In 2001, historical doll manufacturer American Girl released its first contemporary doll: Lindsey Bergman, the 2001 “Girl of the Year.” By 2005, American Girl was releasing a new Girl of the Year each January; a fictional ten-year-old girl who used her talents to solve some problem in her school or community. These plucky pre-teens were able to face and address challenges like unscrupulous land development, systemic bullying, and public school funding cuts, overcoming them simply by following their unique, special hearts.
Of course, it’s easy to be special when you’re only ten years old. The real question is: where are these Girls of the Year now?
Lindsey Bergman, 23 years old
2001: “a girl who wants to improve the world”
The text came while Lindsey was busy setting out two cups of coffee on a tray, each of them carefully placed on its own individual doily. She flinched when she felt the vibration in her back pocket; the frontmost cup sloshed a little, and Lindsey had to replace the doily before running out to the reception desk to welcome the visitor.
“Hello, Mr. Ambassador,” Lindsey said. She led him back to the table she had prepared, quickly knocked on the president’s door to let her know the ambassador had arrived, and then raced back to her intern station and the stack of business cards she needed to type into the contact management system.
But first, the text.
I don’t think we should see each other anymore, it read. I’m looking for someone who’s not interested in a relationship. Hope you find what you’re looking for.
This was the guy she had met on JDate, the site that was supposed to be better than OKCupid. The site her mother was currently paying for, since all of Lindsey’s money was currently going towards paying off student loans and sleeping on a futon mattress in a walk-in closet.
“I figured you would need some help finding a match,” her mother had said, when she had called Lindsey to let her know she had purchased the unsolicited JDate subscription. “Remember when you tried to match up Miss Kinney with Mr. Pringler, only Miss Kinney was already engaged?”
Mom, Lindsey wanted to say, that was thirteen years ago.
Of course she’d have to tell her mother about this, at some point. She had already talked this guy up plenty, building their six-week relationship -- no wait, it wasn’t a relationship, since he didn’t actually want a relationship -- into something she could present as an accomplishment. She had accomplished, by her own account, exactly nothing since she graduated from college. Three internships, two apartments, seven different roommates, and somehow more student loan debt than she had started with, even though she paid a bit more than the minimum every month.
“Just tell them you’re not going to keep working unless they pay you,” her father had said. Then, later, “You know what they’re doing is illegal, right? You know you could sue?” And then, most recently: “You know you don’t really have to try and save the world, right, Linds, bun? You know you could try and make some money instead?”
Kailey Hopkins, 21 years old
2003: “a girl who speaks up for what she believes in”
“You know, I saved a tide pool once,” she shouted, in between drinks.
“What?” He was tanned, lean, surfer legs; exactly her type.
“I saved a fucking tide pool.” Kailey had learned early on that throwing a few “fucks” into the conversation seemed to get her more attention. Guys liked a girl who wasn’t afraid to be a little vulgar. “I stopped them from building a shopping complex in my town, because I was a little kid protester with a sign.”
It hadn’t been just her, but the point wasn’t the accuracy of the story. The point was to get this surfer boy to turn and look at her, and notice her long blonde hair and tiny tank top.
“Seriously?” he finally said. She knew him from her geology class, had been watching him come in and out of the auditorium for weeks. Now she had been lucky enough to find him at this bar. She tilted her body towards him and tucked her hair behind her ear.
“Totally,” she said.
Marisol Luna, 19 years old
2005: “a girl who was born to dance”
Marisol was in the dance studio by 7:30, stretching for the hour of barre work ahead of her. A tune from her old ballet folklorico days kept running through her head, caught there by a half-similar melody she had heard on the radio before Nikki had kissed her goodbye, rolled over, and hit snooze. But she had made the right choice. Folklorico was not a profession. Classical ballet, the Nutcracker year after year, eventually starting a studio of her own, that was where her career was. She was both Latina and strikingly slender, with an elevation that she now stood upon, her lush hair twisted into the familiar unending knot. All of that helped, in an industry where the best dancers had to stand out. She would do folklorico when she was older. Right now she was here, ready to become a professional. She had made the right choice.
