For years, Bratz dolls have attracted criticism for their hyper-sexualised appearance and unhealthy messages to little girls. This week we spoke with Miriam, who decided to makeover the dolls in a unique and positive way. Read the interview below:
What led you to start altering the dolls?
With a young daughter who loves playing with dolls I really wanted her to have some that looked like normal children - without all the makeup and inappropriate clothing and stiletto heels. There isn't too much available for little girls other than baby dolls, or gorgeous handmade dolls.
I first began altering dolls as a hobby after I saw another beautiful lady repainting dolls on Facebook (Samantha over at Down2earth Dolls). I absolutely loved what Sam was doing, and she has been so supportive and generous in my venture into repainting dolls.
After my first repaint I was addicted! That very weekend I promptly went to every op shop I could find and came home with a hundred-odd pre-loved and discarded Bratz dolls! I love that I am rescuing dolls that may otherwise have ended up in landfill, and that I am giving them a new lease in life - practically, physically and personality-wise! Upcycling these dolls, using reclaimed fabrics to make the clothes - I love everything about the entire process! Taking off the heavy makeup and scant clothing, washing their bodies and hair, painting new faces, sewing clothing, making shoes, and giving each doll a unique personality. It makes my heart sing to see these girls transform before my very eyes!
Rachel is a girl full of joy and contentment. She takes each day as it comes and embraces whatever highs and lows it brings. She daily makes the choice to be grateful and aware of what she already has, living fully in the present moment.
What has the response been?
It has been fairly crazy actually! I originally started a Facebook page so that I could share photos without bombarding my friends. Within 3 months I had almost 400 likers and my photos regularly have thousands of views! Most people have been so encouraging and positive, and seem to love that my dolls remind them of children they know. I had two young girls come to my house the other day to choose a doll each for Christmas. It was beautiful to hear them discussing the girls - "She looks like me", "Oh wow! She has red hair and freckles like me", "Oh look mum, she's so sweet!".
I think people (particularly those with young girls) really appreciate that these little personalities (every one of my dolls is given a unique personality with likes and aspirations, and has their own story!) are appropriate for younger children, complete with crazy mismatched outfits just like little girls might choose to wear! Pants, skirts, jumpers, pretty pink dressers or jeans and tshirt, joggers or bare feet. They are girls that can climb trees, play in the dirt, do a cartwheel, jump in puddles, solve complicated problems, run fast, help others, be kind, daydream, throw their heads back and laugh, all without having a care in the world about clothes, makeup or how they look!
My dolls are simply living and loving, and finding their strengths and weaknesses, and just being kids - absolutely perfect in all their perfectly normal and amazing imperfections.
It's not too often that girls are allowed or encouraged to just be 100% themselves - there is so much pressure from society to be the best, the smartest, the prettiest, the skinniest. Beauty tends to be valued more than intelligence, or kindness, or strength of character, or fitness, and that's really tragic.
Mothers are telling me that they share my photos and the little stories with their children, and that the children are loving them too! It's a wonderful thing to know that my dolls and their unique personalities and backgrounds are encouraging conversation about this topic. And so exciting that children are seeing the before and after photos and discussing the changes with their parents. What a healthy dialogue this is - with real potential to open up to other, deeper discussions when they are necessary and appropriate.
Do you feel that dolls in general have become more sexualised over time?
Most definitely! I look at the dolls my mother played with as a child and there is simply no comparison. Only a few generations ago dolls tended to be babies, or very young children, and girls would pretend to be Mummies - cuddling, feeding, dressing, taking for walks in their dolls pram.
I'm no expert on doll history so forgive me if I'm wrong but I believe that since the advent of Barbie it has been popular to have dolls representing adults. There is such an incredible trend for dolls as fashion icons - dolls such as Monster High and Bratz dolls ("passion for fashion"). They are marketed towards tweens and pre-teens, and dress in stilettos or knee-high boots, mini skirts, "sexy" barely-there dresses, hot pants and skin-tight jeans (which are so tight that they are incredibly difficult to even put on the dolls!). They are heavily made up, often with a sultry "come-hither" look or serious attitude. Their body proportions are exaggerated with tiny waists and curvy hips (way more disproportionate than Barbies). So yes - there are certainly mainstream dolls that are highly sexualised.
Pippa arrived at my home with her right arm popped out. I could have attempted to attach a new arm but decided to let her "come just as she is" - perfectly imperfect with her one arm.
What impact do you feel sexualised dolls can have on young people?
The popularity of sexualised dolls (and the inability of many young fans to see that they are not simply "fashion dolls") is just one example of the slow and steady drip in our society of the sexualisation of children becoming accepted and almost the norm! These dolls encourage particular attitudes and behaviors (even just the name Bratz is telling), and idolize fashions that I believe is just not appropriate for young children, or even teens.
Ironically, these last few days I have been dealing with a huge number of comments and messages attacking my posts. They are young, hardcore Bratz doll fans and they keep returning en-masse to criticise my work, saying that I am "slut-shaming" them by altering the dolls. The language used, and level of abuse they have shown me, makes me even more determined to continue doing what I am doing, and reinforces to me that these young people have absolutely no understanding of the damage our highly-sexualised society is doing to their self esteem, their views of themselves, their loss of childhood innocence, and their understanding of how sex-saturated our society is becoming. It all just starts at such a young age, drip drip drip, and gets to the point where young girls and boys are throwing the terms "skank", "whore", and "slut" around as if they are a positive attribute. How is that healthy?
Children and young people should be looking in the mirror and simply seeing themselves, and not worrying about fashion and perfect makeup. There's enough time and pressure for that when they're adults (that's another issue in itself for another day!).
I'm not anti makeup or short skirts or stilettos. They have their place. I just believe that children need to be able to relate to their dolls, and to have the freedom to play with age appropriate toys. They get enough saturation from media, billboards, TV advertisements, magazines, their peers, and offhanded comments reminding them they need to be perfect and beautiful and sexy. They have the right to not be bombarded with that message when they are simply being children and playing!
I love the quote "We get so worried about being "pretty"- let's be pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty smart, pretty strong!" That's the message to young girls that I hope my dolls encourage - to come just as they are, and to embrace all their perfect imperfections. To put more value on character, on kindness, on the ability to solve problems or help others, on appreciating all the amazing things the human body is capable of doing rather than how hot or sexy it can be.
How can our supporters go about purchasing one of your dolls?
I have a Facebook page where I share progress photos, and before and after photos of my dolls, along with their little stories. I sell my dolls through Facebook but I also have an Etsy shop into which I am slowly listing my dolls for sale.