Bratzillaz, Novi Stars, Monster High: Same Sexualized SnoreFest

July 12, 2012 It’s ironic that with over 900 cable networks choice is sorely lacking, as copycat formulaic media producers churn out new Reality TV genres constituting ‘more of the same.’

“New” offerings like Extreme Parenting, Pregzilla, Momagers and such create a roll of the eyes and ‘nothing is on’ dynamic unless you’re into watching children used as props for outrage baiting and situational fodder.

After all, media has shifted to a mere illusion of choice with 90% of what we read, watch or listen to controlled by ‘the big 6′ media corporations (update of infographic data here).

Likewise, childrens’ toy aisles are flooded with spindly, canted poses and mind-numbingly vapid wide-eyed, pouty-lipped, cheesy-sleasy fashionista tributes to the porn and sex trade packaged and marketed as edgy to little girls.

Seems there’s very little wholesome, healthy, diverse, creative fare wedged in to compete with the top 10 toy giants…

Nowhere is this more evident than the battle of the brand biggies brewing yet again in a tug-o-war between number one toymaker Mattel (Barbie) and the uber-sexualized billion dollar Bratz empire where $310 million in legal fees were awarded to MGAE last summer after duking it out for the rights from an employee who switched teams…Why is the dust up about to get even uglier?

For starters, Bratzillaz by MGA Entertainment is launching tomorrow, Friday the 13th which many are already calling a knock-off of Mattel’s ‘creepy’ Monster High mess. I tweeted out a very raw, real hope that perhaps both Monster High and Bratzillaz would obliterate each other in a tit for tat industry trade war and BOTH vanish off the toy scene altogether…many parents wish for the same. Choices? Sure not seeing them here. Where are the choices between ‘dumb and dumber?’

Bratzillaz and Monster High’s cheap marketing tricks mirror the dolls wardrobe in ‘how low can you go’ crassness that speaks volumes about out coarse, crude, Snookified culture.

They both send trashy, flashy cues to kids couched in monstrously lame attempts to ‘be different’ when they’re both peddling brattitude. Many undermined parents feel that’s an ‘overstocked’ behavioral cue in today’s sassy pop culture pushed out to kids, being given FAR too much ‘shelf space’ and mindshare.

Then, when we have new toys like the gawdawful Novi Stars a mashup of alien-being meets starstruck galaxy of celebrification to eclipse the vampy trampy toy category (the only thing appropriate about this toy is the tag line, “What on Earth is Going On?”)

Parents end up awash in a tsunami of narrowcast sameness, valuing toys based on x is ‘not as bad as’ y or z…Not much of an “alternative” if you ask me.

One worthy company swimming upstream in a pathway of positivity is Go! Go! Sports Girls, dedicated to encouraging and empowering girls’ healthy, active lives with diverse, soft and huggable pals. (a portion of their profits even goes to Girls, Inc to further the ‘strong, smart and bold’ messaging…)

I’m hoping they get a bit of a ‘lift’ from the upcoming Olympics with aspirations coming into play and quality craftsmanship in almost every sport imaginable to engage and inspire.

But it DOES beg the big question: Where is the ‘choice’ when indie toys and goods get pushed to niche marketing status, relegated to quality childrens’ boutiques and online stores?

Why do we have to find our innovative toys at the Maker Faire showcase, and support cool toy concepts on Kickstarter funding platforms as they struggle to try to scale and get an eensy weensy shred of shelf space…

…While mega-manufacturers are pumping out sexualized stilettos and platforms for the toddler set?

There’s no balance. Very little “choice.”

It makes me instead point to healthier alternatives in ed tech, active kids’ apps, and defending pretending via the Toy Hall of Fame, complete with stick (’08 winner) and cardboard box (’05 ) as imaginative play alternatives and steer clear of toy stores altogether…

It’s like shopping at Farmer’s Markets or the perimeters of grocery stores rather than the overly processed center aisles laden with processed picks and junk food. Same applies to toy choice dodge ball…

Get out of the way of what’s being hurled at you and find indie, Etsy, online, creative alternatives that nourish kids souls rather than deplete them with wimpy, canted, fragility resembling toothpicks in platform shoes and makeup. Our girls deserve SOOOOO much more.

