Bratz, Barbies, and Mommies’ little girls

Posted on Tuesday 20 February 2007

Polimom was just like every other little Janey who teeters out of Mommy’s closet in high heels 7 sizes too big. In fact, there’s even a picture somewhere of Polimom at age 10 or thereabouts, posing in the backyard.

I was wearing a (relatively) short skirt, scarf, and my mother’s go-go boots, which had long-since gone out of style, but were still hanging around in my mother’s closet. I can’t remember the occasion for this picture (or even when I last saw it), but I do remember feeling beautiful — all grown up; a young woman. I looked like a cross between my Barbie dolls and my mother in her younger days.

Little girls have always tried to model the styles and mannerisms of older girls (read: young women). It’s part of growing up, and as far as I know, it always has been. So what’s different between the Little Polimom of yesteryear and how little girls view themselves today? From USA Today:

Advertising and media images that encourage girls to focus on looks and sexuality are harmful to their emotional and physical health, a new report by the American Psychological Association says.

The report, released Monday, analyzed some 300 studies over the past 18 months. It included a variety of media, from television and movies to song lyrics, and looked at advertising showing body-baring doll clothes for pre-schoolers, tweens posing in suggestive ways in magazines and the sexual antics of young celebrity role models.

The researchers found such images may make girls think of and treat their own bodies as sexual objects.

As an all-grown-up Polimom with an Adorable Child (AC) of my own, I can absolutely relate to those who are concerned. The report, however, specifically calls out Bratz dolls, and I think they’re firing at the wrong target.

The panel defined sexualization as occurring “when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.”

The report cites Bratz dolls, in particular, for “sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings and feather boas.”

“Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality,” the report says.

So what does it mean if Polimom played with Barbies, and dressed them in fishnet stockings and mini-skirts? Because I absolutely did.

Objectified adult sexuality is a multi-dimensional term. It implies a young person who has internalized the image as related to sexuality, but it also imbues the images with an enhanced adult perspective. Little girls see dolls that look like the “big girls”; that’s how they dress. Adults see sexuality in all this because that’s how they interpret all those clothes and images when seen on adults.

Society has always objectified women, and furthermore, it’s always started early in childhood. Is today really all that different?

As a parent, I certainly worry about all of this, and I spend a fair amount of time talking with AC about the “role models” (*gag*) she sees on television. She knows, for instance, that Britney is an absolute disaster as a human being — and I don’t remember my mother having conversations like this with me.

But I’m sure she would have — perhaps during a “girl chat’ in front of her bathroom mirror, as she taught me how to put on lipstick…

* * * * *

Added: Ed Morrissey is also very worried about these dolls, and writes:

Preteens and little girs do not have any sophistication in defending their own identity and values, and dolls like the Bratz Girls model the kinds of behavior that lead to teen pregnancy, the spread of STDs, and the general devaluation of women and their role in society.

I’m absolutely amazed at the evil these dolls somehow unleash. Makes Chuckie look downright wholesome.

14 Comments for 'Bratz, Barbies, and Mommies’ little girls'

    February 20, 2007 | 10:58 am

    Ya know — from this type of report, one could almost infer that the American Psychological Association was trying to rationalize sexual exploitation of children, and pointing the fingers at someone other than those who are considered “child sex offenders”, by pointing said finger at commercial interests (and maybe society in general.)


    February 20, 2007 | 11:58 am

    BTW, I happen to agree with what I think is a significant point you are trying to make (actually, two of them):

    1) Real-life role models are much more influencial on our children (and us) than some inanimate piece of plastic and cloth.

    2) The only way to counter these influences (the only one that has any chance of success, that is) is for parents to parent – discuss these topics (painful and embarassing as they may be) with your children, and set a decent example yourself.


    February 20, 2007 | 3:23 pm

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, has more impact on kids than flesh and blood role models. You’re right that those are two of the main points in the post.

