If Bratz dolls were real, Bill Maher would be dating 5 of them.

There are a lot of things wrong with Bratz besides the stupid fucking “spunky”, “hip-hop” use of Z as a pluralizer (what if I started using a Q to make all C and K sounds?). I don’t suppose I’m breaking any new ground by discussing the Bratz phenomenon, but I’m going to talk about it anyway because my take on Bratz is probably more coherent than anyone else’s: Bratz dolls are a tangible distillation of the fact that American girls are expected to grow up to be materialistic, fashion-obsessed, boy-crazed, manipulative sex objects and nothing else. I’ve never seen a more brazen celebration of shallowness, vapidity, materialism, and lowered expectations than Bratz dolls and all of the merchandise and media that accompany them. If you aren’t familiar with Bratz, or even if you are, I’ll break the whole thing down for you here.

Bratz dolls are supposed to be the new millennium’s answer to tired-ass and cliched Barbie dolls: they aren’t all blond, they don’t all have the same hue of tan, and they … uh… don’t hang out with guys named Ken. They also have new-millennium rap-video dancer (or porn) names like Jade, Yasmin, Tiana, Ciara, Noemie, and other shit that gets a red line out of my spell-checker, and they supposedly resemble more closely the diversity of appearances represented in America than the Barbie line (more on that nonsense later). The line includes Bratz Babyz, Bratz Kidz, and the standard Bratz, but even these make Barbie look old as hell, what with their affluent-but-jobless club-hopping teenager vibe.

We all know that Barbies were a bad influence on girls; they gave us the idea that a) life revolved around fashion, being beautiful, and fashion, that b) we could play sports and have jobs, but only if we stayed beautiful the whole time, and that c) if we wanted to be beautiful, we’d better figure out how to be blond, 5’10”, 110 pounds, and have a 13-inch waist, giant boobs, and size 4 feet. Kind of a shitty message and one that I’d be glad to see go the way of Cross Colors.

So are Bratz really different from old Babs? Uh… NO. I would be stoked to see toys on the market for girls that offered more inspiring, or at least less limiting, messages than Barbie dolls did, but the makers of Bratz have somehow found a way to make a line of dolls that offers an even more constrained and unrealistic set of options and expectations to girls, all while creating the illusion of offering more options. It’s really fucking sinister, and it’s a brilliant example of just how insidious marketing and product development have become.

In broad terms, the Bratz world is limited to fashion, being into hip-hop or pop music, and that’s about it. No jobs, no sports to speak of (more on that later), no hobbies: Bratz are here to shop, do their hair, get dates, and be fucking snotty. But wait, you’ll say, they’re better than Barbie because they’re, like, multicultural and shit! It’s true, some of the dolls are a little browner than those in Barbie’s crew, but the vast majority of them are still white, and the ones that aren’t uphold a beauty standard in which non-white women are judged by how closely their hair and facial features resemble those of white women deemed “beautiful.” If there were actually any kind of diversity here (I’m talking about actual, not just ethnoracial, diversity), the dolls wouldn’t all look like clones dyed different colors; they’d be different heights, weights, and body types, they’d have different facial structures and hair textures, and they’d have different interests, talents, skills, and backgrounds. Arguing that these dolls are a progressive force because they come in different shades of do-able is like saying that racism is over because sports talk radio fans have agreed that they’d be willing to fuck Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, and Lucy Liu.

And speaking of that… the most disturbing feature common to Bratz dolls, even some of the Kidz and Babyz, is that they are completely and totally sexualized. I’m not a sociopathic marketing asshole, but I can see the hand of one in the faces of these dolls: giant collagen lips, huge half-closed eyes reminiscent of a cooing Playboy playmate, massively dilated pupils (which I have heard are a sign of sexual arousal), more make-up than Brett Michaels, long and (somehow) promiscuous hair, and completely stripperific clothing and shoes. Look at the lip liner on the one in the middle. She looks like Pamela Anderson. Honestly, the vast majority of these dolls look like porn “actors” on a day off.


And look at the fucking Babyz! They somehow have floor-length go-go dancer hair, the same heavy-lidded sexual stares as the regular Bratz, and the same plumped-up lips that remind one of the gross reason why men like Angelina Jolie, all at the age of 6 months! Did I mention that, in addition to the baby bottles they wear as fashion accessories, they are all wearing bathing suits? I truly would not be shocked to find one of these Babyz wearing a thong diaper. Seriously, have you ever seen sluttier looking babies?[1]


If kids have to play with miniature plastic humans, it’d be cool if they actually reflected a little bit of reality and gave girls something to think about besides how to get people to want to pork them. As it is, every single one of the dolls fits into the Bratz Fashion Slutz model. Even the obligatory sporty line (which of course includes a Z in its name), the Play Sportz collection, consists only of a doll who SCUBA dives in a silver wetsuit that looks more like the outfit of a Duran Duran back-up dancer, a doll that is into hip hop (which I didn’t know was a sport), one that has a silver hula hoop, and, of course, a fucking cheerleader (who apparently cheers for the pink team, judging by her ridiculously pink uniform). Sporty. Outside that perfunctory nod, the makers of Bratz dollz, gamez, bicyclez, underwear, televisionz, hamperz, lampz, suitcasez, chairz, and moviez are pretty comfortable with their message: being a girl means being overtly sexualized, being way into pink, being popular with boys with date-rapist names like Jordan and Skyler, and being a little asshole about it. The unfortunate part is that only about 1 in 100 girls gets to be a stuck-up sexbot. The rest just get to feel completely worthless because they don’t measure up to such a lame and vacuous standard.


The picture above pretty much sums up the the vibe Bratz are laying down and is a pretty succinct visual distillation of Bratz ideology. I hope people will comment with what they think these three would be saying if they could talk.

[1] Note: I use the term “sluttier” here for rhetorical impact. I don’t call people sluts, but I do recognize that that is one of the two default identities, the other being prude/wife material, that our culture allows women to assume.

Bookmark and Share

95 thoughts on “If Bratz dolls were real, Bill Maher would be dating 5 of them.

