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Posts tagged ‘Dolls’

“A Friend of Barbie”

On March 29, 2012, Mattel announced that it will release a bald doll for children who have lost hair due to cancer or other illnesses. However, discussions of this doll are not as recent. Over a year ago, a Facebook movement began, urging Mattel to produce a bald version of their famous blonde Barbie. Since then, the page has received more than 150,000 “likes,” the amount necessary to gain Mattel’s direct attention. The movement began with Jane Bingman, whose daughter has lost hair after undergoing chemotherapy, and Beckie Sypin, who has lost her own hair while going through non-Hodgkin lymphoma, both hoping for a doll that girls experiencing hair loss due to illness could relate to and aid in the coping process hair loss. Sypin says their goal was to get “the message out that being bald is beautiful and is no big deal.  There’s no need to cover up.” Though the doll will be produced, Mattel has informed Bingman and Sypin that they do not accept ideas from outside sources. Mattel reports the doll will not be sold in retail stores for profit. Instead, they will be distributed through hospitals that treat young cancer patients where they can be of most help. These bald dolls will be “a friend of Barbie” and include hats, scarves, wigs, and other hair accessories to provide the “traditional” fashion play experience.

The creation of these new dolls who are designed to appeal to a specific audience that can relate is strongly similar to the studies of Elizabeth Chin in “Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry,” in which Chin examines the “ethnically correct” doll and how race and outside appearance is involved. In Chin’s studies, it was shown that, though the girls can play fine with dolls that are not exactly like them, they prefer to play will dolls they can relate to. This is why Natalia and Asia wanted dolls of their same skin tone and would braid the hair of the white dolls to resemble their own hair. Therefore, the production of this bald Barbie by Mattel, based on Chin’s studies, will actually make a more enjoyable playtime for children experiencing hair loss due to illness because they will be able to relate to them through appearance.


The “Wanna Be” Barbie

Bratz Dolls

The original Bratz

When I was younger I had Barbie everything. I had the Barbie dream House. I had Barbie and Ken; I had just about everything. Except I never had a black Barbie. I really didn’t the purpose in getting one. They looked exactly like the white Barbie except with a darker skin color. As years went on more and more Barbie stuff would come out. There would be new Barbies, new Barbie accessories. However, one day I was watching TV and I saw something that wasn’t Barbie. I saw Bratz. the Bratz dolls really intrigued me. Bratz dolls came out in 2001 when I was 9 year old. The Bratz dolls were made by MGA Entertainment. These dolls looked like they were for girls of different ethnic backgrounds. They originally started off with 4 girls; Sasha (black), Jade (Asian), Chloe (White), and Yasmin (Hispanic). There was one for every girl that may have wanted one. Bratz did not start off with just one white doll and later add on another; they began with different dolls. This gave little girls more of an option to pick which one they wanted. It also helped because these were dolls that were more like them. In our class discussion of Ethnically Correct Dolls, I felt like this connected to the discussion. It was mentioned in class how it was harder for the little black girls to connect to the white Barbies because they lacked black features. I found this to be true. I didn’t want a black Barbie because it looked just like the white ones. They had the same features, the same type of hair. Nothing was different. However, with Bratz I could relate more to those. The black Bratz doll had curly hair, big lips, and had the same color eyes as me. I feel like the Bratz creator was truly thinking about every little girl when they created these dolls. I have to say Bratz was my favorite doll to play with growing up.

Barbie or American Girl, and Does it Matter?

In Andrew J Rotherman’s article “What Barbie Could Learn From American Girl,” for Time he claims that American Girl is a wholesome alternative to Barbie’s “vapid sexuality.” He supports the historical back-stories that are paired with each doll, claiming that Barbie will be better if she could teach young girls something.

Rotherman and Elizabeth Chin, author of Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture, agree on one thing: toymakers like Mattel, maker of Barbie and American Girl, have the goal of empowering young girls, though Chin specifically concentrates on girls’ self esteem in “Ethnically Correct Dolls.” I think Rotherman and Chin’s agreement stops here, however.

Rotherman argues that when Barbie is shown as an astronaut, veterinarian or Marine Corps drill instructor, this image of women in powerful and successful positions is negated by the unrealistic way “Barbie is still off to her hot tub or other age-inappropriate activities.”

I think Chin would argue that it doesn’t matter what Barbie does; it’s all foreign to the kids she studied in New Haven who wanted dolls that were like them, familiar to them.

“They wondered why there was no fat Barbie, no abused Barbie, no pregnant Barbie” (369).

