This article is about anatomy for the 18" dolls, which includes Historical (and BeForever) Characters, Best Friend Characters, American Girl (of) Today, Just Like You, My American Girl, or Truly Me (modern dolls), Girls of the Year, Contemporary Characters, World by Us, and One of a Kind dolls. Other unique doll anatomy (e.g. Bitty Baby/Bitty Twins, WellieWishers, Girls of Many Lands) are each discussed on their respective pages.
The Basic Doll Anatomy article is a summary of the overall design and anatomy features of the American Girl 18" Dolls. While each specific American Girl doll has a unique combination of eye color, hair color and style, skin tone, and face mold, there is an overall basic anatomy shared among the dolls. This allows every doll to wear any other doll's clothing fairly well and means that a person is not limited to only buying clothing designed for his or her specific doll.
- 1 Overall Anatomy and Skin Tones
- 2 Head
- 3 Torso
- 4 Arms and Hands
- 5 Legs and Feet
- 6 Pleasant Company vs. Mattel
- 7 Links
- 8 References
Overall Anatomy and Skin Tones
Dolls are approximately 18" tall from top of head to base of feet, with vinyl heads and limbs connected to a closely matching cloth torso. The vinyl is designed to be of medium firmness and matte colored.
Each doll is given a specific skin tone from the options available. While named characters are given characterization--and thus race and/or ethnicity--modern dolls such as Truly Me or Create Your Own are not tagged racially so as to allow a purchaser to decide for themselves the doll's race and/or ethnicity.
Slight variations in tone exist due to different factories, productions, and vinyl shade variant used over time. Initially--at the release of the modern line, the first line without character race specified--American Girl classified dolls into one of three tones: Dark, Medium, and Light. Starting in 2018, three more tone variants were added, though they are still classified into the three general tones. Variations include:
- Blue-tone Dark (e.g. Addy, Just Like You 1). This has become somewhat depreciated.
- Red-tone Dark (e.g. Sonali, Cécile, and Just Like You 58). This is #30 tone in the Create Your Own system and described as "deep skin with neutral undertones."
- Very Dark (e.g. Just Like You 80 and Just Like You 85), introduced in 2018. This is #35 tone in the Create Your Own system and described as "very deep skin with neutral undertones."
- Dark Medium (e.g. Kaya or Josefina)
- Light Medium (e.g. Just Like You 26 or Lea) This is #20 tone in the Create Your Own system and described as "tan skin with neutral undertones."
- Golden Medium (e.g. Just Like You 79), introduced in 2018. This is #25 tone in the Create Your Own system and described as "tan skin with warm neutral undertones."
- Standard Light (e.g. Samantha, Ivy, and Just Like You 12 or Just Like You 60). This is #10 tone in the Create Your Own system and described as "light-to-medium skin with warm undertones."
- Pale Light (e.g. Blaire and Just Like You 78), introduced in 2018. This is #5 tone in the Create Your Own system and described as "light skin with warm olive undertones."
- Grey-tinted (defect)
Some older dolls can have "grey" or "green" tinted vinyl due to factory issues during the 2000-2002 transitional doll period. If a grey-vinyl doll is sent to American Girl for limb replacement, the entire doll is replaced with limbs of the vinyl tone she was designed to have; this is also true of older dolls that may not have parts in older tones (such as Kanani). The default Dark skin tone has become lighter and more golden/red toned than the initial blue-undertoned Dark skin.
The doll's vinyl can easily stain from dark clothing or shoes. Any doll stained by an American Girl product can be sent in to the American Girl Hospital at no cost. Some dolls come with their limbs covered in thin clear plastic to avoid vinyl staining in storage or transport.
The head and limbs are made of vinyl that are made using rotational molding, leaving no seams or marks externally. The faces have a general overall look of a young, prepubescent child with wide eyes and soft, childish features.
The face mold varies per doll. Four molds so far--the Asian Mold, Marie-Grace Mold, Nanea Mold, and Makena Mold--have only been used once; the Kaya Mold was previously exclusive to Kaya'aton'my until the release of the Logan Everett doll, but has remained exclusive to the character after Logan's retirement. All faces are sculpted to be slightly asymmetrical, similar to human faces.
The head has a flared base with a rim at the neckline; the fastener that holds the head to the cloth torso when the neck strings or zip tie are tied lays in the groove and keeps the flared base in the torso. Dolls intended to have hair have a rim on the back center of the head and a fine seam around the hairline.