  1. I’d normally disagree with you, but I can’t because you’re exactly right, these dolls are the reason millions of pre-teens are going to horrible lays when they get older. We might diverge when it comes to reasons why we hate them, but we can at least agree that they’re 2-bit whores. I, too, wish they’d make dolls that were all intellectual, curvy, funny, and kinky as fuck in bed, so that it would teach these soon-to-be-whores what’s really sexy.

    I wouldn’t want to oversaturate sexy. These dolls are like an instruction book how to be made fun of and ultimately despised by people like us. Life would be boring otherwize.


  2. Alright, Halston. I’m going to have to lecture you for a minute about calling people whores. It isn’t cool. There’s no equivalently derogatory term for men who are promiscuous, and besides that, it’s a shitty thing to call someone. For the victims of Bratz ideology (which is my new favorite world view), I prefer something like “girls who have been brainwashed into believing that their purpose on this planet is to be used sexually by dudes named Todd and Dave.”

    I suppose I could say that your comments refer to the hypothesis that feminists have better relationships and sex lives, which was just borne out by a study done somewhere or other. I think that has to be true; women who have their own interests, have a sense of personal sovereignty, and require that they be treated respectfully are probably more fun to date and have sex with than women who have the idea that they’re just there to be looked at. Still, your comments reflect a lot more of the (piggish) idea that a woman’s worth should be determined by her relative desirability to men than they do of my argument. But at least you’ve mentioned intelligence and funniness as factors, which is at least on the right trail.


  3. I try not to use euphamistic language. Your “term” consisted of 30 syllables whereas mine was 1. Oftentimes the intended meaning gets lost with sugarcoated terminology (see insurance/medical industry jargon). It’s true that it’s not fair that men aren’t identified in kind. I guess that’s eerily similar to blacks not having a suitable racial slur for white dudes. This is the main reason I hate being white.

    I don’t want to refer back to the natural desire of humans to copulate but I guess I am. Sex has always held the attention of people (regardless of ethnicity, culture, whatever) far greater than anything else. I really do wish I could exchange this hellbent truth for something like space exploration or alt means of jet propulsion but that’ll never be.


  4. No, I think the real meaning is lost in the simple but excessively derogatory 1-syllable word. Mine’s more precise and explains what is actually going on rather than reducing complicated and multifaceted people with a variety of motives to “whores”.


  5. I think they would say, “Where the fuck are our noses?!? We don’t care if men don’t find them as sexy as our eyes, mouths or breasts – we want noses!!!”


  6. I have been trying to figure out why I have more of a problem with Bratz than with Barbie, which I loved as a girl (and who certainly isn’t unproblematic) and this is why. I was beginning to think I was just old and out of touch. I believed that my Barbie’s could do ANYTHING- after all they had the accessories for pretty much anything a (white, middle class) girl could think of. Bratz don’t even offer what Barbie offered.

    I think they would say ‘I have really big feet, but I can still buy fashionable shoes’.


  7. I’ve actually noticed the big feet thing, and it may be the only thing Bratz are good for, helping girls with big feet not feel abnormal. But of course, there’ll be something or other to make sure they still feel substandard in that regard.


  8. you have you seen the bratz movie yet … oh yes there is a movie on this shit …and the babys hair dos are very stripperish, m think nomi malone – showgirls..


  9. Jeez wtf?! They’re only bloody dolls. You know there’s other dolls like that right? Like Myscene or Top Model dolls. They’re both Mattel creations and trust me,they are fugly. You know,some Bratz dolls actually don’t look bad to me,some have not a lot of make up or skimpy clothes. Some even have tracksuits! And also Bratz are more diversed. They have Latinos,African Americans, Asians and loads more cultures and what does Barbie have? A blonde girl. Seriously you people are just too used to your precious little Barbie and you just can’t get used to the fast that the Bratz are better than Barbie.


    1. I was just watching a documentary on how Mattel took down the guy who created Bratz because he used to work for Mattel and Bratz was beating out Barbie so they sued him and claimed the Bratz were their property because he came up with them while he was still employed there. They actually won the rights to the original Bratz characters but a later decision allowed them to own subsequent dolls. It was extremely cutthroat and Mattel had no qualms doing it to keep Barbie on top. This doc is currently on Netflix — The Toys That Made Us.


    2. Ten years later, there are black and brown Barbies and even black Kens and, shockingly, Mattel uses a different mold for black faces than for white ones, which they didn’t previously do. But even back in 2008 there were black Barbies, even if you had to really look for them.
      My current favorite in vinyl dolls is Lammily. Bratz suck. Full stop.


  10. You obviously didn’t read the post. Either that or you’re stupid. I do know there are other dolls like Bratz, but they are by far the top sellers today and are some of the most offensive. Fugly? Nice. What, may I ask, does “diversed” mean? The dolls may be different colors, but how does that equate to different cultures? In my book, they’re all a part of the same culture, and that culture is defined by materialism and shallowness.


  11. American culture is one big oxymoron. In multiple senses.

    … I used to make my Ken and Barbie dolls have sex when I was little. I didn’t even know what sex was, but I made them have it on their wedding night in the oh-so-convienient bed that tagged along with “Wedding Barbie”

    Lets not argue about the meaning of words because really, how is that going to fix this problem? .. Which is essentially what we are trying to do, yes?


    1. ‘American Culture” isn’t an oxymoron. And saying that it is an oxymoron is problematic for a few reasons:

      To say that there is no dominant culture in the United States ignores the privilege that people whose culture is favored in this sexist, white supremacist, racist, heteronormative, and homophobic country are afforded. Additionally, it ignores all of the people who are marginalized as a result of this American Culture with which most aspects of life are imbued.

      Also, to deny the existence of an American culture is to define the United States’ dominant (white supremacist, racist, sexist, heteronormative, etc.) culture as normative and any other marginalized and disenfranchized culture as “other”.

      Not trying to jump down your throat, Beth, just thought it was important for me to add this.


  12. It’s great to hear this conversation going. It would be even greater to hear it without the hateful name-calling, but as a guy, I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to grow up as a woman in America. If I were subject to the same expectations, I might resort to name-calling too.