Addy Walker, the Civil War era American Girl doll (click for source)

American Girl has Addy, an African American ex-slave in the Civil War era. While the history education that comes along with the dolls is important, Chin would probably point to the ways through which the girls she studied can create the familiarity they crave “through their own imaginative and material work.” They braided the dolls’ hair to “bring their dolls into their own worlds” (369). Dolls become part of the kids’ lives. The stories created around the dolls revolve around what the child knows, not the story that Mattel created around the doll.

Chin argues that having ethnically correct dolls isn’t really that important, or doesn’t make much of an impact because the low income communities that could benefit from these dolls don’t have access to the dolls physically and financially. It seems ironic then that Rotherman, co-founder of a non-profit that deals with low-income communities, believes that American Girl is a better alternative to Barbie when it is so much less accessible to the communities he is trying to better.

A Doll for a Twin

This is the image used on the Facebook page "Beautiful and Bald Barbie! Let's see if we can get it made", which campaigned for the creation of a bald Barbie.

Mattel very recently announced on Facebook their newest project, bald Barbie. Referred to as a “fashion doll”, Mattel’s decision to create this new doll was prompted by a Facebook campaign. With over 150,000 “likes”, the Facebook campaign was started by two mothers who called for the creation of a hairless Barbie ( The mothers’ intentions were for this doll to serve as a coping device for young girls with and/or exposed to hair loss that was brought on by some illness. Mattel stated that accessories for the doll, such as: “wigs, hats, scarves and other fashion accessories” (, will be offered in order to ensure equality in play with both bald Barbies and traditional Barbies.  Additionally, Mattel will not be putting this new doll on the shelf; rather, they will donate the dolls to children’s hospitals in order to ensure that those children who need these dolls most will get them.

Mattel stated in their post: “Play is vital for children, especially during difficult times” ( The plea made by the mothers on Facebook along with Mattel’s decision to submit to these mothers’ requests shows the importance these groups place on play, doll play in particular, and their belief in play’s therapeutic capabilities. The significance of dolls is also noted in Chin’s chapter: “Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry”. In this chapter, Chin discusses the makers’ of ethnically correct dolls strong feelings about girls, specifically African American girls, having dolls to play with that resemble them. Chin states the makers’ intention for creating these dolls, she writes: “Ethnically correct dolls(‘)…purpose is to make kids feel better about themselves as they play with toys that look like them” (359). The ethnically correct doll manufacturers’ objective is to build self-esteem amongst African American girls; they believe that black children playing with white dolls endangers these black children’s self-concept. The driving force behind the creation of ethnically correct dolls and the soon to come bald Barbies is this idea that children need to relate to their doll, mostly in regards to appearance, in order to experience the full benefits of play. The Facebook petition page states: “This would be a great coping mechanism for young girls dealing with hair loss themselves or a loved one” ( The hope is that Mattel’s new doll will help boost the self-esteem of children undergoing hair loss, and “bring joy to children who need it most” (

A disparity that exists between ethnically correct dolls and Mattel’s bald Barbies is the rate at which these dolls are obtained by the children who need them most. As noted above, Mattel plans to distribute their new dolls to children’s hospitals, easing the burden of these children in need from having to seek out and purchase these dolls. In contrast to Mattel, manufacturers of ethnically correct dolls, such as OLMEC, are looking to make money. If you cannot afford or lack access to a store that sells these dolls, you are unfortunately out of luck. This was the case for most of the African American Newhallville children Chin worked with. The Newhallville children appeared to manage just fine with their white-skinned dolls, but this is beside the point. In the minds of the makers of ethnically correct dolls, Newhallville children and other children in similar positions are the kids most in need of these dolls, yet they happen to be the children most deprived of them.

Whether or not one believes that children need to physically look like their doll in order to experience play’s full effect, the bottom line is that dolls are an extremely important and beneficial component of play. All children deserve to possess a doll that brings them the utmost comfort and joy.



Barbie Explosion

Barbie was a huge part of my childhood, like many other girls. The doll, launched in 1959 and beloved ever since, comes with many different variations of skin color, career, and clothing options. It is widely available in toy stores and even grocery stores. My journey with Barbie began quite simply. My mother got me a Barbie doll when I was 4 or 5. For Christmas and my next birthday, I asked for a few modest accessories so that I could enjoy a few different adventures with my Barbie. Next, I began seeing commercials featuring the rest of Barbie’s family: Ken, Skipper, and Kelly. Of course, I had to have them all. How could I let Barbie live her life alone?! Pretty soon, Barbie needed a van to get around with her new family, but Ken didn’t like the van, so he needed his own Jeep. When Barbie’s first movie came out, I needed a whole new set of Barbies to live out the Rapunzel story. My old dolls already had a life I couldn’t take them away from. My parents and other family members gladly obliged my Barbie fantasies for years, but the final straw came when I got the Barbie Hotel. It cost over $100, had an elevator, and working telephones. I had never considered Barbie needing a hotel until a slew of commercials came out telling me I needed it. After that, my mom said I would have to make do with what I already had. She was sick of me seeing new commercials every day and deciding I had to have the latest item. Although Barbie does not classify as a PLC (program length commercial), I think the popularity of the Barbie movies, and the heavy advertising (a Barbie commercial ran during every kid-related show I watched, and it was usually more than one) would lead to the same effects as a PLC. It did for me. The article we read was titled “Spinning out of Control”, and that’s exactly what happened during my childhood. I started with one doll, and ended with a van, jeep, VW Beetle, 2 houses, a boat, a hotel, over 20 different dolls, and enough clothes and accessories to fill a real closet. It was never enough. That’s the type of environment PLCs and heavily advertised toys create.


