|Two dolls and too deep in the madness of the American Girl Fandom, circa 2006.|
On the collection front, Addy's collection was growing slow but steady, and I had very recently gotten my first post-college sewing machine, a Janome 3125 (nicknamed Janome Halloween-Giftmas) that I still have as a travel machine. I had even attempted to remake two outfits that had been retired out of her collection1 and started to design my own for her, including one as a reaction to Addy getting left out of a release again. But, having been smacked once by the Hand of Mod and not in the mood to be smacked again, I did what was Standard Neth Operating Procedure at the time.
I lurked like a motherfucker.
I didn't totally lurk. I still posted things and tried to get along with people and be friendly to the others on the board. But as the old saying goes, I kept my head down and my nose clean. Without standing out too much or getting in trouble and while guarding my words heavily, I watched how people posted and saw the community actually felt, and tried to figure out how not to make an ass of myself again.
This is how I found out that there was an underlying level of Christianity, fundamentalism, and financial enabling that I look back on and get more than a little skeeved out about.
Prologue: Not Such a Sweet Baby Face
Part One: Finding AG Fans, or How Periods are Bad For Children
Before I tear off the faux friendly covers of AGF to expose the sticky smelly fundy funk underneath, let me talk briefly about American Girl Playthings. I'm doing this half by timeline and half by memory, and the more I lay out before I get elbows deep in the madness the better.
American Girl Playthings, or AGPT/AGP, launched around February 2006--right around the first time I got in trouble with AG Fans. AGPT was the second ever message board for American Girl fandom I'd ever seen, other than some side shoot offs, generic doll message boards, and Yahoo and other Mailing Lists. One of the founders, EofA--short for Eleanor of Aquitaine--was really nice to me. She had started to talking to me on AIM--AOL Instant Messenger2 and agreed that AGF had a lot of restrictive repressive rules. She was starting a new board, and she thought that I should get in on the ground floor--partially because she was aiming for it to be a lot less restrictive than AGF.3 So I signed up once the boards were open. That's how my fingers got into that pie.
And to be honest, I liked EofA. She was an adult--granted so was I, but she was older than me--and she was kind, a touch snarky, and very helpful. She even pointed me towards an Buy It Now auction for a used American Girl with brown eyes, her hair hacked short, and on the very grubby side of used for only $22. What a steal! With my fiance's permission--since at the time I was jobless and he was still in college, so fixed incomes were quite fixed--I got my first ever modern doll. Her wig was completely unsalvageable and a trip to a local doll store--which has since folded--hadn't gotten me anywhere. So I wasn't sure where to find fitting wigs, and I posted on the board looking for help. Another collector contacted me and offered--super generously, I may add--to send me three wigs out of her collection of AG scaled wigs. Diva, I believe her username was. I didn't have to even pay her for them. All I had to do was send back the two wigs that I decided against, and post pictures once she was made over. And that's how Naomi J. Kirkland was born and I became the doll whisperer.
|Naomi Kirkland, Gang Member #2. It would take a while to perfect my clothes design style.4|
Do not, do not, do not get me wrong. I have no issues with people choosing Christianity for themselves as a personal faith. There are good Christians in this world. You keep your faith or lack thereof to you and don't bash mine. And I get that message boards are not free speech because they are not the US government. Shit, this blog isn't--you say stupid shit in the comments and you will get told all about yourself. But I do have an issue, and rightfully so, with the fact that being Christian means that you are privileged in western society, and I have hella issues with fundamentalists that suppress anything they don't like in the name of "spreading the message" or avoiding being "worldly." You are on the internet, get over yourselves.
As I said, talking about something as biologically common as menstruation was a bad topic and not for the sensitive eyes of the children. The following was also verboten, among many other things:
- Talking about anything other than being straight and monogamous. If you were not straight, you were never to mention your partner. The words "my girlfriend" were not allowed if you IDed as female--and there were few male collectors of note. Trans issues? Gender fluidity? Don't even think about that. And of course, I never brought up I was bisexual or poly. But women were free to talk about their husbands--or, as the cutesy-poo abbreviation went, "DH."
- Any faith other than Christianity. This wasn't explicitly spoken, but the tone of the board was very Christian. There was a reason they didn't find out I was blatantly pagan til that October.
- Politics. Somewhat. You weren't supposed to bring the outside world into the bubble of doll collecting, because it would just make everything messy. So no talking about anything political or messy or unfun--you talked mostly about dolls. This is why I barely got to know anyone before AG > 18.