Jess Akiko McConnell, 18 years old
2006: “an adventurous, curious girl who discovers a love of learning and doing new things”
Jess sat at her MacBook, reading over her college application essay. The Common Application prompt this year was perfect for her: “Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
When I was ten years old, my parents told me that I needed to pack up, because we were all going on an archaeological dig in Belize. I expected us to find historical artifacts that helped archaeologists learn more about the mysterious and fascinating Mayan people. I did not expect that what I would really discover was the truth about my own life.
While I was in Belize, I met another girl named Sarita. She was the daughter of our tour guide. We became close friends, but I couldn’t help but notice how different her life was from mine. Her entire family lived in a home that was the size of my bedroom. She knew all about the mysteries of the jungle, like how you can listen to howler monkeys to predict a storm. I was fascinated with her life, and she was fascinated with my pretty clothing and well-made shoes.
Without living in Belize, I would have never known that there were people like Sarita. For the first time, I realized how privileged I was, and how lucky my family was to be able to afford a home with more than one room, or nice clothing and toys for myself and my siblings. I began to see my place in the world as just one person among billions, and to understand that everyone on the planet lives a very different life. Sarita’s family was just as loving and generous as mine, even though they had so much less.
My trip to Belize has shaped my life ever since. It is because of this trip that I want to someday travel and see the world, listening to people’s stories and making their lives better. I know that a college education is the first step in this process. I hope that you will help me start on my journey.
Nicki Fleming, 17 years old
2007: “a dependable, compassionate girl who's a natural with animals”
Nicki hunched herself together, crossing her arms over her knees. She could feel his hand slowly stroking her back, trying to unfurl her like she was a pillbug.
If she said no, he would leave. This was all part of what having a boyfriend meant. It would be okay. Everyone had to do this at some point. (She uncrossed her arms.) He was being so patient with her. He wasn’t getting angry, at least not on the outside. (She turned her head towards him, to start the kiss.) She was too old to say no. Relationships are about what both people want. (His hands were tugging at her shirt, pulling it over her head.) They would use a condom. It would all be fine. Maybe it would be fun. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt. (He was fondling her breasts roughly, taking one hand away to reach for his own belt.)
He loved her. She was going to be late for dinner; her parents were going to wonder. But it didn’t matter, because this was a part of their relationship which had to happen, so it was best that it was happening now.
Mia St. Clair, 16 years old
2008: “a talented, hardworking skater who finds her passion and has the courage to follow it”
She ended up taking him, on their second date, to the Lucerne Ice Arena.
“I swear I’ve skated before,” Jackson said, as Mia held his hand. He was just a bit wobbly on his skate rentals, one hand continuously reaching out to grab the wall. Mia kept them both balanced despite this.
“Don’t worry,” Mia said. “One or two times around the rink and you’ll be fine.”
Later, when Jackson needed a rest break, Mia indulged herself with a few quick laps around the ice, pulling past the clusters of evening skaters into the center, where she smoothly but carefully let herself spin, extending her leg out behind her into an arabesque spiral.
“Wow,” Jackson said, coming on the ice again to join her. “You should, like, be a professional.”
“Not a chance,” Mia said. “I’m nowhere near good enough. I started skating when I was ten, and even then only a few nights a week here at Lucerne. The kids that become professional skaters started when they were three, and wake up every morning to get on the ice by 5 a.m.”
“You’re really good, though,” Jackson said.
“It actually doesn’t take that much practice to be good,” Mia told him. “But it takes a lot of practice to be great.”
She paused. Did she know Jackson enough to tell him the next bit? If she shared something true with him, he would share something true with her. This seemed to be how relationships got started.
“My coach always said that I thought too much. That it was my brain that was preventing me from being a world-class skater. I hated that; that she was telling me that it was this fundamental part of me that was spoiling everything, rather than the fact that I had limited resources, and started too late. Or maybe that I just didn’t have enough talent.”
Jackson didn’t say anything. Then he said “Huh.” Then the two of them continued, around and around, on the ice.
Chrissa Maxwell, 15 Years Old
2009: “a friendly, creative girl who finds the courage to stand up for herself and others”
“They’re drinking,” Chrissa said. “We should leave.”
“What?” Sonali asked, raising her voice to be heard above the music in the basement.
“There’s drinking at the party,” Chrissa said, louder.