Barbie Hotel

A picture of the Barbie Hotel, the final item of my Barbie Collection

Sanrio: Friendship Characters

Ah, Sanrio. The company behind Hello Kitty and all those other Japanese kawaii characters. Everyone knows who Hello Kitty is, however I may have had a slightly different experience with Sanrio characters because I spent every summer of my childhood in Hawaii. Hawaii has a very large Japanese population, and Sanrio is a very Japanese phenomenon which became wildly popular among children in America, but especially children in Hawaii. I, like all other children in Hawaii, owned numerous items covered with images of these characters. I remember loving my Keroppi lunch container and taking it to school with me every day, using my Hello Kitty chopsticks and plastic-ware often at dinner, wearing my Pochacco shirt to summer camp, writing in my Little Twin Stars notebook, and drinking out of my Chococat mug. Every drugstore in Hawaii has an entire aisle devoted to Sanrio characters. I remember whenever I would go with my mom to the store, I would spend the entire time walking down the Sanrio aisle and begging my mom to buy me a toy or some new item with a Sanrio character printed on it. There was an entire Sanrio store in every mall and I would visit it with every mall excursion. Even when I got older, I still looked upon the Sanrio characters with a smile because they reminded me of summer and my childhood.

Sanrio products similar to ones I owned in the 90's

According to Sanrio’s website, the company “was founded in 1960’s Japan by Shintaro Tsuji, whose simple dream of bringing smiles to people’s faces, grew into the brand’s ‘small gift, big smile’ philosophy”. An online company history of Sanrio states that the company launched the Hello Kitty character in 1974, originally aimed toward girls too young for barbies or similar toys. This spread beyond the intended age group partially because it tapped into the Japanese ‘kawaii’ trend, the obsession with cuteness. They sell anything from tiny toys, erasers, and candies to big things like suitcases, golf clubs and TVs, all with an image of a character and the brand-name pasted on each item. In 1976 the company set up a base in San Jose CA as a result of growing popularity in the U.S. and set up licensing agreements which brought Sanrio characters into toys included in McDonalds children’s meals. In 1988 Sanrio came out with its first boy character, Keroppi the frog, whose success caused the creation of new gender-neutral characters to bring boys into the market. In the early 90’s, two theme parks were built to keep up with the craze: Puroland and Harmonyland. Sanrio also created TV shows in the 90’s based on Hello Kitty and friends.

I never knew the friendship stories behind the characters, and I never watched the TV shows that accompanied them, but I still loved the characters anyhow. Sanrio characters play into the idea of the PLC, or “program-length commercial” mentioned in the Spinning Out of Control (Gary Cross) reading. Cross says, “These programs were ‘originally conceived as a vehicle from providing product exposure to the child audience’” (295). by providing an extensive story and extra characters around the Hello Kitty trend, the TV series surrounding Sanrio characters served just to market more toys and items with the brand to children. Cross also talks about the problem this causes for parents: “PLCs stacked the deck against parents by manipulating young children into wanting a particular toy while ostensibly entertaining them” (296). The Sanrio characters also show the idea of how toymakers “also shaped little girls’ play around licensed characters and fairytale story lines” (299).  In these characters and storylines, most of the time characters “worked together for the common good and did so in a world largely free of adult authority” (300). The Sanrio characters seem to follow the trend of Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Herself the Elf, and other ‘friendship’ characters of this kind of formula.

The World of Strawberry Shortcake


An illustration of the title character and her cat, Custard.

Strawberry Shortcake was created in the late 1970s by the American Greetings card company. As the character became a popular fad among young girls, the company expanded the Strawberry Shortcake product line to include dolls, posters, stationary, stickers, clothing, games, etc. Beginning in 1980 Strawberry Shortcake animated specials began to air on television, joining the controversial trend of program-length commercials designed to advertise such product lines to children. To examine the claims of Gary Cross (“Spinning Out of Control”) about the negative effects of program-length commercials or PLCs, I watched the first episode of the Strawberry Shortcake television series.

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