Near the back lower side of the neck is a copyright stamp, colloquially called a neck stamp. Older dolls have "© Pleasant Co" and some have the year. Dolls manufactured after the mid to late 2000s have "© American Girl, LLC"; after the mid-2010, this was changed to a lowered "© American Girl". The stamp on the back of the next is dependent on when the face mold was created or updated, not necessarily when the doll debuted or was released. For example, while early versions of the Kaya and Kit dolls are often found with Pleasant Company markings at the neck, dolls were never available under that name and so cannot be found as Pleasant Company dolls.
Some dolls have small "artist" markings behind one ear, most often the proper right. These are assumed to be from early in production but cannot be relied on to give a definitive age of the doll.
The dolls have light blushing on each cheek, lip color--often a pink shade, complimenting the skin tone--and the visible front teeth (with the noted exception of the Kaya Mold and molds modified for JLY #74, 75, 76, and 77) painted to add color to the doll. Pleasant Company dolls have very light face paint while Mattel dolls have more distinct face paint. The Grace doll was given darker tinted lips than most dolls; this was implied to be lip gloss, as paired with the lip gloss that came in Grace's Paris Accessories.
Every doll has painted eyebrows, generally in a color similar to the hair color. They were almost always thin straight lines ("straight" brows) until about 2002, with the release of Kaya and "feathered" brows--multiple small brow lines that were slightly thicker near the median and tapered out to the sides, for a more realistic eyebrow. (prior to that was Josefina, but the majority of dolls were given the straight brows) For several years after Kaya, dolls could have straight or feathered brows, but around the time of the BeForever relaunch, most dolls with straight brows had them redone to feathered, and nowadays every doll is given feathered by default.
Several dolls have freckles across or to the side of the bridge of the nose and over the cheeks. Three types of freckling exist; the one first used on the Kit doll and the one used on the Mia doll are most common. There is also a unique freckling pattern used for Tenney Grant and Evette Peeters.
Each doll has sleep eyes that close when the doll is laid down or tilted backwards.
The eyes are made of three parts. The main eye is a half circle of molded plastic with attached lashes; there are two small pegs to allow rotation. The main eye is encased in two parts. The back is a plastic half-dome that the hinges rest in, with a stop so the eye cannot rotate back too far. Originally the plastic was black but is now either that or a lighter white. Over the front is a metal case with oval shaping.
The eyes have internal decals or are hand painted to give the iris color. Eyes are either "pinwheel" style with faint lines behind the coloring or "decal" with a solid base. During the Pleasant Company years, each doll generally had soft eyelashes that closely matched their hair color. Mattel replaced this with black plastic eyelashes for all characters; they are manufactured separately from the eyes and then glued in.
Eyes can rust around the metal rim or stick if they get moisture, liquid, or glue inside in places. Eyelash Retraction is a defect of the eyelash attachment that is considered a defect and replaced at no cost.
American Girl has released many different eye colors throughout the years. These include:
- Light Blue: first used on Kirsten.
- Decal Brown/Grey: first used on Samantha but later marketed as grey on Ivy.
- Grey: first used on Molly. This color was initially marketed as "hazel" for the 1995 release of the American Girl of Today dolls. All grey-eyed dolls except Molly were discontinued during the early 2000s because they were very prone to silver eyes and later reintroduced on Ruthie; they are now dominantly available through the Create Your Own system.
- Green: first used on Felicity. Mattel's initial green eye color was much brighter than the Pleasant Company version, which caused it to be critiqued by collectors. In 2009, the shade was toned down significantly.
- Dark Brown/Black: first used on Addy. It is much darker than the other eye colors and has almost exclusively been used on the dolls of color.
- Brown/Light Brown: first used in the American Girl of Today line. It is the most commonly used shade of brown.
- Dark Blue/Sapphire: first used on Kit.
- Hazel/Green: First used on JLY #21. This was marketed as "green" on Mia. There have been variant batches of the Hazel eyes over the years, with some more yellow/green and others more brown.
- Amber/Olive/Light Brown: first used on JLY #26. It was first called "amber", then "light brown", and is now referred to as "brown" by the company.
- Aquamarine: only used on Caroline. No other doll currently has this eye color.
- Turquoise: only used on Saige. No other doll currently has this eye color.
- Dark Hazel: first used on Maryellen. It is darker than the standard hazel and more emphasizes the brown, though this may be due to batch differences.
