opinionated toys

American Girl dolls emerge as unlikely abortion rights advocates

“We do need an American Girl doll who protests overturning Roe v. Wade, because that's what American girls are doing right now," says one creator

Memes about American Girl dolls

In case you haven’t noticed, American Girl Doll stan accounts have gained popularity on Instagram. Now, they’re using their platforms to promote progressive politics to audiences of bona fide American girls.

American Girl Anarchy — In February, the New York Times ran its first piece about American Girl fandoms. Then last month, national media covered rumors that one doll was gay. Later in June, American Girl Doll shitposting accounts came under fire for spreading a campaign for homophobia. When American Girl memes with the phrase “we need an American Girl doll who...” lurched into the mainstream (and then inevitably grew stale when politicians and corporations used it), the New York Times released another American Girl piece to highlight the bizarre scenarios that were circulating social media — American Girl dolls who “survived the dancing plague of 1518” or “played Just Dance while her parents fought about the recession.”

The day after the article, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn Roe v. Wade and American Girl stan accounts pivoted their content to blatant abortion rights activism.

There are a few prominent American Girl stan accounts (@juulie albright, @slutmantha, and @klit.klittredge, to name a few) but the most followed is @hellicity_merriman. It’s run by Barrett Adair, a 27-year-old Washington D.C.-based digital strategist for a watchdog organization, and her friend, who likes to stay anonymous. The two met while working at a youth vote organization several years ago and started their meme account this year after being superfans of other American Girl-themed humor. “We've always worked for progressive candidates and causes,” says Adair. To them, it felt natural to spill their activism onto the meme page.

Adair’s friend heard the news of the Supreme Court ruling while hiking on a mountain, but she managed to message Barrett to say that the meme account “had to do something.” Barrett threw together an image the “Courtney” doll next to six headshots of conservative Supreme Court justices. “I hope these soulless fucks never know peace in their life,” reads the accompanying text.

Memes as praxis? — The meme became the account’s most popular; since that day, the account added over 36,000 new followers, a 40 percent growth. @hellicity_merriman posted images of American Girl-themed signs at abortion protests, one of which was featured prominently in New York Times coverage of a protest (it read “WE NEED AN AMERICAL GIRL DOLL THAT DISSENTS”).

Social media has been grounds for activism for more than a decade, but advocacy has taken many forms, from viral footage to encrypted event organizing to serif-font Canva infographics. To the @hellicity_merriman creators, American Girl memes are a legitimate form of activism: a light, easy-to-digest image that captures your emotions.

“It’s just in the name,” Adair says. “These are American girls.” According to the stats Instagram gives her, the account’s followers are 94 percent women, mostly between the ages of 18 and 34, and mostly located in the U.S. “We do need an American Girl doll who protested overturning Roe v. Wade because that's what American girls are doing right now.” The admins plan to keep up the political content “with some regularity at least through November,” when the U.S. midterms take place. “I will keep talking about this for sure,” Adair says.

But they won’t be entirely focused on politics. They’ll continue ranking American Girl outfits and imagining absurd scenarios for a kid’s toy — a doll who “wrote her thesis on Silly Bandz as a classist social structure” or “who scammed millions from investors with the promise of a start-up social club” or who “cried when Nick Jonas got diagnosed with Diabetes.” They’re also making memes that reference last week’s trials for the January 6 insurrection.