Over the last week or so in the American Girl collecting community, there’s been a bit of a drama. People are squeezing the dolls they own/have recently bought, and discovering that the doll’s heads have some “squish” to them. This is generally not an easy thing to do – even if there is squish there, it takes some doing to get the limbs to actually squish. We’re not talking Monster High heads levels of squisherosity here, but there’s… some give.
Naturally, this has caused the drums of righteous indignation to sound and people to shriek about how American Girl quality “has gone down.” This, in addition to a defective doll with the new permapanties body has caused a lot of people to shriek about how they’re never buying American Girl again and bla bla bla. A video was filmed showing a girl squeezing on her doll and… well. People held it up as proof, but it just made me more skeptical and made me start looking deeper into all of this. There’s since been a second video which I think bolsters my second theory.
I have a few theories.
The first is probably the more farfetched one. As we all know, the vinyl components of American Girl dolls (meaning the heads, arms and legs, and the whole doll in the case of the WellieWishers) are poured. Machines, much as we don’t want them to, do make mistakes. And it is possible, very possible, that there was an “oops” in a particular batch where some parts didn’t get poured as thickly as the others, and thus would have some more “give” to them than a doll that was poured the way it usually is, because the vinyl is not as thick.
Hey, I said it was a theory.
The other theory is that I get to put my science hat on. And it’s not so much a theory as just some truths of the toy industry.
This theory is that American Girl is using a different plasticizer, or phthalate, in the vinyl, and that is causing the vinyl to be a little squishier. Given that at Toy Fair, American Girl announced their intention to begin to offer custom dolls as an experience in their new New York store, this is a possible reason why, to make an across-the-board change so that they don’t have to use a special blend on the custom dolls, which presumedly will be constructed at AGP New York and need to have eyes popped into heads and the limbs attached. I don’t know the particulars, y’all.
What are phthalates?
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) or phthalate esters are esters of pthalic acid that are mainly used as plasticizers, substances that are added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity. There are a lot of phthalates around, but we’re only going to be focusing on a few. They are DEHP [Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate], DBP [Dibutyl phthalate], BBP [Benzyl butyl phthalate], DINP [Diisononyl phthalate], DIDP [Diisodecyl phthalate], and DnOP [Dioctyl phthalate].
In 2008, the US Congress passed and President George W Bush signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which then became public law 110-314. Section 108 of that law specified that as of February 10, 2009, it was unlawful to manufacture for sale, offer for sale, distrubute or import into the United States any children’s toy or child care article that contained more than 0.1 percent of DEHP, DBP or BBP, and that additonally, it was unlawful to manufacture, offer, distribute or import any children’s toy that can be placed in a child’s mouth that contained concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of DINP, DIDP and DnOP. At that time, a review board was set up to determine the safety of other phthalates, and requires toy and child care article manufacturers to choose a “safe” alternative.
So what’s wrong with these phthalates?
A LOT. When you put something pourous with phthalates around your mucous membranes – your mouth, eyes, nose, vagina and anus are all mucous membranes – you are introducing phthalates for absorbtion into your body. Phthalates and other toxins can cause headaches, cramps and nausea, and with prolonged use (such as a jelly rubber or PVC sex toy for masturbatory purposes) can lead to cancer. This is why top sex bloggers and educators like Dangerous Lilly and Epiphora have made it a personal mission to educate people on their dangers and preach the use of body safe materials like 100% pure silicone, stainless steel, ABS plastic, ceramic, borosillicate and soda-lime glass, and medically-sealed wood, because the sex toy industry is unregulated, and in many (most) cases, these are things that are meant to be put into your body, just like pacifiers, teethers and rattles for babies before the ban was enacted. See, sometimes knowledge of sex toys is useful for other things.
(A note cause someone somewhere will bring it up: They will never start making American Girl dolls out of silicone, because it is expensive.)
Where this all ties back into toys is that not all phthalates are banned, and some are still in use. The “children’s” toy industry, unlike the sex toy industry, is highly regulated, and there’s a lot of testing done.
So yes. Your American Girl doll likely contains phthalates. But, it is either one that is not on the banned list above, or that has been routinely tested by the government to check that it does not contain over 0.1 percent of one of the ones that is regulated. All mass-produced vinyl toys contain a plasticizer of some sort, be it American Girl, Our Generation, Barbie, My Little Pony, Monster High, action figures, etc. And because vinyl is porous, those plasticizers can leak out if you put a doll’s plastic part in your mucous membrane – be it your doll decides to pick your nose when you move her to a photo spot, or use it like you’d use your toy from Tantus.
Hey, I don’t judge.
Let me use my own doll Marisol as an example. Marisol was in production for one year, though she was probably produced in 2004 to get ready for January 1, 2005 (I really don’t know when for sure she was produced), as of this year, a 13 year old doll, and was produced before the CPSIA was enacted, and therefore probably had different plasticizers in use than say, my Maryellen or my Addy, who were produced in 2015 and 2016, respectively (I am taking a wild stab at Addy’s production year, the doll was a gift from a friend) Last night, after watching the video of the girl squeezing the head and arms of her Truly Me 55, I went into my own doll room and squeezed all the heads and arms of my American Girl dolls. Of all of them, only Marisol had a head and arms that would absolutely not budge. This, I believe, is because over time, the plasticizers (the kinds used before the phthalate ban in toys) in her vinyl hardened up, as they are wont to do, because her head and limbs are hard as rocks.
The others (produced anywhere from 2011 to 2016) all pretty much had some “give” to their heads and arms. Not a lot, though on Maryellen if I would have felt like doing so I probably could have squeezed her head in further. I didn’t feel like doing so though.
Currently, Mattel – the makers of American Girl – has confirmed with NPR that they use a citrate-based plasticizer (Likely Citroflex [Acetyltri-n-butyl Citrate]) as well as a newer compound called DINCH (1,2-Cyclohexane dicarboxylic acid diisononyl ester), which began being sold by German chemical giant BASF. Both of these are approved for use in toys, though as phthalates, there are still some risks. Namely, with DINCH, we do not know the possible risks. But, none so far have been reported either, in either the US or Europe. While risks from exposure to DINCH are still unknown, the chances of something happening to you by just touching a doll using it are low. Again, it’s mucous membranes that allow for the absorbtion of phthalates, so unless you are putting your doll’s limbs in your mouth or vagoober on a regular basis, you’re probably fine.
I couldn’t find any information on any new plasticizers being used at this time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a possibility, nor is the idea that they changed their vinyl “recipe” to make the heads and limbs squishier out of the realm of possibility either. Either is plausible, and I’d say that they are a distinct possibility, given what we learned at Toy Fair.
Can all the moaning stop now? If you’re going to boycott, you do you. I think you’re a sillypants of a terrible degree, but you do you. But at least have the facts at hand before you do.