Barbies and Bratz

Laurie and Debbie say:

This holiday season, many parents are up in arms about the hot new Bratz dolls, and we thought we’d check them out. (Warning: the website is a nightmare of bad design and worse navigation.) The Bratz dolls consist of eight or nine characters, all with names, nicknames, and color palettes. They are multiracial in skin tone, but they all have identically straight hair, very full lips, and huge eyes–interestingly enough, the darker the skin of a Bratz doll, the bluer her eyes are. (Subliminal message: straighten your hair, have your lips plumped up, and get contacts.) As with everything these days, they’re part of a much larger marketing campaign: not only accessories (including cars and the band’s bus) but also videos, electronics, scooters, and anything else their corporate masters could think of. The slogan is “Passion for Fashion”; the website’s loading message is, “It takes time to look this good,” and the exit message is “Above all else, be beautiful.” The focus of the controversy around these dolls is their aggressively raunchy clothing. Many of the outfits are skin-tight, bare midriff, lots of glitter. They are frequently shown with one hand resting suggestively on their bare belly.

Subtle this is not.

One complaint we’ve heard is that mothers don’t want to buy their daughters such raunchy dolls, but Barbies are just for little kids (like under 7) now. And yet the complaints of the moms who don’t want to buy Bratz sound exactly like the complaints from previous decades of why moms didn’t want to buy Barbies: too sexualized, too stereotyped, too sexist, and encouraging girls to “grow up too fast.”

Looking at today’s Barbie site, we find that the slogan here is “B Who U Wanna B.”(“Be a fashionista. Be a gamer. Be a princess.” Apparently, those are the three choices a girl has. It’s a nod to feminism, from a long distance away.) Barbie is much whiter than the Bratz girls (dark-skinned Barbies can be found in the background if you look, but they don’t get much play). The emphasis is on buying things for Barbie, whereas you can buy a few things for your Bratz doll(s), but the emphasis is on buying things for the girl, not the doll. Barbie is far less sexualized. After all, she’s almost fifty.

Ken, apparently, has vanished from Barbie’s story, and there are no males whatsoever on the Bratz site. It’s as if all this emphasis on beauty, fashion, clothes and looks was somehow happening in a vacuum (unless the Bratz dolls are doing each other as soon as the website windows close, which seems unlikely).

The shift from the stereotypical Barbie, whose dream was to be a prom queen, to the stereotypical Brat, who is already a rock star, reflects the shift in the culture. We do feel confident that girls will maul, manipulate, and dismember their Bratz just as they did their Barbies–but they won’t be able to cross-dress them if no Ken-clothes or equivalents are available.

If you have young girls in your life, buy them tractors, or pogo sticks, or mobiles of the solar system; if they crave Bratz (or Barbies), that’s what their allowances are for.

feminism, Barbie, girls, dolls, fashion, gifts, Bratz, consumerism, marketing,Body Impolitic

15 thoughts on “Barbies and Bratz

  1. The bratz dolls are horribly disturbing, though I didn’t see any of the darker skinned ones with blue eyes. Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right area (bad site design/navigation and all). The one that strikes me about these (that wasn’t mentioned in this post) is how, just like older versions of barbie, unproportional these dolls are. The heads are MUCH too big for the bodies which could be interpreted as simply giving them a cartoon-ish look, but I think there is something much worse going on with that. Many of the young overly thin hollywood actresses are referred to as “bobble heads” because they are so thin their heads seem to be too big for their emaciated bodies. I have to wonder if the look of these dolls could somehow be encouraging this look as being the standard of being attractive…?

  2. I hemmed and hawed over the Barbie issue several years back when my niece desperately wanted a Barbie. Ultimately, my wife’s argument that we’re better off trying to find the least offensive choice among the things she likes than getting her something she doesn’t want or like just to appease our politics won me over. Well, that and that Barbie was the entirety of her wish list that year and we were running low on time for creative ideas. Ultimately, though, I thought I’d thrown a wrench into the process with this one: “Okay, we can buy her a Barbie if we can find one that wears sensible, flat shoes.” Not so! We sound up finding NASCAR Barbie, who wears what look to be black Reebok sneakers and wears a NASCAR driver’s outfit complete with helmet. I had to agree that I was okay with that. I did assent to one pair of heels for her, since it came paired with a sari, and I thought that buying a sari for our niece’s Barbie would help keep her in touch with the Pakistani side of our family a little.

