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Dolls Gone Wild: Unhappy moms want wholesome alternatives


By Karina Bland
the Arizona Republic

October 10, 2007


Moms are hunting through toy aisles for more wholesome-looking dolls, concerned that the scantily clad Bratz dolls with their Party Palace and Magic Make-up Studio are sending their daughters the wrong message about how they should dress and act.

With their heavily made-up faces, short shorts and halter tops, Bratz are the No. 2 best-selling dolls in the country, just behind Barbie, but creeping up on her with their own lines of clothing, school supplies, video games and, most recently, a live-action movie playing in theaters.

Moms are not happy about it.

"I don't want my daughter viewing herself that way," says Gloria Baca of Tempe, who has steered her daughter, now 10, away from Barbie and Bratz in favor of an American Girl doll by Mattel named Josefina.

Discerning moms are buying dolls that are hip-looking but without the fishnet stockings and crop tops. And they're finding a growing number of more-wholesome dolls to choose from.

"There is definitely a backlash against this girls-gone-wild syndrome. Parents are asking, 'Do I really want this for my daughter?' " says Len Simonian, whose award-winning line of preteen fashion dolls, Only Hearts Club, actually looks like girls and does the things that girls do - dance (not on a platform in a Party Palace), ride horses, have sleepovers and take care of pets.

In a survey of 1,010 mothers with daughters ages 4 to 9 that was released last month by Synovate, a market-research firm, 85 percent of moms said they are "tired of the sexpot dolls and characters" in stores.

The survey was commissioned by AG Properties, which owns the Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears and Holly Hobbie brands, all considered wholesome by toy industry and mom standards. Strawberry Shortcake dolls, which came out in the early 1980s, along with Care Bears and Holly Hobbie, created in 1967, are back on toy shelves, much to the delight of mothers now in their 30s and 40s who grew up with those characters.

Earlier this year, a report on the early sexualization of girls from the American Psychological Association not only highlighted the barrage of sexual messages being launched at preteen girls but singled out the Bratz dolls, saying, "It (is) worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality."

Not all the blame can be heaved on the small shoulders of Bratz or any other doll, for that matter. They are, of course, just dolls. The report says the proliferation of sexualized images of girls in advertising, merchandising and media is harmful to girls' self-image and healthy development.

From dolls in heavy makeup and short shorts to Britney-esque clothing for preschoolers and sweatpants for the elementary-school set that say "Juicy" across their bottoms, girls are being bombarded with information that's sexual in nature long before they're ready to handle it, says Stephanie Vitanza, a Scottsdale child psychologist.

No wonder moms are worrying about their daughters' playthings.

With their "passion for fashion," Bratz dolls by MGA Entertainment have some moms wishing for the good old days when they could lament Barbie's unattainable proportions and impossible expectations of female beauty. Remember President Barbie? Astronaut Barbie? Teacher Barbie, Doctor Barbie and even NASCAR Barbie?

At least she aspired to do more than just look good in a fur-lined halter or leather miniskirt.

But the marketing blitz behind the Bratz dolls is powerful stuff, especially for little girls, says Kate Tanner, who owns two specialty toy stores called Kidstop, one in Scottsdale, the other in Glendale. A little girl sees Bratz at her friend's house, on TV and along an entire aisle at Toys "R" Us and wants one for herself. Tanner won't sell the Bratz line in her shops.

Children play with dolls and role-play to learn about empathy and caring and how to be good parents when they grow up. A toy given to a child by a parent comes with a perceived stamp of approval.

"If you put this doll in the hands of children at the ages of 4, 5 and 6, and you allow them to play with it, adore it and desire it, how dare you correct your daughter at the age of 10, 11 and 12 and say, 'You can't wear that outfit,' " says Tanner, who sits on the board of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association.

Among the lines of dolls she carries are the Only Hearts Club and Groovy Girls by Manhattan Toy, a line of 13-inch rag dolls in an array of ethnicities dressed in colorful and funky fashions. Both lines are growing so popular that they have become available at Target stores nationwide.

Introduced in late 2001, Bratz products have topped $2 billion in global sales annually. Some of the Bratz dolls' appeal is that they are ethnically diverse.

Rose Anne Grootegoed of Tempe says all the fuss over the Bratz dolls is ridiculous.

"It's just a doll," she says. Her daughter, 8-year-old Lindsey, has two Bratz dolls - a boy and a girl - which came dressed in Western clothes and with a horse.

"She doesn't see it as anything else but a doll," Grootegoed says. "She doesn't see it as a major influence on her life. They're just fun to dress and play with.

"You can't blame the dolls when you have other influences like parents, grandparents, friends and school to counteract any negative influences," Grootegoed says.

It's a matter of making sure those positive influences are not surpassed by TV, media and peers, she says.

Eleven-year-old Sophia Lindemann of Phoenix played with Groovy Girls and now her little sister, Fasika, who is 3, plays with her collection.

Sophia says Bratz dolls are weird: "They have too much makeup and they don't have feet." (That's true. Their feet come off with their shoes, leaving only stumps until a child snaps on another pair of shoes.) In addition, Sophia says, "they never look happy," their dewy lips in a perpetual pout.

Her mother, Aline Lindemann, likes the Groovy Girls because they look like little girls.

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