Look closely at this photo of young girls sharing the Go! Go! Sports Girls doll with the toddler, almost like a babysitting interaction…

…Now visualize placing NoviStars, Bratzilla, Monster High or any of the other trollopy plastic fashionistas blinged out in their sleaze and tease sexualized togs and you’ll get a quick snapshot of ‘what’s right with this picture of Go! Go! Sports Girls and what’s wrong with the mainstream me-tooism of ‘sex sells’ leaking onto the childhood paths of tiny  toddlers.

Make no mistake, the choices consumers are being served via mass market retail defaults are not just mindless, they’re damaging, as noted in the APA report on early sexualization.

If you need a more visceral comparison contrast, there’s a very personal, grizzly mama bear intensity seething send-up of Mattel’s Monster High dolls on Pigtail Pals, ‘Redefining Girly’ site which is actually where I first encountered the Go! Go! Sports Girls as a healthy alternative. She was fuming that mass marketing of Monster High had captured the mindshare of her six year old daughter, railroading right over her parenting style and it sent her blowing whistles and huffing and puffing like a steam engine.

It’s a poignant snapshot of what parents are up against even when they ‘don’t buy it’ since ambient media pumps out toxic toys and kids get caught up in the pop culture fumes exposed like second-hand smoke. 

Many in my own youth sphere ask for a ‘what’s changed?’ perspective in ‘then and now’ detail over the last decade, as this guest post below by Go! Go! Sports Girls founder Jodi Norgaard points out, even the sports versions of Barbie dolls have had a makeover to be more glam and pinkified versus circa 1999 when they actually had some in more authentic athletic gear.

To ensure the crème rises, I’ll be featuring Go! Go! Sports Girls and other positive picks in the next post, as my colleague Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker championed here…so send me your favorites that need some ‘lift’ in the media sphere since they aren’t getting any at eye level in the mainstream stores.

What toys pass muster in your home?

Who is putting out healthier messages, encouraging internal worth, imaginative play, and self-confidence and brain muscle over mass scaled glitz and glam superficial proliferation? Sound off!

Let’s ‘crowdsource’ some great finds for boys and girls, that are developmentally appropriate, fun alternatives, and give ourselves some CHOICE since the retailers aren’t lending a hand.

I’m thinking about all the fabulous finds I’ll be writing about this summer in a Maker Faire recap, like Roominate, the DIY dollhouse kit with circuit boards where lamps light up and fans can whir, leaving the mass produced ‘Lego Friends for girls’ category in the dust.

Or Little Bits the imaginative buildable that powers up a love of STEM early on expanding as far as the possibilities of the brainpower. Or The ScrapKins creating creatures and eco-friendly fun from recycled parts to engage kids more than any plastic prefab toy…Or SuperToolLula.com the anti-bullying superhero that’s like a female MacGyver, or Sophie’s World the parties-in-a-bag idea station for making buildables like popsicle stick catapults and DIY toy fun.

As Jodi Norgaard summed well in this post after her trip to the New York Toy Fair to show here dolls, “Change Is Never Made By Mainstream Ideas.”

Parents, it’s way past time to take charge of the offerings being put forth that impact childhood. Regardless how ‘busy’ we are all, it’s imperative that we vote with our wallets, pushback with vigor to upend the buyers and manufacturers, and start thinking WAY out of the toy box.

Bratzillaz, Novi Stars, Team Barbie, Oh My!

by Jodi Norgaard,founder, GoGo Sports Girls

Last week I read two articles about three new doll lines that were launched recently or will be launched this month and it took my breath away! (Not in a good way.)

When I thought it couldn’t get any worse, MGA announced the launch of “Bratzillaz” and (this one may be worse) “Novi Stars”. The Bratz spin-off line Bratzillaz resembles the Monster High Dolls and their tag line is “Glam Gets Wicked”.

Hummmmm. Each doll has their own tattoo and comes with a odd pet figurine. It is so similar to Monster High that I wouldn’t be surprised if Mattel and MGA go at it again.

The Novi Star dolls, well let’s just say I have a few choice words going through my head that I do not want to put in writing! Their tag line reads, “What on earth is going on?!” I sure agree with that!

On the website they give a little bio about each doll and I can’t believe some of this stuff. This is the exact opposite of what my husband and I are teaching our daughter. When I showed the website to my now 15 year old daughter she said, “Oh my gosh! I can’t even look at this. It’s disgusting!”