    There’s another, though: One cannot view kids through an adult prism — whether it’s clothes, or discovering your pre-school-aged daughter kissing a playmate. Kids will always try to emulate their elders, but that doesn’t carry the same emotional or cognitive implication. We tend to over-react to such things, and in so doing, transmit very unhealthy messages.

    February 20, 2007 | 3:35 pm

    [...] More here. Posted on February 20, 2007 | Permalink | Categories Uncategorized, Parenting, Sexuality | | View blog reactions &#187 [...]

    February 20, 2007 | 3:51 pm

    My own daughter loves the Bratz. And we’ve seen all the movies. (gag) The overwhelming theme of the movies is that the “girls” can do anything they set their minds on, if they work at it. They really did a pretty good job, even making sure that the characters told each other that they were “smart, intelligent, talented”, etc… Nothing overtly sexualized that I saw. But I’m not an expert. I’m only a mom of an almost-10 year old girl, who grew up myself in the 60′s and 70′s.

    February 20, 2007 | 9:27 pm

    My 11-year-old niece confirms ChristeS’ impression of Bratz plotlines as being based in empowerment and the occasional outrageousness. Not altogether a bad message for girls, seems like.

    As to the report’s bagging on miniskirts, fishnet stockings and feather boas: Couldn’t they have waited until *after* Mardi Gras? I’m just sayin’….

    February 21, 2007 | 12:17 am

    So its advertising and media that makes girls focus on looks. All this time I thought that’s just the way girls were.

    February 21, 2007 | 4:49 am

    One cannot view kids through an adult prism — whether it’s clothes, or discovering your pre-school-aged daughter kissing a playmate. Kids will always try to emulate their elders, but that doesn’t carry the same emotional or cognitive implication. We tend to over-react to such things, and in so doing, transmit very unhealthy messages.

    Maybe that explains the rash of “sexual harassment” charges being levelled against kindergarteners for “inappropriate kissing” on the playground ;-)


    February 21, 2007 | 6:47 am

    So its advertising and media that makes girls focus on looks. All this time I thought that’s just the way girls were.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA. (oops — sorry — it slipped out)

    OK… more seriously — the APA’s focus in their report was sexualization, which isn’t the same thing, by definition, as wanting to look good (although they do both relate to self-esteem).

    And FWIW — I asked AC about Bratz last night, because she’s never liked them and I wondered why. She tells me it’s because they’re totally unrealistic — cartoonish, even.

    And Ed — yes, that’s exactly right. Adults are projecting a much different interpretation. Sometimes, of course, there’s a damaged little kid acting out something they have seen (or that has been done to them), but the source won’t be a doll.

    February 21, 2007 | 10:57 am

    Where are these girls that like Bratz? In my experience (as mother to an almost-9 year old, and a Brownie troop leader), people give Bratz as presents to young girls, largely because they fall right within the “birthday present price point.” But I’ve never known any girls who actually play with them. In our neighborhood, it’s all American Girl, all the time.

    Actually, now it seems to be All Webkinz, All The Time, which I despise far more than any Bratz dolls.

    April 8, 2007 | 9:51 pm

    yeah im only 10yrs and all,but i have about 5 kidz bratz. i love them! i love them!!!!!!!!!!!! i need dana cloe and others. my question id … are they going to make boy kidz bratz? i sure do hope so!!!!

    March 18, 2009 | 2:08 pm

    hear are some questions i would like to no, dose any one realy do play with them? and if so who are they i mean to me looking at a bratz doll u really dont whant me to tell u who they look like they were made for i am not agenst them or anything but i mean realy if u dont like the bratz dolls then why buy them for a kid for there birthday party first thing ask the parent of the kid what they like and try to get them something in the price range that they like come on people its not that heard i have a kid and trust me my kid could care leass of the bratz dolls but to tell u the truth i would chose give a barbie doll to some little girl then i would a bratz doll.

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