I'm not particularly upset that the outcome of Barbie Doll-maker Mattel's lawsuit is that a judge has ordered the competing Bratz doll line to discontinue production, except for the effect this will have on the people who work for MGA. I do believe Bratz represent a highly-sexualized image not necessarily appropriate for young girls and I'm not a big fan of "fashion" dolls period.
But it's not just the clothes and lip gloss that appealed to millions of girls.
Wikipedia describes them as having "almond-shaped eyes" and "lush... lips." Here are some images:
Images from here
According to Fara Warner:
If Barbie® were a real woman, she would stand 6 foot 2 and most likely would be unable to stand because of her tiny waist and large bust. By contrast, if Bratz™ were real girls, they would stand about 5 foot 6 and sport bodies that look more like entertainers Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer LopezMy point is, that Bratz did not look like white-Barbie dyed light- or dark-brown, and that is definitely part of their appeal:
“Barbie® did advance as women advanced. She had a doctor’s outfit, she went into space. But she was still blonde and blue-eyed when a majority of girls in the U.S. and the world were not.Focusing on the fact that these dolls are multicultural does lead to more troubling questions though:
1) Why did the manufacturer feel the need to dress and adorn these dolls in this way?
2) Have people (particularly moms) explored why it's so easy to call these dolls (dolls, for god's sake!) "freakish" and "hookers" and "slutz" and "trampy"?
The Bratz are market successes because they rely on stereotypes about "ethnic" women: they are sexy (and sexual) and made cutting-edge/trendy by their "exoticness" and their adherence to an alternative/rebellious counterculture (in this case, largely hip-hop).
Ironically, these are the exact reasons Bratz are repudiated. This mom, for example, was appalled by the "vinyl whores" who, when compared to Barbie had "less boobs, more junk in the trunk."
I am also bothered when people posit Barbie or Disney Princesses* as more "acceptable" alternatives. In a 2002 Detroit Free Press Article, Ellen Creager** claimed that "Barbie's" attempts to cash in on the Bratz appeal (discussed further down) besmirched her:
Mattel Inc.'s new My Scene Barbie has a big head, pouty pink lips, skimpy jeans and a navel-baring wardrobe worthy of an MTV diva.And, says Margaret Talbot,
But if ruining her reputation is what it takes to win back girls older than 7, Barbie's more than willing.
"The dolls are more reality-based," Mattel spokesman Ria Freydl said. "A girl can really relate to them."
Sure, if she's Christina Aguilera.
You could never imagine a Bratz doll assuming any of the dozens of careers Barbie has pursued over the decades: not Business Executive or Surgeon or Summit Diplomat -- not even Pan Am Flight Attendant or Pet Doctor. Bratz girls seem more like kept girls... Whereas Mattel’s Scothon likes to talk about Barbie’s "aspirational" qualities -- how she might inspire "a girl to run for President and look good while she was doing it" -- [Bratz creator Isaac] Larian prefers to talk about "fashion and fantasy" and what’s "cute."Ah, yes, Barbie, the feminist fashion doll!
Barbie and the Disney Princesses are just as problematic as Bratz, and Barbie, with her previously-impossible measurements and adherence to the blonde-blue-eyed-white-woman-as-THE-ideal is just as sexualized. For how many years did she play nurse to Ken's doctor, ahem?
But her sexualization is more acceptable--largely because it is cloaked beneath white skin and presumed to be reserved for one man. Barbie has been critiqued plenty, we all know. The basis of some of that criticism was her early devotion to the "cult of domesticity." The culmination of Barbie's life was to be marriage, in which she would reap the awards of her physical attractiveness--being "taken care of," having dreamhouses and luxury cars.
Contrast that to the basis for much of the Bratz criticism. Bratz detractors claim they "look ready to stand on a street corner." Now, a cynic like me would point out that these critiques have something in common; both imply that a message is being relayed to girls to rely on their looks and their bodies to get money from men for survival. The difference is, one way is idealized--long defined as normative--and the other, criminalized, classified as deviant. Thus, while Barbie is "despised by feminists and child educators for being a tool of racism and sexism, and a contemporary epitome of the cult of thinness," she is "idolized... as a model of aesthetic perfection and a cultural icon of heterosexual femininity."
(Speaking of "Barbie vs. Bratz," isn't it amazing how "disputes" between even fictional women can be cast as catfights? LOL/sob.)
And Disney, with its dead mother/evil stepmother issues and "aspire to be a princess who needs to be rescued by others!" isn't exactly the company I want shaping my goddaughters' world views.
Please don't think Mattel is overly concerned with protecting children from The Menace of the Bratz!! They tried to cash in on the Bratz's success with their ill-fated "Flava" line, viewed as offensive by many.
And what do you think MyScene Barbies are all about?
Barbie was no longer queen of the fashion doll circuit, so Mattel had to do something.
Look, in the interests of fairness, all I want are a few things:
1) I want psychologists, after YEARS of feminist critiques, to think about why they aren't as alarmed about Barbie as they are about Bratz.
2) I want mothers who point out the "vacancy" of the Bratz's lives to fashion a similar critique about the MyScene dolls who are, according to their website, primarily concerned with fab faces, shopping, and bling.
3) I want people to analyze why a doll based on a German "sex doll" who once opined that "Math class is tough!" and came with a weight loss guide that advised, "Don't Eat" is THE model for "fashion" dolls. (That's a bit rhetorical, huh?).
Seriously, Bratz did not spring from nowhere. Little girls get messages everyday about how the most important aspect of their person is physical beauty, about how women LOVE to shop and put on makeup. As I've been Christmas shopping for my six-year-old goddaughter, I've seen sweaters with feathered necks and fronts (Bratz are trashed for their feather boas), ultra-skinny jeans, high heels, lip gloss and manicure sets, and enough sparkles and glitter to decorate a high school prom.
The Bratz aren't some anomaly. They are reflective of much about our culture and pulling them off the shelves won't change the root problems. And the whole suggestion that Barbie is somehow a more-acceptable-tool-of-the-patriarchy is weird to me (and sorta misses the point, doesn't it?). How much of our problem with Bratz comes from the fact that this particular cultural reflection comes in different "packaging?"
*Guess which Disney Princess the Hot Air blogger's daughter has a problem with? Jasmine, cuz she kissed Aladdin and she wasn't married!! Slutty brown girl!
**"Barbie Bares Her Belly to Compete with Bratz," 27 November 2002.