Let me give you a few examples – Alie wants to learn “How not to blush around cute Earth boys!!”—Ari’s mission is to “Kiss an Earth boy” and her fave activity is “Curling her hair with her magic wand!” (aka curling iron)–Mae’s mission is to “Become the BIGGEST pop-star!”, and Yna doesn’t get “Flats and tennis shoes.” In the words of Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers “Really!?!”

The third launch is “Team Barbie”, I am positive I have NEVER seen a woman look like this before, during or after a workout! Really, it’s just regular ol’ Barbie in a swimsuit or tennis outfit.

I do think it’s funny how the gymnastics doll is wearing heels. I didn’t see any of the gymnasts at the US Olympic Trials in heels! However, on a positive note, I think it is great that the largest toy company in the world, Mattel, sees a need for a sports doll. I don’t agree that it should be a scantily dressed Barbie, but it certainly gives me greater validation about the Go! Go! Sports Girls.

I have always felt strongly that we should teach girls to be true to themselves and encourage them to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. We are all consumers and we all have voices. Show your power and make your voice strong! Please share with me your comments and thoughts. I would love to hear them and thanks for reading! –Jodi Norgaard

Amy’s note:  I’ll be covering Go! Go! Sports Girls and other sports-minded offerings as part of a post on Olympics, toys, sports media and marketing, including the ‘what’s changed’ concept of Barbie, sports, Olympics tie-ins and beyond…But again, I challenge ALL to crowdsource some ‘positive picks’ universally and send me the links below, or tweet them to me @ShapingYouth on Twitter for coverage consideration beyond the sports and toys categories.

I’m eager to find more of these companies to highlight. Plus, colleagues at soon to be launched, Towards The Stars are striving to put healthier offerings into a hub, and create a viable marketplace to compete with what’s being put out there, so I’d love to lend a hand with some of your favorites. Here are some of my prior posts with positive picks in a series I ran called “All Things Girl” to get you started…

All Things Girl Series on Shaping Youth

By Amy Jussel

How Will You Use Media to Inspire On International Women’s Day?

Twitter: Women2Follow Dedicated to Inspiring Girls (need to add yourself to this list?) 

Empowering Girls Instead of Consuming Them

Day of the Girl: GirlCaught Aims to Dial Down Disrespect

GWLN-Global Leaders for Justice: Using Media for Breakthroughs

GWLN-Mentoring: Masai, Midwives, Mobile Medical: Media That Matters

GWLN-Global Women’s Leadership Network/Young Leaders Worldwide

GWLN Delegate Carrie Ellett on Girls For a Change

The Girl Effect: A World Changing Media Message

Shaping Youth Honors Girls Rights Week

Dear Media, Please Change Your Channel of Influence (TEE party)

Positive Picks/Media & Marketing: Pigtail Pals, Redfining Girly

Backtalking Billboards: The Kite Sisters Take Back Beauty/Respect

Girl Caught! New Moon Girls Slams Sexualization!

Steamed About Sexualization? Healthy Media for Youth Act: Pt1

Healthy Youth Media Act: Can Change Be Legislated? Pt2

Teen Girls: Ready for a Rebel Yell to Spark Change?

Tips From the Trenches: Re-Imagining Youth Activism

Shaping Youth Joins New Moon Girls As Affiliate Partner

A Tee Party Kicks Off All Things Girl Week on Shaping Youth

Veteran’s Day: Women in the Military: MyVetwork

Interview with Girl Mogul Founder Andrea Stein

New Moon Girl Media

S.Y.’s Body Image Expert Dr. Robyn Silverman On Dove Forum

Motrin Mamas & Twitter Tirades; Marcom Blunders Redux

Twilight Teens, GirlChild Press, +Read Kiddo, Read!