    Anyway, keep the conversation going. And who’s ready to start a line of dolls/action figures that offer kids (regardless of gender) positive role modeling?


  13. Sorry, less from you and more from some others leaving comments. And really, it’s not that big of a deal. Strongly aggressive reactions are better than no reactions at all. At least the issue can be discussed.


  14. Hmm. I don’t know either what it’s like to be a woman growing up in America. I’m from South Africa.

    I wonder how the views on women differ from here to there? I mean, here, we’ve got possibly the highest rape stats in the world. Yet, we have a system of BEE (black economic empowerment) which makes a disabled black female the ideal employee. So, I as a women (albeit white and able-bodied) have a better chance of getting a job than a white, able bodied man with the same qualifications.


  15. I love the Simpsons episode where Lisa invents an intelligent, feminist Malibu Stacey. Go Lisa! I would have loved these BRATZ as a kid, I’m ashamed to say I was the girly-girl and those subliminal messages would have gone straight into my mind. My mother always fought it, didn’t allow us to have Barbies, etc. That made me feel at a disadvantage to other girls who were allowed sexier things. Even if you don’t understand “sexy” as a little girl, you kind of figure out what is and isn’t attractive in a grown-up way. And you so badly want to be attractive in a grown-up way.

    About the big feet: I know it’s to make them stand up, but on some of them it looks like stripper shoes.

    In some ways I’m glad my child is a boy, but you should see the violence they market at him! Whole aisles of violence! Our poor children. I want my son to feel free to be sensitive and caring and gentle and not to feel this aggression is expected of him. Likewise I would want a daughter to think of herself as a person, not a doll. Not something for show.

    Can they PLEASE make non-commercial toy shops? Oh Please? Mr. Magorium, we need you!


    1. Have you seen this film called Searching for Bobby Fischer? It is about chess on the surface but really it’s about the goodness of this one kid, this kid who was being coached to be a jerk but stayed true to himself. I LOVE Joan Allen in this film as the kid’s mom. There is a scene where the kid loses a tournament and his father is just going on and on and berating him (bear in mind the boy is SEVEN years old) and just attacking him for having lost etc. The mom later tells the father, “You think he’s weak. He’s not weak, he’s DECENT. And if you or anyone else tries to beat that out of him, I swear to God, I’ll take him away.” It is wonderful to see her stand up for the goodness in her son and not allow the men around him to mold him into a selfish player for whom all that is important is winning and to win you must hate your opponent. The teacher tells him he must hold his opponent in contempt. The boy says, “I don’t.” The teacher says, “Bobby Fischer held the world in contempt.” The boys says, “I’m not him.” I don’t have a son but I think any mother would identify with this film as a metaphor for how they want to protect the good in their sons but are up against so much.


    2. There are good toy sellers, but a lot of them are Waldorf-oriented, so they’re mail order only and if you don’t know they exist you won’t look for them. They also tend to be expensive. You don’t have to actually believe in Waldorf precepts to buy from them, happily.


  16. Patricia – I’m not familiar with the dynamics down there in South Africa. Based on history here, though, I’d probably be bracing myself for a patriarchal backlash were I in your shoes.


  17. I loved cutting my barbies hair and dressing her in my best friends Action Man (not sure if you have those in america) clothes. Butch Camouflage Barbie FTW!

    What I still think is hilarious is that the toy industry thinks girls /like/ playing with dolls. They don’t. They’re just told they’re supposed to by everyone around them. All little girls would rather be playing out side with laser tag guns then sitting on the floor calmly brushing they’re dolls hair. Advertising of course makes you think you want them and need them and then you end up begging your mum for that pink convertible car that the doll really need to get around your bedroom with and bla bla bla

    Bratz, as dolls, suck. Their hair is put into a certain style with some form of glue so when you brush their hair they look like they’ve had a bad perm.

    Girls like them because they’re told to by the adverts, I actually think that by making them /so/ extreme that girls can’t think that they should look like this because they look /so/ fake. Mainly because I had a long conversation with the younger girls I did ballet with about them.

    “being popular with boys with date-rapist names like Jordan and Skyler” – Fucking LOL.

    The problem with Barbie was that it looked like a real woman, a perfect version yes, but still a real woman in a lot of respects, so you were being told that this was what you were meant to be. But Bratz just look stylized and kinda funny to young girls.

    And the thing about shopping and stuff, seriously, that’s just a general teenage thing. I know girls of all different types, goth, emo, Barbie types, and the normal variety – all of them like shopping. I think Bratz are meant to show you how to be a teenager, not a woman. And seriously, what productive things do us teenagers do except whine?

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that these things are pretty annoying, but I’ll go on hating Barbie more.


    1. Thank you for saying that! I didn’t know how to verbalize what was in my head (can I ever?), but that made it clearer. I remember that I used to want to play sports so desperately with the boys and they would just laugh at me and tell me I was worthless and that all girls should just stick to playing with dolls and not speaking. I truly hate them. I’m an agressive persun, I need to be agressive. Be- be AGRESSIVE!


    1. We bought one of the Bratz boy dolls only because he was on sale for like 2 bucks. His feet came off so now we play with him as an amputee. Diversity FTW.


  18. Wow. “date-rapist names like Jordan and Skylar”? Way to be name-ist.

    This is one thing I can’t stand. Blaming toys, music, “the media” for the way children turn out.

    If a parent can’t raise a child well enough so that they can think for themselves and not be influenced by this, that’s their own fault.


    1. I think that this is less of blaming toys, music, even media, for the way that children turn out. It’s instead about the system, and about the intersectional systems of oppression that are deep rooted in our society, and the effects of these that we see in the marketing of these dolls(z?). These systems of white supremacism and patriarchy are ever-present in all aspects of our lives and are reoccurring themes in every day incidences. So much so, that we can’t even buy a toy for our children without being bombarded by reminders of how strongly enforced these expectations are. The argument against these dolls is not what you are claiming them to be. The concern is not that a child will pick up a Bratz doll and become materialistic, and submissive. The concern is much deeper. It is that this is an example of the highly calculated means of generating complicit acceptance of the roles that women should take on in order to uphold the status quo. It is that these dolls are purported to represent women of color who had previously been ignored by toy companies, yet they are based on shallow and ignorant understandings of “diversity” and as a result, serve only to create the illusion of equality.


