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The Gestapo Of Dolls
Girls apparently go whacko for American Girl dolls. As I am a girl of 43, and have been careful not to have any girls of my own, I've just heard about this. Apparently, these dolls are ridiculously expensive (car payment-priced -- like, they can be hundreds of dollars with clothing), so a 6-year-old kid spent her own money on an American Girl-like doll at Target for considerably less (although the $29.99 she spent isn't peanuts). A friend then invited her to come with her to have her doll's hair styled at the American Girl Place in Manhattan. Bad idea. Her mom blogs about what went down when Etta, her little girl, got to the front of the line:

“This isn’t a real doll!” the stylist exclaimed. (Thank your stylist!--we never would have had the heart to explain it that way!). And to prove that a fake doll isn’t worth the plastic she’s molded out of, she refused to do the doll’s hair.

I’m not sure exactly what’s in it for your company, because you still stood to make $20 off of my daughter for doing the fake doll’s hair. I have two thoughts on that. Either her $20 wasn’t worth the same as someone else’s $20 (in which case I’ve learned something new too!) OR it was worth the $20 to you to be able to be the one to break the news to, I mean, to *enlighten* my little girl. You do promise to teach little girls, don’t you?

And she cried and cried and cried, and your stylist held her ground. That was a good lesson for her too. That feelings don’t have a place in "the heart of Manhattan’s prestigious shopping neighborhood" (another quote from your website).

And did you realize how loyal to you all the other mommies in line were? You’d have been proud of them.

One chided Etta for not knowing she couldn’t bring a fake doll to the store. Tsk tsk. She’s in first grade now and can read by herself (taught herself, in fact). She probably should have done the research. There’s another great lesson for her. (Thanks mom in line!)

One mom muttered to another that Etta probably couldn't afford a real one. Great hunch! She's six!

One mom just smiled and said "Well, American Girl Dolls aren’t for everyone, you know.” A sentence cleverly crafted to make Etta feel like someone cared about her but also to be aware that she really didn’t belong there in your fancy store with the other, richer, better girls. How compassionate!

So, another little girl had a life-changing experience at The American Girl Place!

Hooray for you!

To think, she might have gotten through first grade with her self-confidence intact!

...As promised, her experience at your store gave her "memories she’ll cherish forever." You cared enough to realize that there’s a limit to what I can teach her at home and you rushed in and offered up some good old-fashioned and completely unforgettable public humiliation!

Good job!

Forever grateful,
Etta’s mom.

While I think this was pretty awful, if it's true, some commenters on the site noted that the mother should've called to see if the store -- which is all about one brand of dolls -- would do other kinds of dolls...and I tend to agree.

It's kind of like the American guy in New Jersey with a summer house in France who recently wrote me that American women who rented his place "should have known" that his price of "fifteen hundred a week" was 1500 eu, not the 1500 dollars they tried to pay him on return. I told him it was up to him to spell out. (And the fact that he took payment on return says he's naive to begin with -- not a crime, but if you don't take personal responsibility, and do due diligence, you really shouldn't be too shocked when things don't turn out the way you'd hoped.)

via Consumerist

Posted by aalkon at March 24, 2007 5:00 PM


The are just too many Americans who don't have a real job in life.

Posted by: eric at March 24, 2007 10:04 AM

The salon says nothing about only doing American Doll's hair on their website. See text below.

Also, this particular mom knows about the AG brand, but many parents haven't even heard of AG dolls. If I had told my parents when I was little that my friend invited me to the American Girl doll salon, they would've probably thought it was just a doll salon for children. The situation with this girl is one that the salon should have been prepared for, and could easily come up again.

If they don't want to do another doll's hair that's fine, but the stylist should take the ADULT with the kids over to the side, and explained the situation to him/her quietly and discreetly. Then the adult could make up some reason that they suddenly had to go. Saying it out loud to the child, in earshot of other customers is tacky and heartless.