Fem 2.0: Feminine Feminism

GLTR Girls: Girls Learn to Ride (wakeboards etc)

Doctor Jenn Pajama Parties, Neuroscience

What’s On Tweens’ Minds: Meet Denise Restauri of AllyKatzz

Girls Prescription for Self-Worth: Respect Rx

Smart Girls at the Party.TV: SNL’s Amy Poehler

Wise Women & Alice 3.0: Geek Chic For Girls (pt.1)

BrainCake: Teen Girls Talk Tech & Worldchanging (pt.2)

DigiGirlz: Teen Girls Build Community Online & Off (pt.3)

She’s Geeky/Techno Leaders Converge

She’s Geeky/Vlogging with Ryanne Hodson at She’s Geeky

Media Moms, Engineers, Purple Tornadoes At She’s Geeky

She’s Geeky and Proud of It  (My first Shaping Youth geekery)

This Valentine’s Day, Fall Madly In Love…with Yourself!

Rachel Simmons/SY Interview: Curse of the Good Girl

Rosalind Wiseman/SY Interview: YA Kidlit- Boys, Girls/Hazardous Mat

Media Spotlight: Rachel (&SY) Talks to Chicago Trib/Girlpower Gone Wrong

SY-Amy Jussel & RS in Chicago Trib (pdf) Using KidLit Girls’ Bullying Literacy

Reading the Right Message About Bullying (+ huge KidLit Resource List)

Media Musts to Wrap Up All Things Girl Week Part One

Seven Sensational Blogs About Girls: All Things Girl Week Part Two, Finale!

Answering: “Why Can’t A Doll Just Be A Doll?” Query

Short answer? Because they’re doing harm. Body Blitz: APA Shows Harm of Early Sexualization

Girls As Boy Toys Takes an Even More Toxic Turn

Mommy, Why Are Her Legs Spread Like That?

Facelifts for Kiddie Characters?

Manga Makeovers And Other Body Image Cartoon Capers

Gender, Race & Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the drift. The sheer volume of messages tying self-worth to body/beauty/appearance are narrowcasting girls from the get go, objectifying females into vapid vessels to be toyed with and gazed upon rather than whole, entire, complex human beings with nuanced thinking…cultural context is key and ours is flooding the marketplace with damage. So no, it’s not ‘just fashion.’ And yes, males can get caught in the blast zone too. (Part2 to this post coming soon)

Resources to Help People Connect the Dots Between Harm and Health

APA Task Force on the Early Sexualization of Children (full 72pp pdf)

Resource List from So Sexy So Soon

CCFC Fact Sheet on Sexualizing Childhood

CCFC Two-Page pdf of stats & resources on sexualization

KFF.org “Sex on TV4″ Program for the study of media & health

Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality Jane Brown et al (Eds)

Girls Shape the Future: Study/Girls Inc: Early Predictors of Girls’ Adolescent Sexual Activity (summary: 8 pp pdf)

Packaging Girlhood, Hardy Girls, Healthy Women etc.

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes (Also see Packaging Boyhood; S.Y. Board Advisers:
Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

Comments

  1. http://www.myriadonline.co.uk/exploring-the-elements-including-kraul-science-craft-kits.php
    I bought some of these amazing wooden toys for my kids. They love the block and tackle, and the trolley car. I think that fire bowl is really cool – can you imagine that in a store anywhere in North America?

  2. I applaud Amy for her smart, “to the point” article. I don’t believe a parent would ever aspire to have their daughter look like the above drawings young or old. As the founder of the Go! Go! Sports Girl Dolls one situation that inspired me to create the dolls was viewing a scantily dressed doll in a toy store and reading on the hang tag her name -“Lovely Lola”. It didn’t sit well with me!

    Rebecca Gaynier, Founder and CEO of I Twixie, recently emailed me with some interesting research info on tween trends.” 1) Girls use role-playing to work through many of the confusing social messages they’re facing today, more than ever. Dolls, often, become the way these girls facilitate role-play. So it’s more than just a doll we’re providing our girls. It’s a tool for sociological development. 2)Over time, “these” dolls create bad memories and confusion for many girls. 3) More girls than ever are competing as part of a sports team or in a sporting/athletic environment.” She goes on to say, “Why authentic insights like yours aren’t making their way into the hands of executives making decisions about product development priorities continues to baffle us all.”

    I agree with Amy, our girls deserve soooo much more!

  3. @Brenda, not really, how sweet is that?! We do have a great imagination station style toy store in Palo Alto and several boutique style finds in SF, but ‘mainstream’ is meh…all over the top shoot ‘em up/bling ‘em out crud.