    2. You’re expecting parents to be able to overcome the eons of images and teachings and the reinforcement we see and hear and experience from almost all members of society. We are human and we are influenced by things we see, things around us, what people say, what people do etc. That’s HUMAN. Mirroring is a human trait. How do you raise a child to “think for themselves” when doing so will essentially set them up to be attacked and mocked and threatened? Sometimes kids conform for safety.

      Media does matter. Let’s look at advertising. Do you think for one second it would be *everywhere* if it didn’t WORK? Millions of dollars are invested in advertisers learning about human psychology in order to use it against us. NONE of us “think for ourselves”. NONE.


    3. You poor naive person who has never had kids.
      Both my daughter’s father and I are LGBT-friendly (well, with me, more LGB til the TRAs calm the fuck down and get out of my spaces) and my daughter was STILL on track to be a homophobe as young as 5 years old.
      I had to actually make a conscious effort to educate her that some people are same-sex attracted and that’s perfectly OK before she turned around. We homeschool her (secularly), and for a long time we didn’t watch mainstream TV… she picked this crap up from the PLAYGROUND.
      Children don’t just learn from their parents and never did. They learn from the larger society too, and if they don’t see it on TV they’ll pick it up from real people in real life. I actually find it easier to control the TV than what assholes out in public do.


  19. I just wanted to point out that, as a child, I loved playing with dolls. In fact, I had an immense collection of Barbies. I never focused on their appearance- they were just little people I found useful for enacting elaborate plotlines. So… “Brainwashed Teen”, not EVERY little girl would rather be outside playing with laser tag guns.
    And not every teen loves shopping- I loathe shopping for clothing, although I can spend hours in a bookstore.

    Anyway, brilliant article.


    1. ha, i was the same way. granted, i typically wanted to play with the brown-haired barbie, because she was “just like me”, but other than that, most of the enjoyment i got out of barbies, was the elaborate stories of their lives.

      but hell, i did that with stuffed animals too.

      i don’t believe that a toy alone is the reason why young girls are so screwed up. it’s way more than that.


  20. A non-brainswashed-teen? – I guess I was wrong, I just base my knowledge on the girls I know and/or grew up with.


  21. The thing about SA is, I know that women are oppressed here, but growing up in a fairly liberal household, I can’t say I’ve ever been treated unfairly.

    But I have heard horror stories about women wanting to leave care packages at police stations for rape victims and the policemen refused – because they claim there is no such thing as rape.

    And a while ago, it was in the definition of rape that a man could not be raped. If a man is violated, it’s not rape.

    I think the more African cultures are strongly patriarchal, but not in the breadwinner kind of way. Our housekeeper told us her husband is a very good man because he shares his money. Apparently it’s the women’s duty to pay for and take care of the children.

    But don’t quote me on it, I only have experience in my little world, which is the middle class white folk.

    But our possible future president (ie, the president of the ANC, the ruling party) has been accused of rape and had a… shower to prevent AIDS.

    Ok, enough of that. Sorry for the long post. Sorry it’s off topic.


    1. Hi Patricia,
      I am also from South Africa, and I just want to point out the very clear distinction between white women’s treatment by men in SA, and black women’s treatment by men in SA. We see parallels to this dynamic in the US as well, where women of color have experienced much more difficulty in prosecuting men (white or black) for rape than white women (who receive more legal justice when raped by a black man than a white man… but still more justice as a whole than women of color rape survivors.) I just think it is an important distinction to point out, because the experiences can be completely different depending on one’s location in the intersecting aspects of oppression.


  22. Personally, I HATE Bratz. I think they are bad role models for anyone of any age. And yes, that is what they are, role models. Anything a child looks up to and tries to emulate is a role model whether they like it or not.

    I mean, just LOOK at them, I would not want my future children dressing like that (I am 19, btw), and I would also not want them to play with them.

    Maybe it’s just me, but i had a heck of a lot more fun with Cabbage Patch dolls and stuffed animals than I ever did with Barbie. But then again, i was never really a doll person to begin with.


  23. I’m 19 too, and I’ve never thought of Barbie as a role model. I didn’t even know she was an actual persona versus a doll to abuse until I got older and started reading stuff about how the media warps growing childrens’ minds. My role models growing up were probably not any better than Barbie — they were the female characters in the classic 90’s PC adventure games. And also, even though I was 17 when I played this … Alyx Vance from Half Life 2 is the best female videogame character of all time! I secretly look up to her when I find myself in a social bind. I ask myself … “How would Alyx handle this?” Sad! But true.


  24. I always loved Barbies, and looking back, I think one of the best things is that Barbie always had a job (within my lifetime). Like being an Astronaut, or a ballerina, or a firefighter or a cop. Bratz dolls are mostly just creepy, and they don’t seem as versatile to actually play with.

    As for who likes to play with what toys- I had loads of Barbies, my brother had these action figures designed like Barbies (though if B.’s 5’11”, these guys were 7 to 8 feet tall) based on Old West heroes. We also used to play together with these little animals, Mapletown figures- dunno if anyone’s heard of htem. Kids will be all right. They play with whatever they want, to heck with the commercial messages.


  25. They don’t need feet, because they should always be laying down or kneeling. They don’t need noses, because if they had noses, they might object to that funky smell teh menz has after a long day at work and refuse to provide service.


  26. I worked at a daycare once with two girls, and a little boy who were bratz fanatics. The two girls, both sisters had bright blue eyes, shiny brown hair, and cute personalities. The little boy was adorable, though he had a disconcerting thing for lip gloss that got him teased mercilessly by the other kids. Anyway, one day these girls were talking and the eldest said “I’m not pretty, I want to be so and so” she was talking about one of those hideous dolls. She was 7 or 8. Her sister agreed…she was only 6. The little boy was 6 too and he wanted to be one of the bratz as well.