- Light Decal Brown: first used on Tenney. It is a brighter brown shade.
Sometime the decals can peel away internally, making the eyes look silver spotted or turn silver altogether, a condition called silver eye. This mostly happens in older dolls. The company considers this a manufacturing defect and will fix this for free through the American Girl Hospital.
Eyes can be swapped between dolls; however, most other brands of sleep eyes are not sized properly, so it is generally recommended to use eyes that came from other American Girl dolls or specifically sized for American Girl by companies.
"New" Eyes 2017-2019
In late 2017, American Girl changed the weights and designs of the eyes. The new eyes were slightly smaller and a more solid plastic piece (sealing off the eye colors) with less metal in the weights, white padding occasionally present behind the eyes. This resulted in in partial visibility of the white pegs at the sides and differently closing and angled eyes. The first doll to have the new eyes was Nanea who debuted with them in August 2017; Luciana was released the following year with the new eyes as well. By mid-2018, Truly Me, Create Your Own, and Historical dolls all had these eyes, with later waves of Gabriela, Tenney, and Logan having them (as these dolls were still being sold and manufactured until the end of 2018); so did some early editions of Blaire dolls in 2019 as they had already been manufactured.
Due to widespread consumer displeasure with the redesigned eye style--which often appeared downcast or misaligned compared with the older style eyes--American Girl discontinued use of the eyes and offered free "eye exchange" repairs for customers through the American Girl Hospital who were dissatisfied with the new style of eyes starting in January 2019. These repairs were offered at no cost until December 31, 2019 and, like dolls sent in for body exchanges for "permapanties", were not returned with any hospital perks in generic paper gowns. The company later reverted to selling dolls with the older style eyes, including later waves of Luciana dolls.
Dolls purchased in 2019 or earlier are no longer eligible for a no-cost eye exchange after December 31, 2019; however, dolls purchased after the date who are verified to have the undesirable eyes are covered under warranty and can be sent in at no cost.
The hair of every American Girl doll is a wig made of high-quality mod-acrylic fiber hair (once openly stated to be Kanekalon, which was first created by the Kaneka Corporation) sewn to a mesh wig cap that is then glued onto the head. Any integrated streaks, tints, shade blends, or highlights are created by adding variant colors into the hair before sewing it to the wig caps. Some dolls have flesh-colored "parts" of vinyl to add realism to their hair styles; other have sewn, woven, or thatched parts.
Most dolls have silky straight hair with a slight to moderate curl at the end. Some dolls are given moderately curly hair which is a looser curl. Spiral curls such as the ones on #26 or #85 are made from heat set straight hair. Any doll's hair can be temporarily curled using rollers and a wet set; more permanent curls can be put in with heat setting such as a boil wash. Some dolls are released with straight hair that has no curl or wave at the end.
All wigs with a part default as a center part; side parts are made by turning the wig to one side before gluing. Straight hair is generally evened out so as to appear straight at the edge; curly hair may or may not be.
Some dolls have small "short hairs" interwoven in the back of the wig cap among the longer hairs. When the hair is parted into ponytails or braids, these hairs remain loose and partially cover the mesh wig cap making for a more realistic looking hairstyle. Both Kirsten and Molly have the short hairs, and it is the easiest way to tell the difference between them and two similar American Girl of Today dolls, Just Like You 3 and 9; those dolls do not have the short hairs in their wigs.
Dolls who initially come with their hair in braids or twists (such as Kirsten or Makena's twists) have the ends bluntly cut after styling.
Textured hair is a coarser Kanekalon hair designed to simulate African straightened hair and has exclusively been used on dolls that are visually directed as "Black" (though two classic molded dolls have had textured hair, they were also given tanned skin).
In 2008 the texture was made less thick and prominent for the modern doll line, and can be rather hard to distinguish from older textured hair by sight and touch, being more similar to "straight" hair than that of older dolls.
Starting in 2012, bald dolls--those without hair-- were made available, to represent children without hair. These dolls are sold wigless, and have smooth heads with no indication of a wig attachment applied or guide lines around the hairline.
Uniquely Colored Hair
American Girl released add-on color streaks for dolls in 2013 with the Bright Highlights Set, later followed by the Jewel Highlights Set. The first uniquely colored hair color connected to a doll was with Isabelle, who had an additional strip of blonde hair with pink tips with small loops integrated in the wig for temporary attachment. She was followed by Luciana, who has a non-removable purple streak on the right side of the head.