AG website text:

"Treat your doll to a new ’do! Give her a sassy ponytail flip, an elegant bun, or a long braid. Visit the Doll Hair Salon, and let one of our specially trained stylists work magic on your doll’s hair"

"General information
The Doll Hair Salon is open during regular store hours
Prices range from $10 to $20 for styling
Pampering Plus package is $5 with any hairstyle
Appointments not accepted
Please stop by early to check availability"

Posted by: Lisa at March 24, 2007 11:52 AM

What sort of nonsense is it, having a 6 year old girl spend $20 having a doll's hair styled? That's a lot of money for a child that age.

However horribly the hair salon may have acted, strike one goes to the mother. She missed a chance to teach her child something about the value of money - by turning down the invite in the first place.

Posted by: Brad Richards at March 24, 2007 12:12 PM

I'm with you on the ridiculousness of buying into the "need" to spend that kind of money -- on the doll or the doll hair styling!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 24, 2007 12:30 PM

I'm with you on the ridiculousness of buying into the "need" to spend that kind of money -- on the doll or the doll hair styling!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 24, 2007 12:31 PM

"Need" has nothing to do with it. How she spends her money is her choice. She still expects civil treatment in any retail establishment.

I spent over $30 on the "Build A Bear" doll with my daughter when she was 12. We had a great time, but I doubt if she ever looked at the doll since. We had no "need" for the doll. I don't care who would think it was a poor choice of how to spend my money. My thoughts on it on the only ones I consider.

Posted by: Machida at March 24, 2007 12:46 PM

Correction-My thoughts on it are the only ones I consider.

Posted by: Machida at March 24, 2007 12:49 PM

Imagine the trouble and psychological counseling all the big and little brothers are subjected to for blowing one of these dolls up with an M-80.....

Posted by: eric at March 24, 2007 1:28 PM

Although I have no children, and I'm not likely to, if this little anecdote is true I'd never allow my child to own one of these dolls. And it isn't the snotty stylist's attitude either.

It's the other parents.

The object lesson for little Etta here is "You are judged by the company you keep." And the parents in that line are certainly not worthy of my company.

Posted by: brian at March 24, 2007 3:35 PM

On the one hand, yes, this little girl doesn't "need" to have her doll's hair styled for $20. On the other hand, I have a lot of things that I don't "need" (include artificially colored and straightened hair), and I haven't turned into a monster. (Though the night is young.) Most 6-year-olds in the U.S. get things they don't "need." I think regular $20 hairstyles for dolls are silly, and after this, were I that mother, I would refuse to have anything to do with American Doll again, but I can see why the child would want the styling - she wants to be like her mother, her mother goes and gets fancy things (from a child's perspective) done to her hair at the salon, and so taking her dolly to the salon sort of lets her live out her wish to be more like Mom.

There was an easy out for all this - and those who work in the retail industry with children do well to practice the easy outs. Namely, the stylist could have said, "Oh, your doll is beautiful. But you know what? I'm only trained to style hair for American Dolls dolls. Your dolly is another type of doll. I'm afraid if I try to style her hair, I'll hurt her hair, and I don't want that." Then pull the mother aside and say, "I'm sorry, we can only style American Dolls hair - company policy."

I find the American Dolls thing to be creepy. However, I frequently asked for, yet never received, battery-powered dolls in my youth - anyone remember Baby Alive? So perhaps I'm bitter.

Posted by: marion at March 24, 2007 9:16 PM

Nice comment, Marion. Correcting people in public is a touchy area. There are basic etiquette rules here, but they don't seem to get much attention.

Posted by: doombuggy at March 25, 2007 4:24 AM

I gotta say, my BS detector is going off. This thing reads like the script to an episode of the Cosby Show, where Rudy learns an important lesson.

I can see the doll-hairstylist (further evidence that maybe the Commies should have won the Cold War-- they might have killed hundreds of millions but you can bet none of the survivors were doll-hairstylists)refusing to style the doll for whatever reason-- but a bunch of mothers in line sneering at a crying six year old? I'm not seeing it.


Posted by: Speedy at March 25, 2007 9:24 AM

I think of the maxim "the customer is always right" as a retail version of "innocent until proven guilty." The former does not entitle one to behave in boorish or inappropriate ways, just as the latter doesn't mean that suspcious behavior shouldn't be investigated by law enforcement.