    What the fuck are those damn dolls doing to our children? What are parents doing allowing their daughters to play with them, without any guidance, or support for when they get self image problems?


  27. If only some one would take off the market all the things that make people feel bad about themselves, then people could find other reasons to feel bad about themselves.

    How come I was raised looking at over-masculinized images and I’m an out-of-shape intellectual who could care less about being Arnold Schwarzenegger?

    All of these arguments do such a good job of avoiding the real issue: the individual people and their responsibilities to themselves and to others. Any negativity that arises from these or other of cultural artifacts has much more to do with the social relations that surround them then they do with the artifacts themselves.

    But it always easier to blame someone else than to look at what you yourself are doing, isn’t it?


  28. I would like to say a few things. I totally agree with you on much of what you say. but Jade is not a pornstar name. It is my name and i have never been told it sounds like that of a pornstar.


  29. Reduction – You’d be right if it weren’t for the fact that we don’t make our choices in a vacuum. I’m not now, nor have I ever been, advocating banning anything, but I do think it is people’s job to be aware of the messages they are sending to kids who have yet to develop critical thinking ability. What exactly should I be blaming myself for instead of pointing out things I see that are questionable?

    Young girls (and boys) are impressionable, and we’re telling them strange things, girls more so than boys. Girls get the message from all directions that their worth is defined chiefly by how attractive they are, and that’s not cool. Boys get weird messages too (from seeing ‘roid monkeys like Arnold, for example), but at least theirs are balanced by other messages.

    You libertarian types are always telling people the same bullshit: we’re all responsible for every aspect of our lives, despite whatever forces may be at work in the world. That’s either naive or dishonest, neither of which is anything to be proud of.

    Jade – It was a joke.


  30. Bratz don’t even look real. I was too old for them when they first came out (I think I was almost in middle school by then), but I remember thinking that they just looked way too freaky. I also hated the name-since when it being a “brat” a positive thing? I would never have wanted them. I think that Barbie, to a much greater extent, tried to be a positive thing for kids. I remember having a bunch of Barbie computer games and they were things like saving the ocean or rescuing stray animals (or designing dresses, but hey). I never liked dolls much, though. I much preferred stuffed animals.

    And the reason you can be raised on images of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reduction, and be fine is that, in the real world, your worth will not be measured by your appearance. Although many of us figure out that the appearances game isn’t worth it (at least, I have), I know that other people still, and will, judge me based on my appearance much more than men will have to face. While I may be able to know that my value has nothing to do with my appearance, I am powerless to change the rest of the world. Only people like you can do that and you seem to refuse to do so.


  31. As for the thongs on the babybratz, there was an issue with that. The manufacturers explained it as a functional strip of fabric used to keep the little skirts from riding up. But they didn’t have nay underwear on aside from that. They’ve changed it since there’s been a complaint.

    With the whole cultural thing, there was a Bratz doll named May Ling (Chinese?) who sported a Chinese take-out container and a shirt or a bag or something with the Rising Sun (Japanese?) on it.
    Talk about cultural confusion. She’s Asian so let’s give her some Asian accessories and call it a day. And for all the different colors they come in, they all look the same to me.


  32. *stands up and applauds*

    I just wanna say THANK YOU and BRAVO- I have been bitching about these freakin’ dolls forever!! I feel like and it all falls on deaf/dumb ears-

    Women have told me that it’s up to the parents to use these dolls as a tool to teach the opposite- it’s not the toy it’s the parenting- whaaa…??? oh so excuse me- you mean it’s not the SOCIETY it’s the parents cuz they are magically not part of the greater society- grr!

    I am an United Statesian living in Mexico. I participated in a toy drive for Christmas. I was horrified at how many Bratz dollz were given to children below the Mexican poverty level- not shoes, clothes, school supplies, building blocks, markers, play dough, soccer balls, tennis rackets- nope- Bratz- Bratz Make-up disembodied head, Bratz babyz, Bratz clothes, etc.

    The girls that didn’t receive Bratz stuff were seriously bummed out- of course, they don’t know better (no one taught them) than to want to be objectified and viewed as sexy vs any other quality that they could project!

    *heavy sigh*

    There were also a large number of 7 year old girls running around in tee shirts that said SEXY across the front.

    I guess it’s the parenting, though, not our society at large as a general mind melding, role defining mass.


  33. Okay so were going off about dolls, guess what…my daughter is 6 and she loves the Bratz dolls. and yes I buy them for her anytime a new one comes out. Why? Because I can and another thing. Honestly people have you turned on the TV? Sex is everywhere and it is going to be everywhere until the end of time! I can go into the nearest department store and buy thong underwear for my 6 year old, and you want to bitch about dolls….get a life!


  34. I’m bitching about TV, thong underwear for kids, *and* about dolls. Because I can, and because I should. The fact that the sexualization of children is becoming more widespread doesn’t mean we should just embrace it with a sigh. You ought to at least be aware of the fact that, by buying her Bratz, you’re helping train your own daughter to see herself as a sex object.


  35. Yes, sex is everywhere but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to be mindful of how it impacts young girls. Dolls are not just dolls. They are powerful tools that have the potential to send harmful messages that contribute to low-self esteem and body image issues. In addition, Bratz dolls that come in various skin tones are not necessarily culturally relevant but rather an importation of Western culture in the guise of diversity. Give me a break. If they were truly attempting to be representative of the various cultures, then how about a doll that reflects the collective sense of community that is inherent in the African American identity.


  36. Yes! I despise that argument that “Oh well, we can’t do anything about it. Sex is here to stay!”

    Yes… sex is here, but maybe if we pointed out to the kids how incorrect TV sex or lollipop shapes dolls are, there would be less young girls losing their virginity at 12 because of peer pressure.

    Children can’t make proper decisions yet. And, yes, reduction, the issue is with parenting. Unfortunately, many people let the media raise their kids. Hence, the issues discussed here.


  37. There are 3 ‘B’s that are never ever allowed into my house: Barbie, Barnie and Bratz. I’ve mentioned this to parents during birthday party time.

