kirsten didn't escape shoe fail. She got stuck for twenty-plus years with soft-soled weak boots that never got a replacement. There's no way she could have walked all over the wild frontier in those soft things. No wonder she asked for and got some nice red boots in her summer set--she needed some ankle support!

Should they ever pull her out of the AG Vault, they need to give her some good respectable shoes.It's not hard to do.

White Body: The Largest Fuck Up

Fuck, the body don't match the limbs!
And then we get to what I hate most about the first three AG girls. The first three girls had every outfit they owned go right up to the neckline--which was generally the fashion of the time for most of history, so that was at least accurate. So all you saw were limbs and head. So Pleasant Company did what every doll company tended to do at the time, rather than making matching body colors. They made the muslin bodies white.

I hate this look so much. I have since I discovered that white-bodied American Girl Dolls existed. Later more outfits came out with lower necklines--not super low, but neat--and when it was and so you get that weird disconnect between limbs and body. This didn't change until about 1990-1991, when Felicity came out and it was realized that colonial fashions don't go up to the neck--they dip near down to the breasts on all the girls--and so the bodies would have to match. Thank gods this changed. If Addy had come out with a white body, I might have spit tacks. As it is, I would never pay the inflated costs for a white body doll. I realize I'm buying dolls and so there's a level of non-realism, but the white muslin bodysuit look just really pisses me off so hard.

PC Felicity: Not For Me

Before I got Felicity, I heard a lot of bad things about what had happened to her in the process of re-releasing her. Her eyes were neon and her hair wasn't the right kind of red and they had changed her meet outfit and accessories and her lashes didn't match her hair and I was going to be totally disappointed with a Mattel one--maybe new clothes wouldn't fit, but the better things outweighed the bad. And thinking that people who had been in the fandom longer than me knew a little better--something that I would learn was so wrong later on--I considered it. I looked at PC Felicity auctions, but the cost felt high just to get a doll made before 2000. Then I decided that I'd try to handle a PC Felicity if at all possible, before committing to either side. 

So I volunteered to host a traveling doll4--Traveling Felicity. She arrived with her outfits and box, a notebook to log her adventures, and all those bits that I'll explain later. I let her hang amongst my gang members in the the late summer and early fall of 2006, while I was still jobless. I took her to the Space Needle because when you live in Seattle you do that with people, and I took her on a tour of Nintendo and Microsoft because Nintendo had a nice little walk in facility at the time and Microsoft was just down the road, and I spent Talk Like a Pirate Day writing up a photostory with her and Naomi, my little pirate. I had a semi-decent time playing with a doll that had been shipped to me, and shipped her off to the next person.

I discovered I didn't like her. Her skin was too pale. Her hair was messy from age. Her face was off to me, she looked a little hunchbacked, and I didn't like the shade of red for her hair. Her eyes were slightly paler, but the negatives outweighed the positives. I ordered a Felicity from Mattel along with some outfits for Giftmas from my husband, and when my Lissie the Lezzie arrived I saw her eyes were just fine, her hair color was neat, and I loved her from day one. To this day I'm glad I didn't listen to the crowd and got the doll I wanted instead of assuming PC was Best.

Dear Traveling Felicity: You convinced me to get a Mattel.


There shall, of course, be more bitching about Pleasant Company issues. There will be more doll bitching, natch. But I plan to complain about the books, the clothing, the false marketing, and even St. Rowland the Venerated. For now, feel free to jump in with a bitch or two about PC dolls. I don't need to hear the Mattel ones. There's been enough of them.


1 Gwen is one of the most boring dolls I've ever seen released by AG, no shit. But that is a later complaint.
2 As the tale goes, the head of American Airlines managed to save several thousand dollars by yanking one of the olives out of every salad.
3 This will be a later rant.
4 Another rant/fussing as well.


  1. My #1 PC complaint: The shiny vinyl.
    I have what I'm pretty sure is a "transition" Samantha doll (I received her in '99), and, while she fortunately is a slimmer doll that fits in the new clothes (whew!), she has this smooth, shiny vinyl that is really hard to photograph without her looking sweaty. Granted, I don't know for sure that all PC dolls have this, but it's the first thing I think about whenever someone says "PC is better than Mattel!" Yeah, right. I'll take a nice, matte-vinyl-ed Mattel doll over a shiny PC one, thank you very much.

