How much should a plastic doll and her accessories cost?
I was in the American Girl store today with Plum. As we walked in the splendor of the store, we were greeted by a doll hospital with an emergency department; a doll hair salon where we actually bear witness to a doll getting a hair cut; a large glass display of dolls of various ethnicities, skin/eye colors, hair styles, designed to make little girls felt so connected that they wanted to bring the dolls home.
Plum knew where I stood in terms of how much a toy should cost. Spending over a hundred dollars on a plastic doll seemed ridiculous to me. She owned a similar plastic doll with a fraction of the cost, which she bought with her own money last year after much consideration of the pros and cons of whether to spend all the $120 on one doll, versus spending less than that on a similar doll, have money left over to buy an IKEA doll bed, some clothes, a few pairs of shoes, and still have spare change! At the end of that episode, she wisely chose the latter. Since American Girl store had all the accessories a doll could possibly dream of, we were here today to shop for her doll. She set her budget at $35.
We strolled around the first floor, then second floor, oh look, here was a doll with a cart next to a cheerleading doll:
Look! Here are two dolls hanging out on a trundle bed, presumably during a sleepover:
A doll getting her hair washed:
Plum had her heart set on a camping tent. Price: $88. She quietly put the box down and continued to look around: no arguing, no negotiation about resetting her budget, or asking for financial help from me. We held hands, patiently looking through isle upon isle of overpriced toys. After awhile, even I started to wonder what she can possibly get here for under thirty five dollars. There were some cute outfits for real (human) girls, and I offered to buy them for her. “No thank you, Mommy. We are here to shop for my doll,” Plum explained as a matter of factly. Then, all of a sudden, her eyes lit up. There was a doll school set complete with a miniature backpack, folder, notebook, pens, tiny stickers, ruler, all for $28! With taxes, this came right under $32. Plum grabbed the box, excitedly told me how her baby doll was going to school! That settled it, Plum was going to teach her doll how to read and write.
On the way to the cashier, with Plum clutching her little purse stuffed with the money she made over the past year from doing various house chores, we overheard a father telling his little girl, “you get to choose another doll, and then we’ll buy a few dresses for them.” We passed by a group of young girls Plum’s age, each holding an American Girl that looked like a miniature version of themselves (!), posing for a group photo for their moms. At the cashier register, a grandmother came away holding three ginormous shopping bags overstuffed with merchandise. Plum put her little box down, opened up her wallet, and started counting: first the fives, then the ones, then the quarters. The girl working at the cashier seemed surprised and exclaimed, “She is paying this with her own money?!”
“Yup,” I said, although “and you guys are robbing her hard earned money” was what I was actually thinking. Plum counted to thirty two dollars and handed over her money. “I have a job with my ama and mommy, so I make my own money,” Plum helpfully assured her with a sincerity so earnest that touched my core.
Sure, I can afford to shop here in the store, but I chose not to. I chose to let my baby monkey figure out her priorities, set her goals and reach them. To be fair, American Girl puts out books with stories that teach girls about how to stand up to bullying, magazines with personal stories showcasing strong female characters, and movies featuring female characters with topics relevant and important to little girls trying to fit in, trying to grow up. Plum enjoyed those items from the library. However I just cannot condone dropping a small fortune on toys that one can easily substitute for a lot less. Truth be told, the kind of dolls that I grew up playing with cost next to nothing, because they were paper dolls made by me. My cousins and I drew our characters — often a family with parents and children, sometimes girls doing fashion shows — colored and cut them out. We drew out their change of clothes next, as many as we liked, colored, cut and stacked them up. Once the preparation stage was done, which generally took a couple of hours, we’d play with our paper dolls with their various combination of shirts and skirts and pants and dresses and hats and shoes and scarves and bags and necklaces and earrings. The cost of all that what we now called “imaginative play”, were a few pieces of paper, color pencils, and a pair of scissors.
“Let’s go! Let’s get on the trolley!” said Plum cheerfully, pulling me off my reverie. We walked out of the store, hand in hand, Plum’s eyes set straight toward the exit. She did not look back on all the Easter holiday shoppers binging on commercialism. She was happy and excited that she found a fantastic toy that she could use for her doll and she moved on. At that moment, I realized what it was that touched me so deeply a moment ago: Plum’s complete lack of envy and greed.