    I have 2 young girls. The older one is starting to recognize more toys on the shelves that she sees in commercials. So far I’ve lucked out and she hasn’t really asked for them, except for once, she said “Oh look!”. I said no and we moved on. She notices the Dora playsets more than anything.

    But yep. Your whole article was bang on. You couldn’t pay me to let one of those dolls in my house.


  38. Kylie: there ARE places to get wonderful, non-commercial toys. Toys not tied into marketing campaign. I’m new to this board, and don’t know if this will constitute some kind of TOS violation, but if it helps I am not affiliated with any of the following, other than as a customer and a fan:

    Fat Brain Toys.com

    and moderators, remove the links if you must, but please leave this advice posted: google old-fashioned toys and/or educational toys to find non toysRus-sexist-plastic-tv character toys in crap toys. They are out there, and they are wonderful.


  39. Ivy – You needn’t worry. There’s no way I’d delete info for parents on toy companies that offer alternatives to Bratz for girls. Links are fine with me, as long as they don’t lead to anything that conflicts with my values or the site’s.


  40. Thank you so much for writing this! Mostly because it is exactly what I have been thinking all along. I even posted it on facebook!
    The number one thing to remember: adults aren’t the ones the dolls are made for. They are made for 12 year old girls. Is this really what we want young girls comparing themselves to?
    I also saw a long time ago that it won some toy award and I was shocked–it was the first time I had seen them, and all I could think was “they gave a stripper doll an award for being a toy? How did they give kids these in the first place?” It’s disgusting. Thanks for writing it all out!


  41. Thank you!
    When I was 5 years old, my aunt told me she would buy me a book whenever I asked, but would never buy me a Barbie. Because of this I am (a little) less affected by the Barbie Effect. Even at 16, I’m pretty sure I’ll never EVER buy my child that anything like this.
    How are over sexualized dolls like Bratz and myScene and Barbie any different than the Loli Shotas of Japan?


  42. As a kid, I was into Sindy, the U.K. answer to Barbie, even though I’m U.S.ian. She had kick-ass accessories, flat feet, and somewhat reasonable proportions aside from her oversized head.
    I think the fantasy that kids engage in when they play with dolls like these can be okay. I just wish they weren’t presented in such a strictly gendered way – That it wasn’t verboten for boys to play around in the Townhouse without his fatigues and his gun. And that girls had something to aspire to besides acquiring clothes and boyfriends.
    I like the idea of making dolls with different body types, hair textures, features, etc.
    African American Barbie and Ken have pretty African-looking features.
    This is an AA Ken doll from 1980:

    He looks pretty black to me. Black Barbie’s features are more European-ish than black Ken’s, which is problematic, but she doesn’t have the same features as white Barbie.


  43. Ginny, Bratz are marketed to six year olds. It’s really frustrating as a parent. I won’t buy Barbie or Bratz for my daughter but her friends have them, so she still will play with them when she’s at a friend’s house.


  44. I have a suggestion. In stead of just lying over and saying “get over it, sex is here to stay,” or “I will never allow that into my house,” you can always do what my genius Mensa mother did…

    She bought me the Barbies, she bought all the crap that came with it… and modified it. She would tell me, “O.K. here is your new and IMPORVED Barbie, she has been given ‘The Sarah Touch!'” Which basically meant that she took her stripper clothing, and made something to match an outfit that I owned, we worked together to make her a soccer jersey to match mine. We would make awesome “sets” for them to play in that consisted of things that I was into, like chemistry sets and veterinarian offices. I begged for a Barbie mansion and I got one for xmas one year. My mother and I took it apart and fixed the “design flaws” and the facade. I am an architect now. Thank you, mom! Just because America is trying to fuck up your kid doesn’t mean you have to let them :)


  45. Based on what I’ve learned about how human sociality works (I’m not a scholar in the officially sanctioned sense of the word, but I was cursed with a great deal of curiosity–if I want to learn something, I do, and I give a shit if there is alphabet soup after my name), I think it’s a bit disingenuous to claim that it’s always the parents’ faults if a child turns out a certain way, or that parental influence can override the influence of the media (including corporate-made toys, which are a “medium” for a message all on their own). Children are wired to learn from ALL their influences, NOT just the parents’. Do not imagine for one second that because you pose a responsible example to your children that they will not be influenced by irresponsible messages elsewhere. People who think these kinds of things about kids apparently don’t have any of their own. It’s practically a truism by now that some of the worst kids come from some of the best families.

    We are a social animal and we are wired to imitate what we see other animals of our species doing. From an evolutionary perspective we *have* to be wired to imitate other human influences in addition to our parents. Parents die all the time, and even when they don’t, they would quickly become overwhelmed if they were the only ones who could raise their children. We simply require too much care for far too long for anything else to be true.

    So… YES. We SHOULD be concerned about the influences available to our children out there. For that matter, I’m beyond tired of seeing commercial values insinuate themselves into aspects of human living that ought to be left out of the market entirely. Sexuality… cultural mores… childrearing… and so on. In other words, being human should not ever come with a price tag attached. When humanity is pitted against money, humanity almost always loses.


  46. I loved Barbie as a kid. Of course, I had her climbing mountains and racing cars and generally leaving Ken in the dust, well, except when she’d drop in for a little action.

    Also, whenever my friends and I would play Barbies, we’d always fight over the non-blonde ones. My best friend and I would inevitably tussle over her red-headed Barbie and my Hawaiian Barbie. But maybe we were abnormal.


  47. excellent article. I really have always disliked Bratz dolls. SO hOARd.

    And I was very sad the day I woke up to Maher’s sexism. But, you’re totally correct.


  48. My predictions, left to right (or, heck, it doesn’t matter):

    Letz go to the cluuuuuubbbbbz! I wanna go /dancin’/ *wink* tonight, /pretty/ please, big boy????

    I am, like, SO into cheerleading. You want me… to show you some /movez/?

    Hey babe, you wanna [get a] chocolate shake wi’ me? Mm, yeah. Good.