    I’m really glad that she never got into Bratz, though.

  3. My policy was that my daughters could buy what they wanted with their money. I never bought them anything that made me politically ill. They understood the Barbie politics and bought them with their money anyway. I felt like they were entitled to make decisions for themselves even if I didn’t like the choices. There was a barbie “make up head” that was particularly awful.

    Eventually they remade them, mostly in delightfully transgressive ways. So, in the long run it was fine, and in the short run I sometimes got a barbie headache.

  4. rsrott, good point! I saw that, but not quite clearly enough to put into words.

    Debbie, I didn’t even look at the babies, and now I think I should have. (But maybe I’m kind of glad I don’t have to wash off my eyeballs.)

  5. I saw two dolls among the Bratz Babies that were either intended to be (big-eyed, big-lashed) males or the Bratz version of dykes. (It’s hard to tell which is intended, I admit, but the much narrower lips must betoken something.)

    Likewise, the darkest-skinned dolls I was seeing all had brown or hazel eyes.

  6. I’ve noticed Barbies have become more stereotypical, along with other girl toys. Mainly, they’re about being a princess, fairy, marmaid, and other “girly like” things. When I was growing up, I was into both “girl like” and “boy like” toys. But the toys they’re selling suggest only one gender can play with them. If you’ve seen the “spy gear”, the picture on the front is usually a boy. The only time there is a girl is if the toy has flowers or hearts or pink on it. Also, at McDonalds, they have “boy toys” or “girl toys”. They asume all girls like dolls and all boys like Transformers or cars or whatever. my little sister(10) always asks for the boy toy because they are usually “more fun”. Bratz and Barbies are both disproportional, and teach girls to wear makeup, wear revealing clothes, and be underweight. I have also noticed how in everyday life, things are spelled incorrectly on purpose, such as: Text messaging, tv shows, Bratz, and more. Also, Hilary Duff advertizes for Barbie, teaching girls to spend all their money on clothing and to be spoiled brats. When I was younger, I played with Barbies all the time, mainly because Iiked coming up with stories. So now, I write the stories and my little sister does the same(she even got published in a magazine when she was 7)

  7. Hannah,

    I think you’re right about the dolls and gender attitudes toward toys getting even worse. They do teach very bad lessons.

    And fortunately there are many girls like you were, who use Barbie’s for their own stories.

    Good luck to both of with your writing!

  8. I Have No Idea What The Hell You Are All Moaning About! I Use To Play With Bratz, I Had About 56 Between Me And My Younger Sister. Little Girls Don’t Understand That The Dolls Are Showing Too Much Skin Or Are Have To Much Make-Up On Or Whatever! They Just Think Its A Doll And Its Fun! Im 14 Now So I Think I Know What Im Talking About! All You People Are Just Adults And Are Guessing What Younger People Think But Your Not A Little Girl! So You Dont Know….I Loved Playing With My Dolls. Dressing Them, Doing Their Hair, Pretending They Are At School, Work, Friends Houses Or Shopping Or Whatever. Its Good For Thier Imagination.


  9. As an avid Barbie collector even to this day, I am literally sick and enraged by the changed they have made to the Barbie dolls because of Bratz taking over the market. Has anyone else noticed how fricking huge her head has gotten? Barbie, already disporportioned enough, not suddenly has a 3x bigger head than she did before.

    I went to Mattel’s customer service page to complain about this change of head size, but found that you have to call them up to send any feedback, you can’t just write an angry email.

    As for the Bratz – I find them jut as sickening. They have no noses, they wear tight clothes, they have too-obviously fake lips, and, over all, are ultimately slutty.

    Why they’re popular at all escapes me, but maybe that’s just because I’m a bit biased, what with Barbie at least being a foot tall and not a short, chubby prostitute.

  10. WTF, you got us all beat. You’re soooooo intelligent. Your logic and grammar are proof positive the rest of us are just plain stupid.

    Too bad I was born an adult and never had the benefit of child-like insight.