Starting in 2020, dolls started to be released with unique "dyed hair" colors, capitalizing on the current trend of children and adults dying or accenting their hair in bright colors. This was initially launched with #86 and #88, followed later by #87. In 2021 three new dolls were released as part of the Truly Me Street Chic Collection who, also had uniquely colored hair in bright dye-like colors.
In 2020 pink hair was added to the Create Your Own system, followed by blue and purple in 2021.
American Girl does not recommend styling doll hair with plastic combs, plastic brushes (which will frizz the hair) or any comb or brush that has been used in human hair (due to human hair oils leaving dirt behind). Hair should be dampened before combing or styling every time to prevent damage. This can be done with braid spray, water, or a light leave in spray conditioner. The hair should rarely need to be washed with proper care; however, some dolls may need a light wash with wig conditioner or mild shampoo after extended use or dirt exposure.
The hair can be damaged or dried out by improper care; braid spray can prevent this. Extreme cases may call for a boil wash to minimize frizz and restore moisture; the advice given in fandom on doing a Downy Dunk has been shown to be incorrect and causes more damage to the hair fibers in the long run. Severe damage such as hair cuts and massive breakage can only be fixed with rewigging or sending the doll to the American Girl Hospital for a new head.
The ears are molded on the side of the head with no openings. The wig is placed so that the ears are not covered. The Sonali Mold has less detailed ears. The Joss Mold has a larger opening to the ear canal in both ears to accommodate Joss's hearing aid, though the hearing aids specific to Joss are designed to only fit in the right ear. The ears also have the same level of detail as the Sonali Mold.
Most dolls have non-pierced ears as a default. Addy Walker was the first doll to have earrings consisting of permanently attached gold loops in each ear; Elizabeth Cole was the first to have removable earrings. Starting in 2008, any modern-line doll could get her ears pierced at purchase if ordered off the website. Otherwise the doll has to either be taken to an American Girl Store and have the ears pierced at the salon or sent in to the Doll Hospital for cost. Any 18" doll may be pierced when sent in to the Hospital or at an American Girl place, including Historicals (who are generally not eligible on the website at purchase).
Isabelle Palmer was the first Girl of the Year to have any ear piercing offered at purchase; Grace was the first to have unique to her earrings offered. The holes are sized for American Girl earrings and so are bigger than standard human posts. Some collectors prefer to pierce a doll's ears themselves so they are not limited to American Girl earrings only.
As of 2012, any 18" doll can have hearing aids placed in either the left, right, or both ears via the Hospital. These are placed so as not to block earrings, so a doll can have both.
The torso is made of cotton cloth and stuffed with polyester fiberfill. It is made to match the skin tone of the doll's vinyl. There are shaping darts across the bottom as well.
When the first three dolls--Samantha, Molly, and Kirsten--debuted, the torsos for the dolls were made of white cloth; the designed clothes covered the cloth bodies completely with high necks and, historically, did not have short sleeveless designs or visible middles.
With the debut of Felicity and colonial clothing's historically lower necklines, the torso tone was changed to prevent dramatic mismatch in head and body tone; this resulted in the torso cloth being made in colors that closer matched the vinyl of the limbs and head so as not to stand out dramatically.
Early Pleasant Company dolls had small body tags stating that they were made in Germany for Pleasant Company. These were phased out when the company shifted production to China.
Since Mattel's ownership, each doll has come with a body tag sewn onto the right side of the cloth torso. The text was originally as follows:
Made in China Exclusively for American Girl Middleton, WI 53562
Several tags had typos that said "American Gril". While there was a number imprinted on the tags as well, it was a part number for the doll and not the year of manufacture (most say "2008").
Starting in 2014, dolls started to come with longer body tags; these have the American Girl Logo, the year, and a Registration number. They also state that the doll is made with all new content in China, stuffed with polyester fiber, and are surface washable (in English, French, and formerly Spanish). The other side of the tag contains information about content and that the dolls are made in China, also repeated in French.
Dolls made between 2000 and 2009 have an additional internal body tag sewn into the right shoulder indicating the month and year of manufacture.
The joint cups for the arms and legs are made of vinyl and sewn into the torso tightly. This allows for free movement of the joints.