  49. My daughter is 17 now, so I am a little out of the loop. However, I do have a 7 year old niece and I recently gave her a suitcase full of dolls that a friend had left with me before moving away. I had opened it to see what was in there, but didn’t notice the 2 Bratz dolls at the bottom. My sister in law has told me about them, but we don’t go down the toy aisle so I hadn’t really seen them. I was so shocked when we were emptying out the suitcase and I saw those dolls! They look like Playboy Playmates Dolls! I wouldn’t let my daughter have these either.!!! Nice article


  50. I read someone asked about role model dolls that are positive. I can’t think of a doll at the moment but one of my favorite cartoon characters was Pepper Ann when I was a kid. That chick was awesome! Emotional and headstrong. And she had the coolest friends.
    Anyway I don’t know what it is that make certain people strive for these unrealistic ideals set out by whoever. It is wrong and it is disgusting to see 11 year old girls walking around malls dressed like strippers. Ive seen it, and its disturbing. And then girls end up with low self esteem in their adult life and aging becomes their worst enemy and as a result become depressed and superficial. They try a little nip and tuck and boob job here or there to try and resemble these perfect images, however they haven’t perfected plastic surgery yet and they end up looking worse off than before their procedures.
    I think the best thing is to teach these girls that these are unrealistic standards, they are fake just like Carebears, and that they should be what they want to be in life, not something told to them by so-and-so. Teenagers are trying on different types of personalities to find out who they are, and we should encourage that. Even if it is at times a bit disturbing.


  51. Reduction, of course we’re influenced, if not brainwashed by this stuff – it’s a no brainer. I internalised all the destructive messages of Barbie et al at the ripe old ages of oh, 3 to 13. Exactly when, as a child, was I supposed to take personal responsibility for the effect of these messages on my self esteem and identity? Girls are made to be recepticles for these fucked messages until they’re old enough to either realise how harmful they are and begin the long, arduous process of redefining themselves, or far more likely, baulk at the overwhelming difficulty of it all, so delude themselves that conformity was their ‘choice’ instead.

    The reason you weren’t overly impacted by uber masculine images, is quite probably because they were just one of a huge variety of roles and identities available for boys. There is nowhere near that diversity available for girls. We’re either homemakers or sexpots.

    And A Mom, I beg to differ. I see very little sex out there in the consumer world. You see, scantily clad women don’t actually equate to sex in my book – that’s more about the male gaze and it’s entrenchment as the norm. The ubiquity of a genuine sexual culture would not alarm me much at all, as it would be a reflection of an integral and undeniable aspect of our humanity, not the same old oppressive gender constructs.


  52. Very nice. This has inspired me to pick up my sketch book and design some positive action figures for young girls and boys to play with. Even if it would be just a dream.

    I played with Barbies when I was little, and I turned out alright. A feminist, even. However, I would never EVER let my daughter look up to dolls like this as role models.

    Imagine how much more we(women) could have accomplished by now if we hadn’t been told since early childhood that the best we could hope for is to be a sex object. I’ll teach my daughter(should I ever have one) better than that.


  53. “I’ll teach my daughter(should I ever have one) better than that.”

    That, I think, is the problem. While there is a lot in today’s culture that is having a bad affect on children, there’s alot that is caused by parents not being interested in parenting. Being too embarassed to talk to their kids about sex/drugs/whatever for example…WTF is wrong with them?


  54. I was just reading through some of these comments. Anyways, commenting on ‘You guys all will hate me’s’ comment,

    “This is one thing I can’t stand. Blaming toys, music, “the media” for the way children turn out.

    If a parent can’t raise a child well enough so that they can think for themselves and not be influenced by this, that’s their own fault”

    Okay, my personal opinion on that. I believe that it is the parents responsibility. But toys, and music, and media are also a big part of a child’s life. So what if a parent says something, parents aren’t considered ‘cool’ by most pre-teens, teenagers, etc. If they are constantly being bombarded with things like ‘Bratz’ and how they ‘should’ be, it’s hard to ignore, especially to girls who are naturally taken in by such things.

    (This part is less of a comment to ‘You all will hate me’ and more of a comment to the post in general.)

    Do I think we should get rid of dolls? No, a lot of girls like them. But I do think that people shouldn’t make such a big deal about ‘dolls are for girls, monster trucks and action figures are for guys’ If a girl wants to play with a monster truck, or a laser gun, good for her, let her do it. And, more importantly, if a guy wants to play with a doll, let him do it WITHOUT being ridiculed.

    And again I get off subject. I do believe it is possible that, *gasp* women CAN be Beautiful WITHOUT dressing like sluts. We just need to convince the people who are designing the toys that…


  55. This summer while working as a nanny for an 8 year-old, I was horrified when, upon examining an undressed Bratz doll, I discovered that where the old Barbies had built-in granny briefs, these creatures have built in lacy thongs! I believe girls should form their own sexual identities naturally, over time and not have a pre-fab model shoved down their throats as soon as they pop out of the womb!


  56. It’s not true to say Bratz are racially inclusive. Their features are all the same. A small amount of women regardless race have the features of Bratz but generally speaking a black woman with the traditional African big lips also has an average sized or full nose, and rarely to never a miniscule nose.

    Bratz does not affirm black beauty by any stretch, nor does it affirm *any* kind of diversity of beauty even if you take out blacks.

    I had a Black Barbie and at least she had a bigger, rounder nose than my whiteBarbie. That was a message to me that black women and (if primly) traditional black noses were beautiful. She also had slightly bigger lips than my white Barbie.
    Additionally she had thicker, more textured (if straightened) hair. I mean at least the Barbie people made an effort to acknowledge and affirm traditional African features.

    Obviously there are people of all races with big and small noses alike but the kind of black beauty that is a medium -to-big African nose, big full lips and natural (unstraightened) hair is rarely to never reflected back to girls that look like that as being –forget even beautiful–just even *acceptable*. And everything I described above applies to most black girls.
    Don’t think black girls are duped by the brown skinned Brat. Show me a walking talking black lady with anything close to that tiny Bratz nose. Yes they exist but in tiny numbers.

