Doll of America

With a shiny super-pink MOA exhibit, Barbie has moved in on American Girl territory. Could things get ugly? Or just terribly cute?

American Girl Doll versus Barbie
Photo by Caitlin Abrams

In this corner, we have the almighty American Girl weighing in at one pound six ounces. Representing the USA, she emerged in 1986 and captured hearts with wholesome looks and values.


In this corner, we have buxom Barbie weighing in at 7.25 ounces. All-American Barbie burst onto the scene in 1959 with a can-do attitude that earned her many imitators but few challengers.

Height: 18 inches
Age: 9 in doll years, 28 in human years
From: Mattel
Price: $110
Height: 11.5 inches
Age: 25ish in doll years, 55 in human years
From: Mattel
Price: $9.95 and up
The two-level American Girl Store opened in 2008, but it’s always been more than a store, which is why you’ll find it listed (just like Barbie’s new exhibit) under “attractions” on the MOA’s website. Barbie The Dreamhouse Experience opened in 2014 on one floor of the former Bloomingdale’s space and will be there for the foreseeable future but is not considered a permanent attraction.
The American Girl store is carpeted in wine tones, the dolls’ outfits are more Sunday brunch than fashion party, and the dolls come in an array of hair, skin, and eye colors. Barbie’s Dreamhouse has pink walls, pink stiletto-shoe chairs, cute pink dogs, and lots of plastic for easy upkeep. Barbie wouldn’t want to break a nail.
To really enjoy the American Girl experience, it helps to be familiar with the stories behind the dolls. Books and movies that tell these tales are for sale in the store, as is a series of self-help books for girls. This is serious fun. To really enjoy the Dreamhouse, it helps to be familiar with the TV show Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse, a comedy that pokes fun at Barbie’s ridiculously fabulous life. That’s why there’s a dolphin in the toilet. This is light-hearted fun.
You could spend hours just ogling the dolls on display decked out in historically accurate, tasteful hats and dresses. You could spend hours just ogling the dolls on display decked out in stunning gowns and heels from various eras.
The American Girl store hosts a kid-friendly fashion show every March. On Barbie’s top floor you can put on a boa and walk the runway every day.
American Girls are too young to work, but they face tough real-life issues such as slavery, war, and bullying. The rest is about hair, fashion, and ear-piercing. Barbie has had roughly 150 careers, including astronaut, doctor, and teacher. But this exhibit is not about work. It’s about hair, fashion, and pop stardom.

It’s fun to dine with your doll at the american girl bistro, but parents be warned: the strongest thing on the menu is milk.


Any cooking in Barbie’s Dreamhouse is purely digital. Is that how she maintains her tiny waist?