The limbs are attached to the torso by means of tightly pulled elastic cords. Inside each limb and the internal torso are small white semi-circle caps that were originally clamped tight with metal flanks. This allows the doll's limbs to turn and hold positions without moving and stand freely. When the elastic cord starts to lose its elasticity, the arms and legs will no longer hold position and may result in the doll being unable to stand or sit. The doll is then considered to be "floppy" and in need of restringing. This can either be done through the American Girl Hospital or by various people who have learned to do it themselves; temporary tightening can be done with rubber bands internally, but this is a stop-gap solution.
As of 2009, metal flanks have been removed and the elastic cord is simply knotted on both ends. This can result in limbs going floppier sooner; many personal restringers will use flanks and add additional washers to keep limbs tight.
Neck Strings and Zip Ties
The heads were originally attached to the cloth torso by means of a thin neck channel through which cotton cord was run through and then knotted. The ends of the cord which are left to dangle down are referred to as "neck strings"; cutting these short can loosen the knot and lead to the head falling off.
In the early 2010s, heads began to be attached with plastic zip ties through the neck channel after returning from the American Girl Hospital. After initial protest, the company went back to neck strings, which meant that heads could be attached with either neck strings or plastic zip ties.
The Lea doll was released with no neck strings; she had a zip tie attached head with the end opening over the tunnel sewn completely shut, limiting access to the tie. This was also done with the Melody doll, which implied (and was later confirmed) this as the method being used for dolls going forward. Zip ties were mainstreamed, as American Girl expanded outside of the US and had to comply with international toy testing requirements that required secure hard-to-remove head attachment. The seam can be opened and the zip tie cut free, but it will then need to be replaced with either a threaded cord or a new zip tie.
35th Anniversary Special Edition Dolls come with neck strings to evoke the original designs.
In February 2017, American Girl announced on Facebook that bodies for the Truly Me dolls, as well as Maryellen, Melody, Julie, and Contemporary Character dolls would have permanent panties/underwear as part of their design. American Girl stated the change was to continue to provide quality products within price points, though there were collector concerns that expansion into conservative Middle Eastern countries was the motivation for the change and several people felt the quality in the body construction was diminished.
The permanent underwear, or "permapanties," were done by changing the torso design so that the lower half of the cloth was made of pale pink fabric (the color of the vinyl joint cups in the hips did not change) and, to signify the "top" of the permanent underwear, a thin satin ribbon with the American Girl logo. This also resulted in the removal of shaping bottom darting, which could result in oddly shaped "bottoms" when stuffing was shifted, seams were uneven, or stuffing was packed differently or thinner.
Following widespread negative customer feedback and media outcry, American Girl made the decision to revert back to having dolls come with separate underwear in May 2017. Only the three BeForever dolls, some Truly Me, all initially released Z Yang dolls, and some later Tenney dolls were affected.
Customers who previously purchased dolls with permanent panties were eligible for a one-time, free body exchange to have the dolls' bodies retrofitted with the conventional torsos (the entire body was swapped) until December 2018. Contemporary characters and modern dolls were returned with a pair of generic panties similar to those that came with the Lilac Dress, while the three BeForever Characters were returned with standard white panties; Julie dolls were not returned with the purple panties that come in her second meet outfit.
Arms and Hands
The arms and hands are made of vinyl with curved cups at top to fit in the torso joint cup. The hands have small molded nails and defined lines to simulate the folds where finger joints are naturally. The thumb and fingers are curled in slightly; the fingers are splayed, with the ring and middle finger fused and the pointer finger slightly fused to the middle. The pinky is separate. There are two lines on the palm. The curled fingers allow the dolls to "hold" various items.
Starting with Mattel dolls, arms (and legs as well) had the inner joints marked with small asterisk-stars on the molds under the arm joint. Starting in 2018, the inner underarm of dolls had code numbers imprinted inside the arm. While mostly hidden, they are visible when the limb is flexed and turned.
Legs and Feet
The legs are attached to the torso the same way as the arms, with curved cups at top to fit in the torso joint cup. There are indentation to indicate knees. The toes are defined with small nails and the soles of the feet are smooth and flat.
Create Your Own dolls have, on the sole of the right foot, a gold thumbprint Star logo and One of a kind in white scripted lettering.
Pleasant Company vs. Mattel
The bodies were slimmed down overall in the Mattel era in the bodies, arms, and legs. The clothing was redesigned to fit the newer doll body shape. This means that newer outfits may fit tighter on older dolls, and shoes may not fit properly.