- Deeper critique of the AG books. You could say that a book was scary for your child or maybe that you felt a topic in a story was "inappropriate" for the target age, but that was about as far as you could go. At this time there wasn't a historical after Kaya, so there was no Julie issue.
- Cursing or other bad language. I understand there are people who don't like everyone saying fuck everywhere despite the beautiful versatility of the word, but things like "sucks" and "shut up" and "breasts" were bad language.
- Linking to unwholesome sites. Again, no one wants to accidentally stumble on unwanted porn--if they're looking for porn, it's on purpose and they don't need your help to find it. But unwholesome sites included places like Yahoo search, Geocities--shut up I'm internet old--and livejournal. This included telling someone to Google or websearch something because they might find a site they didn't like.
- Race discussion. You could mention the race of your dolls and maybe your own. I only recall about three people other than me being black and one girl who was Native, Colette Denali. But most of the board was white. So you couldn't correct someone for saying something racially insensitive, such as that black dolls didn't sell or that Kaya's religion was "strange." You couldn't argue that someone shouldn't put Kaya's clothes on white dolls or stereotype a character. A common complaint for Jess in the fandom at the time? Her story and collection wasn't Asian enough. A lot of Jess dolls found themselves wearing the Chinese New Year Outfit to "celebrate their heritage" and you couldn't say anything was wrong with that.
- Anything that hurt someone's feelings. It didn't matter how terrible their crafts were or their attitudes or how insulting what they said was to you, you were supposed to be nice back or find nice ways to say things because being mean was being unfriendly. If you couldn't say something uplifting, you just were supposed to shut up--unless, of course, that thing you were saying was to protect the children.
- Prayer Requests. If a person wanted someone to pray for them, it was permissible to post that outright. And the only proper response was to say that you would pray to God for them for whatever the issue was. I could not get away with anything outside of offering well wishes, as per the not hurting feelings deal. Something like "I'll light a candle" I was not bold enough to attempt. And there was no off topic section so there could be a "pray for me" topic right above a "I just got my order!" post.
- The Dolly Clothes Police. Did you take a picture of a doll without her underwear on, or with no shoes, or maybe not in the perfect position? Bring out the Dolly Police! There were people on the board who, if a picture was posted of a doll not in its full dress or with full respect--say, standing in mud or water or with their hair messed up--another poster would say they would bring the Dolly Police to your house to take away your dolls and adopt them out to better mommies. And that was considered cute.
- On that topic, Dolly Mommies. Again, something I'd like to tear apart in its own post. But if you were over a certain age and had gotten a doll, it was more acceptable to refer to yourself as a Dolly Mommy, and in photostories and albums the dolls were to call you "mommy." Which I was not even cool with. People also referred to others as Dolly Mommies if they were old enough or as their children--almost always girls--as mommies to their dolls.
- On the topic of clothes, a doll could be immodestly dressed. There was at least one mod who was Mormon fundamentalist--maybe even most of them--and she often complained that the tank tops and shorts offered in modern outfits were immodest. If she thought your doll was immodestly dressed, then it was, and if she said so, then such was the Word of Mod.
- Blatant display of financial wealth, and enabling references to a lack of self control when buying things. A common saying when a poster went shopping and blew a lot on doll things was the acronym EOYBA - Empty Out Your Bank Account. It was considered out of your hands, even--the "Doll Force" had just compelled you to buy, say, Jess's entire world collection as soon as it was released. Or whoops, you just kept adding to the cart and then number was high, giggle giggle, well can't do anything about it, giggle giggle.
- Pleasant Company Was Better Than Mattel. American Girl at this point had been owned by Mattel--makers of the terrible evil no good very bad Barbie who you were free to bash along with those terrible Bratz--outright for six years and they were going to run the company into the ground with their terrible practices. I plan to continue my "I'm a Mattel I'm a PC" series and go into more there, but the overall tone was that Mattel was doing terrible things, and owning PC things made you a better person and closer to the truth that Pleasant Rowland had intended. The clothes were too small for older dolls because they were sized for fit on the "anorexic" new dolls, they had taken good things away from the Girls of Today, everything was made of plastic instead of real gourds or glass, and too much was getting retired. Did you have a Mattel Felicity or Addy? Well, that was all right but maybe you should go on eBay and get an older used doll. Their faces were so much better. And it was simply terrible that some dolls were only Mattel, with their crunchy lashes and skinny minny bodies.
