Toys on sale

It’s that time of year. The toys are all on sale, especially the weird ones.

Which brings me to Bratz vs Barbie wars. I am of an age to have grown up with both Barbie dolls and feminist commentary on Barbie dolls, and I find Bratz kind of interesting in light of that. First, I find Bratz hideously ugly — carrying that whole Barbie “if you saw someone who looked like that in real life you’d run away screaming” thing even further.

But in some ways the manner of their stylization does simply seem to reflect the aesthetic preferences of younger generations — Barbie is like a 50s pulp fiction cover, Bratz are like anime. (Except for the gigantic swollen lips, which are the part I really hate. But the super-duper eyes, no noses, and general face shape are very anime.)

But Bratz are fundamentally different in concept. Barbie is an *adult* female, and the play and outfits centered around Barbie always had an aspect of adult-aspirational. You know, Barbie the stewardess, Barbie the astronaut, Barbie the policewoman. Barbie was “we girls can do anything!” In, of course, a neverending parade of fabulous outfits. And Barbie’s people accessories had roles like designated boyfriend and little sister.

Bratz are not adults. They are stylized to look around twelve. Their playsets have the same beauty salon/rock star kind of thing as Barbie, but they have eliminated the adult careers aspect. Bratz are plural — not a single character and her sidekicks, but a collection of characters all assumed to be of equal importance. There is no designated boyfriend. They emphasize close female friendships as the defining relationship in a young woman’s life.

Barbie’s blonde statuesqueness continues, to this day, to reflect her Germanic roots. Bratz are sort of vaguely multi-cultural in that Jennifer Lopez/Mariah Carey sort of way. Is that a step forward? Maybe? Kind of?

So: their crazy lips and glam-trash hoochie outfits cause adults to react negatively, characterizing Bratz as yet another example of girls growing up too fast. But in a lot of ways, Bratz are about girls not growing up at all. Bratz don’t date. They don’t have careers. As aspirational play, they look no further than “being allowed to leave the house in a sequined tank top.”




    *actually doesn’t run away*

    Wait… I think I’ve got it.

    Here’s what I’d like to see:

    A line of dolls, starting with all girls and women but working in boys and men eventually, all of varying shapes and sizes and ethnicities. They might be very cartoony or they might be somewhat realistic, but they are exaggerated. Some of them are close to the greek/holywood ideal, others are way off. But they are all cute or sexy or hot or awesome in their own way. Heck, you could even do things that make them each unique. And then, you can buy them career sets and house sets (everything from a cardboard box to fantasy island/secret fortress). So, initially, they’re designated boyfriend, sister, boss, etc. until you customize them. And then, to make it even better, all the clothes are adjustable so you can tailor them for different body types. The dolls might have to have clothing sizes, though, but that just adds to the fun. You never show it in the marketing, but it’s entirely possible to cross dress. You could even make it so that arms and legs and heads are interchangeable. And everything’s made well enough that it’s collectible, and you definitely put that into the marketting. Heck, you could even have mystery boxes for special edition stuff, and borrow rules from the Clix series to aid in role playing games, but instead of health and strength you’ve got wits, charm, patience and smarts. And certain careers require different levels of each to be successful. Oh, and you could even work in various personality types, too.

    It could get really complex with fairly little overhead (because a lot of it has been done before), and it could be separately marketed to boys and girls and still be compatible between the two.

    If you tie it into the Sims franchise, you might be able to make it hit right off.

    In a similar but different vein: Webcomic dollz.

  2. My knee jerk reaction to Bratz is that they look like hookers. Not real hookers, mind you, but the hollywood stereotypical depiction of prostitutes. That said, I really like your interpretation…. that they are kids playing dress up.

  3. Blythe

    When I worked in a toy store it seemed like all the Barbie clothes were made out of spandex and super low cut. I used to think moms who bought those outfits for their daughters deserved the fight when the girls became teeny boppers and wanted to dress like hookers at school.

    Then there’s the Blythe dolls dolls.
    They were made in the 1970s, scared kids and were discontinued. Now adults pay buko $$$ for them, make clothes, and, ok, they don’t really look like Bratz. They just have big heads.

    1. Re: Blythe

      I was wondering what folks would make of this odd Blythe craze. I suppose it has something to do with their sly, secretive look — that doll is at the brink of the Uncanny Valley, which has its own sort of weird attraction, I guess.

    2. Author

      Re: Blythe

      So *that’s* what those creepy dolls are!

      I’ve seen them around, but as part of art or a Japanese web site, so I didn’t really understand them. They look so weirdly adult.

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