    Now, given the fact that I’ve been exposed for being a stupid adult, I’ll give in and won’t pretend to have answers. I’ll just ask some questions.

    1) Say I have a serious health concern–or heck, just want to get my teeth cleaned. Would I rather be worked on by a 15 year old or a 40 year old?

    2) I want to watch a movie. When I go to the local video store, will I find more movies directed by 40 somethings or teens?

    3) I’m a world leader and our nation has a big problem. Do I call a 50 year old or a 20 year old to work on a solution?

    4) I want to go to a museum to look at art. Do I want to see art by a 5 year old or a 36 year old?

    Now to reality…

    I guess I’m speaking to the stupid adults now.

    Honestly, like all but one contributor to Laurie and Debbie’s blog, I too am greatly disturbed by the proliferation of Bratz dolls and the seemingly related changes to Barbie.

    Besides the fact that Bratz are hypersexualized dolls dressed for a career as a pole dancer, one more telling argument against them is to see just how illiterate and illogical their one supporter (on this blog) is. Yes, she’s just 14, but she’s only 4 years away from being a legal voting adult and getting very close to sexual maturity. How does she dress?

    Does how a teen female dresses impact how she is approached and treated by teen males?

    Do teens make judgments on one another based on dress? Do adults make judgments on one another based on dress?

    Is teen pregnancy a problem in the US?

    Again, I don’t have the answers, but these questions do come to mind.

    What does the choice of online moniker say about oneself? I could have my acronyms mixed up–I am blonde like Barbie–but when I see the initials WTF, I think “What the f—.”

    How important are reading, writing and critical thinking skills? If my goal is to be a real live incarnation of a Bratz doll, a la Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, are those important skills to have?

    Just so no one gets the idea I’m a dowdy, stay-at-home, book worm, I was in a competitive sorority at a competitive college–and yes, looks were valued. And yes, we had one sister who was the living incarnation of Barbie! But education was equally stressed. Our pledge class had future scientists, teachers, doctors, accountants and artists.

    I don’t see that in the Bratz value system. Barbie’s marketing copy, god love her, at least pretends to have an interest in a self-supporting and fulfilling career.

    I also worked for a record label and toured with Lollapalooza–no kidding. But I don’t want my daughter playing with Bratz dolls.

    Are Britney Spears and Paris Hilton happy people? Where will Britney and Paris be at age 40? What contributions does each make to the world? Who do they care about? Who cares about them? Other than paid staff, who takes care of them when they are sick? What happens after Paris Hilton has bought everything she ever wanted?

    WTF – since you are sooooooo smart, then surely you are up to taking one of the following imagination challenges! They would be so easy for your brainy head.

    1) Imagine you won the lotto. Who doesn’t think that is a fun little daydream? You now have more money than Donald Trump. What would you do with the money? Fast forward 5 years. What would your life be like? In 5 years, would you have a lot more or a lot less money than you started with? What would you do after you’d done everything you wanted and bought everything you wanted?

    2) Imagine you have died (I know tough to do at 14–but you are sooo smart and you yourself stated that Bratz dolls contributed to your life by stimulating your imagination–so imagine this). So you’ve died and you are hovering over a crowd of people at your wake/funeral/memorial service. What would you want people to say about you?

    So I’m still a stupid adult. The following sites are sure to have much smarter (and consequently probably younger) folks than me providing fodder to entertain you.

    The “Satisfaction With Life” index on Wikipedia.

    Oh, did you notice where the US is on that chart? What puts the top countries on top? Maybe the following article will shed some light. Hint: The “C word” could have something to do with it.

    A scholarly article on happiness from 4 different view points:

    One last request–for you dumb adults, if you haven’t seen the movie Parenthood featuring Steve Martin, you have to watch it. Favorite quote is:

    “You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any #$^&*%$ be a father.”

    Being a parent is the most interesting, fun and important job I’ll ever have. Don’t want to f—- it up!

  11. Ok, let’s see, I’m a 14 year old Pakistani girl and I only have 40 bratz dolls till now. I never ever dressed like them (nor I ever will.
    Ever seen this bratz doll? She’s fully covered and looks like a Pakistani girl. Just because a doll dresses like that, it doesnt mean little girls will dress like this too.

Join the Conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.