    And the SHOES, ugh! Her shoes drove me insane when I was a kid. I finally developed this method for wiggling them on, but all of the wrestling involved stretches out her tights and makes them bunch around the ankles. With Sam's re-release in August, they'd BETTER give her new shoes, because I will race to the store and grab two pairs for her and Nellie.

    The only thing I sort-of preferred about PC was that yes, some of the accessories were real metal instead of plastic. But as long as it's sturdy and looks good, I really don't care.

    Thank you for being the voice of reason in this argument, Nethilia!

    --Kate :)

  2. I've got both PC and Mattel girls. Well, two Mattel to one PC ohnoes! Addy is outnumbered!1111!!!

    But PC bitching. The clothes not fitting asdfadfgghggafjskgjg;jgg. And like I've said elsewhere my Addy's head is held on by a zip tie instead of respectable neck strings. I'd not mind taking out a poof of stuffing, but I can't figure out how to get her head off, and the nearest store that might possibly sell zip ties is over an hour away. I live in the middle of nowhere. So this means I have to try very hard to find PC outfits at reasonable prices, which is nearly impossible on eBay. Though I have it better than some, I guess, as Addy's clothes tend to not be like form-fitting and the like, and my Addy is not the type of doll who'd wear pants. DO NOT get me started on the shoes.

    I kind of like Mattel face molds better too. PC faces are chubby.

    My Addy's hair also tends to bush out a bit. It is hard to get it to lie down smooth, and it's not because of the texturing.

    Furthermore, I don't understand why people shit all over Mattel. Sure they've had their fuck-ups. But so has Pleasant Co.

  3. That's so funny about Kit !!!!!!

  4. Hello. I like this post, it's very interesting. Though I've been an AG fan for about twenty-five-years, I just only recently received Josèfina as a gift. I remember seeing catalogs for Samantha way back when, but I never actually saw any of her stuff in person so I have nothing to go on with the whole PC vs. Mattel. I have zero experience with PC vs. Mattel haters, the only way I've heard about any of this is through your blog, since you've been an AG fan for a while. In my opinion, it's silly for those people to look down at Mattel.
    I think Kit's set is great, having seen it recently. Sure, it would be nice if some parts were metal but it's not the end of the world, you know?

    I know you've got Josèfina, do you have any of her collection? I bought her oven and food set and I was so disappointed. Do you know if it's been around for a long time, or is it something new? First off, when I got it, the wooden paddle was broken in half and parts of the oven were chipping. I think they should make it out of rubber because it doesn't feel sturdy at all. I called AG and the rep told me the oven is made out of foam. Ugh. I could just see myself tripping, falling and crushing the poor thing. LOL. I'm sure for the oven to better made the price will go up.

    Thanks for this post! :)

    1. I have a decent amount of her collections--I have all her outfits, but very few of her accessories and almost none of her furniture.

      The oven and food is a re-release that combines components from two other sets. I've yet to buy it, but I may sculpt my own. It's probably made of foam because foam is cheap, and the paddle might be balsa wood.

    2. Thanks for the info. And yes, you'll probably do a fine job on sculpting your own. :)

  5. I've got a PC Samantha, and I've noticed that even some of the pre-Mattel clothes have a bit of a wonky fit (I have to kind of squish her around the middle to get her Christmas dress to close in the back--and I got that dress back in 1994, the same year I got the doll!)

    It does seem kind of silly to get sniffy about Mattel, especially since without Mattel we wouldn't be getting any new dolls or clothes at all!

  6. I first learned about the White Muslin PC Bodies sometime last year & thought it was strange--of course, since I was more familiar w/the dolls from after they switched to muslin in shades of tan.

    the only reason I can think of someone taking the time to track one down now (& paying the extra "collectors" price) would be if they were the kind of collector who likes to have every variation of a doll in their collection. I mean, to me, I play w/my dolls & stuff... their rarity or 'value' isn't a thing for me once they're part of my doll-fam.

  7. I have a PC Molly which was recently given to me as a gift. She's so stout that her Meet skirt will not close. I thought maybe she was wearing a modern skirt, but the tag on it says that it was made in Germany for Pleasant Company so it must be original to the doll.

    Thanks for talking about the shoes. Never having seen a Molly in person before, I assumed at first that mine did not have her original shoes because they looked so cheap.

