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.”