But she watched as Sonali went off into the crowd without her, watched as a senior she didn’t know came up to her and offered her a beer, watched as he walked away with the beer still in his hand.
She turned and went up the stairs.
“Mrs. Horner?” she said, knowing she was doing the right thing. “Um… I thought you should know that people are drinking alcohol in your basement.”
Mrs. Horner laughed. “Oh, honey,” she said. “I bought it. I figure, better under my roof, right? Now go down there and have some fun.”
Chrissa turned and went back down the stairs. She thought of asking her parents to come and get her, but then Sonali wouldn’t have a ride. She couldn’t see Sonali in the crowd. She wondered if Sonali was drinking too.
She pulled out her phone to text Gwen, climbing back up to the top of the basement stairs so her phone would have reception.
Hey, Gwen. <3
Gwen didn’t answer. Gwen never answered, anymore. Chrissa didn’t know which shelter Gwen and her mother were living in, or if they had gone back to living in the van. She didn’t know if Gwen was okay and she didn’t know if Sonali was okay and she didn’t know if she could be okay, sitting alone in the half-light at the top of the stairs, waiting for the party to be over.
Lanie Holland, 14 Years Old
2010: “an energetic girl who discovers the world in her own backyard”
This is the article that ran in the junior high student newspaper that month:
GOLDIE BLOX FAILS AT TEACHING SCIENCE
by Lanie Holland
You may have seen the recent Goldie Blox commercials, in which a trio of young girls create an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. Do not let that commercial trick you: Goldie Blox is NOT a GOOD PRODUCT. When you go to the website, you see that all of the advertising is based around girls being MORE THAN JUST PRINCESSES. Why are they telling us that we are more than princesses? Why aren’t they telling us that we are scientists?
One of the scientists I most admire is Kari Byron of “Mythbusters.” I want to do awesome experiments like hers, not build a Goldie Blox PARADE FLOAT for a PRINCESS PAGEANT. This product claims to teach physics, but is really just like Lego for girls. Why can’t girls play with real Lego?
VERDICT: DO NOT BUY.
Kanani Akina, 13 Years Old
2011: “a cheerful girl who helps others by sharing the aloha spirit”
Kanani always kept one eye out as she walked Barksee along the cove, looking for another trapped monk seal. She hadn’t seen Malana, the seal she and her cousin had rescued three years ago, since they turned Malana over to her new home at the Hawaiian Monk Seal Foundation, islands away from the sand upon which Kanani now stood.
Someday she would make the trip to Maui and see Malana again. Maybe Malana would recognize her, although Kanani wasn’t sure if seals had good memories. Until then, she would keep watching the beaches.
McKenna Brooks, 12 Years Old
2012: “a determined girl who uses her strengths to turn challenges into triumphs”
She saw her shadow spilling down below the balance beam. Even with her stomach tucked in, it stuck out. Coach Isabelle hollered at her to focus, still cheerful and encouraging as always, but equally distracted.
When her mom showed up to pick up McKenna and the twins, she gave McKenna a quick squeeze on the back of the left shoulder and said “Dessert date tonight, okay?” A few hours later McKenna is sitting in a booth across from her parents, pretending to drink a milkshake. She can put the straw to her mouth and sip, and then put it back without swallowing anything. She folds her arms, feels her breasts accidentally touch her skin, unfolds them and waits.
“We wanted to talk to you about gymnastics,” her father finally says.
If she takes the milkshake to the trash herself, afterwards, her parents won’t know the cup is still full.
“Mara’s going to quit this year,” her mother continued. McKenna knew that. The twins were like opposites -- Maisey was outgoing, Mara was quiet. “We were wondering if it was time for you to quit too.”
“But I’m going to work hard and go to the Olympics,” McKenna said, wondering when saying that aloud had stopped seeming like something that might come true.
Saige Copeland, 11 Years Old
2013: “a spirited girl whose passions inspire action”
Saige glanced at herself in the mirror before running out the door to school. Her auburn hair was in a perfect braid down her back, just like Elsa from Frozen. She had her horse binder under one arm and her new silver sandals on her feet. She was going to show Gabi her drawings of ice castles. Everything was going to be wonderful this year, now that she had successfully led her community into re-funding her school’s art program.
Everything was going to be wonderful forever.