When the customer is a well-behaved 6 year old girl, I think she's owed a certain amount of leeway, including a more diplomatic alternative to the very public dressing down she received.

If she has the money, and she wants to spend it on this service, there are any number of ways the "stylist" could accomodate her. (Someone said the store probably had liability issues. As if. Even a garage sale Strawberry Shortcake doll can survive a pair of braids.)

*Lots* of parents and children opt for less expensive versions of these dolls, and then splurge on one or two outfits or the like. In the tea room, you'll see dolls of all brands, seated at special doll chairs, many of them wearing the "official" clothes. I think this store had a chance to do something compassionate and classy and totally dropped the ball.

Put another way: I would ordinarily *never* take my Honda Civic to a BMW dealer. But my travels sometimes take me to a small vacation community, serviced by one, very high-end mechanic. The one or two times I've had to ask their help with a warning light or the like, they've been unfailingly helpful and polite. If a Jag mechanic will replace a fuse in a Honda Civic, an AG stylist can braid the hair of a Target doll.

Posted by: Harriet at March 25, 2007 1:34 PM

Never underestimate the nastiness of bitchy, entitled-feeling moms who've shelled out the hundreds of dollars for their kid's doll -- instead of shelling out a (healthier, in my opinion) no.

And I'm with Harriet on the leeway that should've been there.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 25, 2007 1:43 PM

While I agree that the people in this store were horribly rude to this little girl, I think the "she might have gotten through first grade with her self-confidence intact!" reaction is a teensy bit over the top.

Didn't we all have an experience like this, where some adult hurt our feelings or treated us unjustly? I sure did, and my parents' response was along the lines of "I'm sorry, honey, but some people are like that."

This sort of thing needs to be a life lesson. I'm sorry, Etta, but sometimes people will be mean to you for no valid reason. And not all grown-ups are your friends. Age 6 is a little early to have to comprehend that, but Lord knows children in this world have been put through worse.

But from the tone of the mother's letter, I get the sense this episode will end in a lawsuit and about $50,000 worth of therapy, rather than an acknowledgment of the unpleasant realities of life on a planet where the primary species is homo sapien.

Posted by: Gary S. at March 25, 2007 3:08 PM

By six, I'd already killed Jesus, or so I was told.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 25, 2007 3:13 PM

Amy, It's funny you said that, because I just had a thought: This episode would make one hell of an object lesson about prejudice, wouldn't it?

Etta was humiliated in the department store for having the "wrong kind of doll." Well, this might be a good time for a family visit to the local Holocaust Memorial or Civil Rights Museum, and let her learn about how the "wrong kind of people" have been treated over the years.

The lesson here is not "people have it worse than you", but rather to educate her about prejudice while she knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. It could turn a negative experience into a positive one, even though it's a hard lesson being learned.

Posted by: Gary S, at March 25, 2007 3:32 PM

Guess I was a little luckier - it wasn't until I was 10 that I was told that I worshipped graven images and the Virgin Mary. Ah, the joys of being Catholic in the Bible Belt.

"If a Jag mechanic will replace a fuse in a Honda Civic, an AG stylist can braid the hair of a Target doll."

Harriet, the difference is that the Jag mechanic probably likes him job, whereas I'm guessing the AG stylist probably doesn't...maybe I'm projecting here, but being paid small bucks to braid doll hair while dealing with countless ungrateful, immature, whining people (and their children) every day sounds like my idea of hell. And I like kids. Don't get me wrong - both *should* act the same, but I'm not surprised that they don't.

Posted by: marion at March 25, 2007 6:45 PM

Personally, I would have taken the redneck approach, and fired right back at the so called stylist by pointing out the fact that she is not a real stylist and asking what went so wrong in her life that she ended up styling overpriced dolls hair for a living.

Posted by: amber at March 26, 2007 7:44 AM

American Girl dolls do something going for them: They've been boycotted by antiabortion groups and fundamentalist Christians.

Posted by: CJumper at March 26, 2007 10:54 AM

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