One example of the Fundamentalism Run Rampant that I (fortunately) missed most of was the Girls Inc controversy. Girls, Inc is a nonprofit organization, started in 1864, that seeks to empower girls to become smart, strong, and confident and uplift girls in a word that often tells them they can't do things because they're a girl--especially poor, Black, and/or Latina girls. And American Girl was starting to work towards the motto of empowering and uplifting girls. You'd think they would go together like peanut butter and jelly, and AG certainly did. So in 2005, American Girl branched out into the wide world of nonprofit partnership and paired up with Girls, Inc for the current hotness, rubber wrist bands. They designed and sold "I Can" rubber bracelets with their star logo for about $2, with all profits going to Girls, Inc.
And it went over kinda badly among fundies.
|Bad bracelet! Be less positive and liberal.|
And how DARE they do either! Google "Girls Inc American Girl" and just see a few of the many news reports still floating around over the controversy and the ire that a plastic bracelet caused. Fundies were staging protests and canceling events and calling AG to complain about this moral filth and sending letters and threatening and organizing boycotts and even sending dolls back and demanding refunds. Because AG had the unmitigated gall to support baby-murdering lesbianism. This degeneracy just wouldn't stand, damn it. AG mutually ended the partnership at the end of 2005, but it wasn't an easy time for them and they still get fall out from this.6
On the board? This was considered an appropriate thing to denounce. And the other side of the debate was basically allowed to be "I don't feel that way" without saying anything in support of Girl's Inc. Did you not read above? You couldn't support being gay outright, much less be outwardly in support of the so-called right to be a baby killing super slut.
|You are stretching your way straight to hell, young lady.|
But, you may think, you never met these people. Maybe they were okay face to face and the internet just only showed the worst side. Oh, but I did. Once.
In May '06, there was a meetup in a local park for Seattle and WA-State based collectors. I dressed Addy in her Jump Rope Dress7 with her hair in double loops and Naomi in a pink top, jeanesque skirt, white hoodie I'd made for her, and ruffled socks and Mary Janes. Naomi got subjected to a lot of shit before I got good at this doll thing. It was a touch rainy--Seattle, what you gonna do--but the person organizing it had gotten a table under a shelter. I think there were about five or six of us all together and I don't remember nowadays any of the people I met. I do remember being the only black person there. News flash for the white population: It can be very uncomfortable to be the only person of color in a group you've never met before when they don't expect you to be so. I was also the youngest there barring someone's child.
|Look at all those effing dolls. And now I have more than that.|
But it felt strange, like the adults weren't really sure how to interact with me. I wasn't a stay at home mom, I hadn't gotten into collecting through my children--I'd gotten into it because I was of age enough to have wanted Addy as a kid9--and while I'd had a brief stint working retail at Target, I was currently unemployed and my fiance was a college junior. They also had a bit of an issue with my pentacle. I think even if they had braced themselves for young and black, they hadn't expected the out paganism. But they were polite--which is sometimes the best you can hope for. It was nice enough for a few hours of meeting people, and I thought that if they ever did something like that again I'd like to be part of it.
If they had any other meetups again, I wasn't invited. By then, I'd made a name for myself, and it wasn't exactly wholesome and fluffy.
Part Three: The Wicked Witch of Customizing and the Birth of AG > 18
1 One went okay. The other not so much. I've since upgraded both so the rough copies have been pushed down quietly--and no you can't see them unless I say so.
2 I still use it, even if nowadays about three people consistently talk to me on it and everyone else apparently transitioned to Facebook and all that shit. I just use Pidgin now to run through it.
3And we all see how that went, fuck you very much. Give me time.
4 Still have this set. Time for Crafting Creatively Posts: Pajama Jammy Jam edition.
5 I am a hard pro-choice advocate. Every woman has the right to choose to end a pregnancy if she so decides and abortion is a medical right. Argue with me about this and you will lose. Try me.
6 One of the things that came out of this controversy was swarms of 18" doll companies who were pretty outright about how their dolls promoted good, wholesome Christian Values--such as Vision Forum and Life of Faith--and how they were the alternative to American Girl's filthy lesbian baby murder. I can't think of a major company that came up from that that's still kicking around now; the whole "Jesus-filled Doll" trend pretty much died out one way or another.
7 Details later. Maybe soon. Addy could use a clothes change.
8 #26s were not yet referred to as Fauxtters. I didn't have her yet. But that is for later in the story.
9 Thirteen is still in a whole lot of ways a kid. Especially as I get older.