I’ve seen Bratz dolls turn even the most tolerant of mothers’ stomachs. Even mothers who generally choose to turn a blind eye to their children’s toys seem to find the dark eye shadow and exaggerated features unsettling when perusing toy stores. Some mothers flat out refuse to buy them while others purchase them in the hopes that their daughters will eventually lose interest. But no matter where a mother aligns herself on the Bratz tolerance spectrum, the problematic toy has unified many over another one rife with controversy: Barbie. Mothers may have taken Barbie to task over the years for her irksome influence, but she still has Bratz beat in the following arenas:
1. Body Image
Given the skimpy outfits and glorified snotty suggestion of “Bratz,” Barbie seems like a relatively tame alternative. She may have worn a bit of makeup here and there, but Barbie was always pretty fresh faced compared to the makeup lacquered Bratz. Barbie’s body proportions, a topic that received much criticism for most of the latter half of the 20th century, are also pretty mild when considering the huge heads and virtually nonexistent bodies of the Bratz gang. Barbie’s bust may have been much too large for her tiny frame, but at least she had one. Bratz appear like modern day promotional billboards warning against eating disorders : their bauble heads vastly bigger their hips, stomachs, and bust line.
Barbie also, for all her care-free hair flipping and high heel wearing, always had a job of some kind. Whether she was working in McDonald’s, being a veterinarian, or training to be a gymnast, she always had professional interests, skills, and hobbies. Bratz, allegedly teenagers themselves, don’t really do much of anything besides shop and brush their hair. I understand from the Bratz television series that the girls work on a Bratz magazine, but the publication is entirely dedicated to the aforementioned interests.
3. Personal Complexity
Barbie was also very versatile and constantly evolving, which can convey a female complexity that goes amiss in many other dolls. She was both a princess and a firefighter, both getting a spa treatment and learning science. Her many incarnations, which were no doubt a marketing gimmick, still showed girls that the same woman who wanted to be a Olympic swimmer could also be a professional dog groomer or even a doctor — that predilections and hobbies were not confined by persona. Bratz dolls don’t really change much besides their sparkly mini skirt.
While both dolls still depict distorted versions femininity and womanhood, Barbie is now the lesser evil by contemporary standards. Concerned mothers of previous generations would probably believe that after Barbie, standards for girls’ toys couldn’t get any worse. The fact that parents must now choose between the influence of a Barbie versus Bratz reveals just how sordid the girls’ toy market has become. We can thank Bratz dolls for pushing Barbie of all icons into a more positive light and for reminding us that our daughters’ playthings have reached a new low.