This past Christmas, I tried to negotiate how I was going to purchase my family Christmas presents with my poor college kid budget. Oh how I longed for a simpler time! Where are the Christmases of past where all I had to worry about was leaving carrots out for reindeer, making sure I wore my pajamas inside out for a snow day, and worry about getting an American Girl doll from Santa? Every year, I poured over those catalogues and the doll was the first and only thing on my Christmas list. But looking back on it now, I realize how great American Girl dolls are to present positive body images for young girls. As you may know from my previous posts, I love analyzing how gender is constructed through childhood, specifically with toys. So I took a spin around some online toy stores- because I don’t have a flu shot and stepping into a Toys R Us covered in kiddie germs might just push me over the limit- to see what is going on in the current state of dolls and what images of the feminine ideal they are presenting to young girls today.
First stop on our Toyland journey is of course the iconic Barbie. We’ve been through Barbie’s flaws though- but as a refresher lets just remind ourselves of what Barbie’s body really looks like. When imaging Barbie as a real person, her dimensions are nowhere close to a human woman.
Artist Nickolay Lamm shows what “Normal Barbie” would look like if she were the dimensions of the average woman.
Barbie can’t stand up on her own, is built with the ideal of a woman’s body and not a little girl’s, and reflects an unattainable body shape that could contribute to growing body negativity in younger girls.
The solutions for this? Lottie Dolls.
The creators of the dolls designed them with the average body type of nine-year-old girls. A Lottie doll “has sturdy legs, a flat chest and clothes practical enough to go stomping through the forest in.” She is a doll that can promote more positive body images to young girls and avoids falling into the category of hypersexualized dolls, like Bratz.
The company behind the doll, Arklu stated
“Lottie has been developed with scientific expertise from leading British academics, alongside consumer research, to address parental concerns about other fashion dolls including negative body image, an increased perception of premature sexualization as well as a desire for a return to good old-fashioned creative and imaginative play.”
While there are still some issues with the dolls, such as her oversized eyes and head that are unrealistic, it’s a fantastic step towards providing girls with more outlets that reflect them and not a sexualized, out of reach ideal.
My next stop in our virtual toy store was to find some Bratz dolls. But apparently those aren’t “cool” anymore- which made me feel REALLY old. But I found the next best- or worse- thing. Monster High.
Monster High dolls are billed as “freaky just got fabulous” that reflect unrealistic body expectations, with impossibly skinny necks, waists, and thighs. The dolls all value beauty and getting a boy’s attention, as seen in the bio of werewolf Clawdeen.
While Clawdeen Wolf admits her “freaky flaw” is hair that is “worthy of a shampoo commercial, and that’s just what grows on my legs,” she follows this up with, “Plucking and shaving is definitely a fulltime job, but that’s a small price to pay for being scarily fabulous.” Her favorite activity? “Shopping and flirting with the boys!- Ms. Magazine
The dolls also have their own webseries as they “go through Monster Highschool” which apparently includes everyday drama about one of the girls getting a pimple and everyone pretty much agreeing she can’t be seen for the rest of the day. Uh, if that were true- I would probably be a hermit. Check out the webisode below.
Hypersexualization, an emphasis on physical beauty, “mean girl” behavior, and devaluing being “smart” are all seen in the web series videos. Elline Lipkin at Ms. Magazine explains, “the series has the potential to use its supernatural characters to comment on the pressures of fitting in. But recycling themes about popularity, fashion, competition within cliques, appealing to the opposite sex and stylized femininity/sexiness is a disappointment.”
Instead of Monster High, we should opt to promote American Girl dolls. Like Monster High, American Girl features books and friendship among the dolls, but does so in a much more positive light. In an industry dominated by white beauty standards, American Girl features African American, Mexican American, Native American, and Asian American dolls. They even have an area on their website where you can custom make a doll that looks like you, featuring a variety of skin colors and hair types to compliment people of various ethnic backgrounds. Not only does the line promote a more positive body image- as the dolls do not have breasts or curves- but also promotes beauty outside of typical images of white women.
They also have dolls that make girls who may find themselves to be different to have someone to relate to. The company has hearing aids, wheel chairs, and even allergy- free lunches available to purchase for the dolls. By having a doll mirror the struggles of difference a girl might be going through can allow her to feel more comfortable and confident with those differences.
Now one of the biggest drawbacks for the line though is its hefty price tag. American Girl dolls can become classist as they can cost over $100. We need to provide other positive images in toys like American Girl has to consumers on the lower socio- economic scale.
What are your thoughts are these kinds of dolls? Would you purchase the body positive dolls for children in your life? Or do you think they have any effect at all on girl’s thoughts on beauty? Let me know what you think below!