    Anyway I’m just saying – most little black girls who have a Bratz could tell you the same — they know, even if they don’t yet know– that they ain’t being racially included in crap.
    Not that that’s always a bad thing when you look at it from a certain perspective.

    Bratz erases alot of different kinds of beauty, not just of black girls but all races of girls.


  57. For posts like this, there’s always one who will say ‘take care of your children better and don’t shift your blame on the media’ but it is such an absurd statement.
    With the amount of media and peer pressure, I cannot blame the kids nor the parents if they buy things like Bratz doll.
    It is that market that should be more aware of the impact they’re making by, targeting the children with products such as these.

    When I was a kid I used to pretend my pencils as dolls, my pencil case as a doll box and a different colored pencils as different clothes.
    I’ve only one barbie doll in my entire life, and I didn’t have as much fun playing with it as I had with my pencils..
    I think, as kids we will play with anything we have, and we’re more attracted by these dolls simply because of the sparkles and shines. It is ridiculous (and unnecessary) for the Bratz to look the way they do.
    The kids will not care that their dolls were stripper heels or have a come-hither-look painted on the faces, but being surrounded by these things will create a ‘standard’ look in their mind of what is an ‘attractive’ image.
    These days whenever I see 10 years old girls wearing a thick load of make up, I immediately think of Bratz. These dolls are for kids, for heaven’s sakes, they shouldn’t look like a fantasy image of some creepy old man..


  58. I stumbled on this site and I just wanted to say that I totally agree with you, and so does my husband. I grew up with barbies. The great thing about playing with dolls is that it encourages creativity and it’s something that parents can get involved in. I also played with American Girl dolls, which I think is a great alternative to the over sexual unrealistic dolls. What happened to dollhouses? What a great way for children (especially girls) to explore family dynamics! As far as diversity goes, I think the biggest problem is as you said the culture. I had business barbie, athletic ones, princesses, disney characters, spice girls, and the best part is that they all had their own agenda. The Bratz characters don’t care if they do anything but shop. I have a 9 month old daughter, and whiles she is still far away from playing with dolls, I’m sure at some point in her childhood she will play with an incredibly inappropriate doll. I just hope as her mom that I can teach her the important lessons about being a great woman. Anyway, thank you for all you said.


  59. i agree with the bratz, barbie, and playboy stuff mentioned in the original blog. but i will also say, im a feminist and i hate exploitation. sometimes i have a good sex life with some men. with others i havent. it depends on a lot. my fear of totally exploring is one. im a radical and i havent even come to term with what the hell i want in bed and when i want it… still figuring that out. also depends on how trustworthy and understanding the guy is. and if hes bee around the block twice as much as me, i think that limits my trust as well.


  60. You can’t ban them, or force people not to buy them. Make choices for yourself, don’t buy them for your children or their friends. Talk to people about them, educate the parents of your children’s friends.
    The good thing about living in a capitalist/consumerist society is that the consumer has real power. If no one buys Bratz dolls, they will cease to exist.
    Excellent blog.


  61. When I grew up I did play with Barbie dolls, I’m not too sure if they’ve changed (I tend NOT to play with dolls after leaving my teenage years) but they never had skimpy outfits with teeny weeny tops, they frequently took the forms of Princesses and Ballet dancers. Granted they’re hardly a great inspiration but at least they’re a more ‘innocent’ identity for little girls to play with.

    What I’m really trying to say though is that I hardly see Bratz dolls anywhere near as good as Barbie dolls, I cringe when I see Bratz-like fashion available for girls still in their single digits.


  62. I’ve run into an interesting (though possibly not new-new) development related to this line where I work.

    Now there are Bratz Halloween costumes. Or at least one, by the name of “Bratty Goldilocks”. (Which is an odd name on it’s own.)

    At first I thought “Well, it’s not really any more stripperfic than the other costumes here.” But then I realized that no, it’s actually a lot more stripperific than the others in that age group. Which, according to the label, is ages 3-4.

    … Words fail me.


  63. I can’t express how creepy this is for me. When I was a youngen (you know, to my now wise, aged 16 years), I would play with my dolls and stuffed animals in ways that would put most mainstream porn people to shame. I don’t know where I learned this shit; that womin only feel power when they are in brothels being raped and raping other womin. I don’t even remember the Sex talk. I’m just disgusted by this fact that I used to do those things without thinking. I don’t want any other girl, regardless of age, to think this way ever.


  64. Parents should be worried about this.

    But some of them don’t care.

    Does this mean that the child should be taken in by the only alternative out there? The one that makes them feel like nothing more than a fleshy casing around a comfortable hole?

    I really don’t want other girls growing up hating themselves like I did/do.


  65. How about Legos? They’re not violent, they include people, but the focus is obviously on what the people are doing rather than what they are wearing. (You can choose a torso, legs, head and a hairstyle, but that’s about it, or was.) Since the people are so small and the possibilities for scenario-building are so big, you can also enact a much more interesting range of stories with them. I loved Legos as a kid, and I’d still play with them if they happened to be accessible. Call me naive, but I would also expect the possible creative scenarios would make Legos and Tinkertoys and things easily marketable to all children!

    I saw a TV ad for girls’ dolls recently that was so materialistic and clothes-oriented, it made me feel slightly sick. Maybe it was for these? By the way, I read somewhere that a real-life Barbie would have to walk on all fours (found a reference), and that her feet are one of the problems (scroll down to a list here). Not that I am sure how to calculate this. So the new message of Bratz: remember girls, if you’re going to have breast implants make sure your feet are big enough first!


  66. Legos are cool.

    For my niece, I look for the Breyer horse playsets — the 1:12 scale ones (“Classic”) are cheaper and a bit more durable than the 1:9 scale (“Traditional”). There are a few little human dolls, articulated so that they can ride the horses, they have changeable clothes just as the horses have little removable saddles and bridles and stuff, but they’re not sexy costumes, they’re English riding/Western riding/cleaning the barn/being the vet costumes.


  67. holy shit. that was fantastic. i can’t bear to read through any more comments (i think i stopped somewhere in 2008) but i have to say that this is an incredibly well analyzed and written piece.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s