American Girls memes as an act of rebellion

All dressed up and nowhere to hoe.
I Think My Brain Is Rotting In Places

Courtesy Instagram

Missouri teenager Mikayla Brainard has a larger Instagram following than the entire population of her hometown, thanks to her frenzied takes on a collection of historical dolls.

The 19-year-old Rockhurst sophomore from Lebanon, Missouri is going viral by partaking in the American Girl doll meme revolution.

Brainard’s Instagram (@gaynie.holland) content is based on the dolls she has loved since childhood. She transitioned her page from a dining hall review blog to an American Girl meme account in early 2021.

Her debut post? Four of the company’s male dolls lined up in front of a plain blue background to mimic the cover of Weezer’s 1994 album.

Her account didn’t immediately take off, but due to her consistent posts and creative content, she’s seeing steady growth. At the time of this article, she had just over 20,000 followers. Brainard credits this in part to her marketing studies.

“Being able to identify my target audience and gauge what my followers are going to respond well to has been an integral part of my account’s growth,” Brainard says.

But why American Girl dolls?

They Hate To See A Bitch From Missouri Have Access To Safe Abortions

Courtesy Instagram

For Brainard, it’s a way to maintain a link with her grandmother, who bought her her first American Girl doll when she was 5.

“My grandma got me all of my dolls,” Brainard explains. “We lived far apart and didn’t see each other often, so the dolls were a way that we could connect. When we did see each other, we would spend hours browsing through the AG catalogs, talking about which doll had the cutest outfit or the most interesting story.”

What’s most surreal to Brainard is that her creations have become a source of laughter among people she’ll never meet. Her sense of humor is absurdist but perfectly aligned with Gen Z’s universal experiences and general nihilism.

On a picture of a discarded doll with its arm separated from its body, Brainard pasted lyrics from Radiohead’s “Creep:” “I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul.” Instagram user @sadieivey.mp3 responded, “My week was boring until you posted.”

On May 20, 2022, Brainard posted a picture of a doll in 19th century clothing with the words “I think my brain is rotting in places” over it. User @zdizzlestar wrote, “Idk who u r but u Get me.”

The account has even garnered attention from celebrities like Ricky Montgomery (whose song “Mr. Loverman” gained popularity through TikTok) and “Night Shift” singer Lucy Dacus. Each reposted one of Brainard’s memes on their Instagram stories.

These reposts gave Brainard’s account further exposure, given that Montgomery clocks in at 325,000 followers and Dacus at 198,000.

Brainard’s Instagram analytics show that between June 28 and July 4, she reached 1.1 million users on the platform, and engaged with 165,000. Her reach was up 279% compared to only one week before, with over 1,000 new followers to show for it.

Brainard sees the rising popularity of American Girl memes as a symptom of Gen Z nostalgia and political frustration. The dolls are meant to represent relatable everygirls who have overcome their circumstances, and their initially sanitized backstories are being given a new spin by accounts like Brainard’s.

Kit Kitteridge, one of the most well-known dolls and one of Brainard’s personal favorites, has a story set during the Great Depression. Her father loses his job and her parents take in boarders to make ends meet. Kit has to grapple with poverty, and—though the doll itself is $115—the message is familiar to young adults who have lived through their own recession.

“It’s something we all loved when we were kids,” Brainard says. “But I also think American Girl dolls have always been a little politically charged, you know—politics have always been ingrained into their stories. Now teens are really politically aware, and I think it’s really easy to integrate the two.”

Nationalist Propoganda

Courtesy Instagram

When Roe v. Wade was overturned June 24, Brainard reposted one of her most popular memes, which originally featured an American Girl doll, Lea Clark of St. Louis, with the words “They hate to see a bitch from Missouri winning” over it.

In reaction to the reversal of the landmark case that made abortions safe and legal in the U.S., Brainard rewrote it to read, “They hate to see a bitch from Missouri have access to safe abortions.”

Brainard uses American Girl dolls as an avenue of content creation, expression, and comedy, but she also says she recognizes the faults of the corporation. “I only want to contribute to the conversation when I feel like I have something meaningful and productive to say,” Brainard says.

In late 2020, American Girl doll sales went up 12% after a steep decline in 2019. Despite its increase in sales, the company is paying its workers less.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations has a bone to pick with American Girl’s parent company, Mattel. According to a 2018 press release from AFL-CIO, Mattel’s average employees are Malaysian manufacturing workers who make $6,271 per year. The CEO-to-employee pay ratio was 4,987:1—as of then, the highest of any Standard and Poor’s 500 company.

The Institute for Policy Studies echoes the excess of Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz’s paycheck. Even fans of the dolls note the inaccessible cost of the products that must be purchased separately.

“I definitely agree that the views they’re spreading with their dolls do not align with the company’s actions and values,” Brainard says. “They try to empower girls through all of the dolls and the characters and stuff, but they’re not doing that within their own company, which I think is really messed up. If you’re going to preach something to people, you should be doing the same thing.”

Brainard sees a direct example of this hypocrisy in the case of the doll Nellie O’Malley from the Edwardian Era.

“Nellie, she was forced to work in factories when she was a kid,” Brainard explains. “And [Mattel] is like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s so bad to have poor working conditions and not pay people enough.’ But then they do that. So I think it’s a little ironic.”

Mattel made the dolls that became the jumping off point for Brainard’s account and many others, but the memes taking the Internet by storm are far from the wholesome, hyper-commercialized content on the brand’s official social media accounts.

Brainard says her lifeline has been other online content creators.

“I interact with other accounts almost every day,” Brainard says. “I had a bit of trouble transitioning from high school to college. I felt quite isolated for the majority of my first year. Starting a meme page and joining the American Girl Instagram community was amazing. Through the community, I have been able to talk to so many kind, talented, and hilarious people. Larger accounts would share my posts to their stories, comment on my posts, and send me nice DMs. Without their support, my account wouldn’t be as big as it is today. I try to do the same for newer creators.”

Categories: Culture