    However, I do love my Molly even thought she doesn't fit very well in the new Christmas Dress I bought. (I don't mind; one of my other dolls will enjoy wearing it.) And in a rather perverse way, I'm enjoying my struggles to make some outfits that will fit Molly from the original Pleasant Co. patterns. (Not the easiest patterns in the world!)

    But because of my interest in sewing, I definitely wouldn't go out of my way to buy a PC doll -- all of the really cool patterns are sized for the current Mattel dolls.

  8. I kind of feel like Mattel actually has higher quality than PC stuff, at least in regards to the dolls. Now, I've not seen any PC dolls in person, just photographs from others, but I have noticed a few of the points you made and one other commenter - they are shiny and the makeup is too pale. I worked for a doll manufacturing company for four years so I'm very familiar with how much makeup must be put on the doll just to make them look realistic. To me the PC dolls all look really fake/creepy. And I pretty much hate all their wigs. They all look the same - bushy and not soft. My two Mattel girls (Josefina and Cecile) have lovely soft, sleek hair (well, Cecile's is super curly but it's still got a nice shine to it and is soft to the touch). I'm looking forward to the re-release of Samantha this fall to see if they make any improvements on her. I know Mattel made Samanthas for quite awhile before her retirement but I'm not sure I've seen any.

  9. I have a PC Samantha who was quite "chubby " . She had her hair expertly cut when I got her and I am pleased with it. I named her Margaret after my Mother and reduced her body to the size of a Mattel doll. Her clothes fit her much better now.

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  11. ...Perhaps this is explained in another blog post, but I must inquire, why is she Lissie the Lezzie? Is this something extrapolated from her books (I have heard rumors about her and Elizabeth!), or something that your individual girl revealed about herself? I'm interested, just because I don't see a whole lot of LGBTQ doll characters floating around the interwebs.

    For what it's worth, in the PC complaint department, I hate mismatched fabric bodies. The white bodies aren't the only ones; there are some older Molly dolls with the wrong shade of body, all of whom appear to have an unnatural tan line. I also wasn't a fan of the PC hair, which, while it resembles "real" hair slightly better, seems to be a bit dull and coarse to me. Oh, and let's not forget the truly horrifying: super-soft vinyl that gets all squishy and deformed if you leave a doll in the car on a summer day.

    1. Amongst my gang, Felicity is a lesbian and in love with Elizabeth (brunette style). I personally have felt for years that Felicity comes off very well as a lesbian, and I like queer readings in my stories.

  12. Just want to say that I love this blog and the way it is written, don't remember the last time I laughed so hard!

    I have one of the PC Samantha dolls, she's the only one I have currently, but thank you for posting about this. Now I finally understand why I struggle with some of the clothes I have. The original shoes really did suck big time too, I was an adult when I received her and I had major trouble getting them back on, can only imagine how many little girls had trouble and how many parents threw them in the trash!

    I also have to comment about the materials she is made of, primarily the plastic parts. She got yucky a couple of years ago--sticky to the touch and she has developed a couple of shiny spots on her. Not sure what the heck happened, I gave her a "spa" treatment with baking soda and it took care of the stickiness, but not the shiny spots.

    As for the Mattel issue--I can't knock them, they have been innovators in toys for years, I think by now they know what they are doing. If anyone should be mad at anyone, perhaps they should be upset with Madame Rowland for selling out? I've bought some odds and ends since the big change, and I really don't see what the big fuss is. Overall AG quality is still very good, although still over priced IMHO. If Mattel hadn't bought them, who knows what would have happened?

  13. one thing is also the neckline. newer mattel dolls have weir wrinkly necklines while the PC and older mattel dolls had very smooth cute necklines which made it possible for them to wear clothes with an open cleavage

  14. I have a PC Molly that I just acquired from EBay. I thought I researched it pretty well before buying. My daughter has other AG doll but they were all purchased recently. My Molly has the Pleasant Company wording on the back but her hairline looks very strange. There is the band around the base of the neck for the wig then small little short wisps of hair that didn't fit into her braids at the base. Is this real?

    1. I think this is the short hairs woven in to the wig to make the hair look more natural when the hair is split into two parts, but i'm not completely sure.
      As far as the band, that's probably just the wig.


Trolling, pointless bigotry, nonsense, 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, kick you out of the convo, 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.

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