    Also was sent this link from Mary Phillips on Twitter (@bcteacher) who introduced me to Bilibo (video here>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-H7XmbcDK0&feature=youtu.be ) some great free play, fun finds for sure…

  4. @Jodi,thanks for sharing Rebecca’s research…”Girls use role-playing to work through many of the confusing social messages they’re facing today, more than ever. Dolls, often, become the way these girls facilitate role-play” means HUGE issues if we’re lookin at this stuff as the normative interaction. ugh.

    I took my camera to ToysRUs and Target yesterday to just give myself a ‘snapshot’ and a gut check that I’m not over-reacting here…and wow…talk about lack of CHOICES.
    Really was disheartening.

    Interesting to see the ‘big manufacturers’ account for the vast majority of all the look alikes out there…i.e. MGA Entertainment owns not only Bratz, Bratzillaz but Novi Stars and Moxie Girls too…sigh.

    Was pleasantly surprised by a line that kind of reminded me of a less expensive version of Karito Kids http://karitokids.com/start.php which was called Heart4Heart Girls: http://www.hearts4heartsgirls.com/ partnering with World Vision…

    Sure haven’t seen much about them in the media, but will do more hunting/interviewing to see how their products are doing…and who else is out there…

    Could you give me your POV Jodi, from attending Toy Fair in NY? Who’s ‘doing it right’ in your estimation that could use some umpf in the social media sphere to create applause?

  5. Hi Amy, I have always liked the message of Karito Kids. Manhattan Toy, the maker of Groovy Girls, offers nice products. Last year they launched a line of dolls for boys called Boysterous – http://www.manhattantoy.com/products/426480/All. I spoke to the President of MT about this terrific line and he said he created them because he was fed up with all the action figures promoted towards boys. He wanted to offer a more realistic doll. I know the feeling!

    One company we should watch is Kahn Lucas – http://www.kahnlucas.com/. They are the creators of the award winning line Dollie & Me and they recently acquired Alexander Doll Company. I believe they are going to be a major influence in the doll market offering an impressive array of positive image dolls.

    Thanks for all you do! ~ Jodi

  6. Why can’t these dolls just be fun without carrying a whole lot of analytical meaning behind them? Some girls like to play dress up with their dolls and they like fashion and beauty. So what? My daughter is excited for the Novi Stars to come out. But she also likes to go outside and play rough and tumble with the boys. Why can’t a doll just be a doll?
    Hallie recently posted..Mae Tallick Novi StarMy Profile

  7. Hallie –
    A doll cannot be “just a doll” when it is wrapped in messages of Thin Ideal and objectified sex. Fashion is one thing, sexualized clothing with ties to porn and the sex trades is another.
    These dolls cannot be a “just a doll” no more than a cigarette can just be “rolled tobacco”. Inside each product is toxins that overtime reveal how truly unhealthy they really are.

  8. Hallie, I’m running to a meeting right now, but I’ve added an entire section with links to answer this question just for you, hope it helps.

    To sum, the short answer is cultural context, proliferation of cruddy cues impacting public health, and elimination of choice when it all starts to ‘look the same’ creating a ‘social norming’ element.

    If you peruse the multitudes of links and copious quantities of sexualization girls are experiencing in surround sound right now, you’ll see that it’s much more than ‘just a doll’ issue…I’ve made these points repeatedly, so once you read through the links while I’m out let’s circle back if you have more thoughts to share! :-)
    amy recently posted..Boys, Body Image and Sexualization: An Equal Opportunity DestroyerMy Profile

  9. Samantha says:

    I’m leaning towards Hallie’s view. Many just see whatever they want to see regarding dolls.

    I also think it’s disturbing that people are teaching their children to judge real-life women (as well as the character of fictional persons) based on how they dress. Some adults like to dress sexy, and that’s okay within certain limits. Children should not be sexualized, that much is certain, but teaching them that it’s horrible for an adult or older teen to dress a certain way is wrong. I used to do something similar myself – I judged men who wore hoodies, until I looked at myself and realized that I was being shallow and judging them by their clothing and not their character.

    I honestly don’t see how the Novi Stars are oversexualized or, as Melissa put it, “thin ideal.” They’re teenage aliens with heads that are enormous in proportion to their bodies. They aren’t supposed to look realistic or even human. There are also two main reasons most fashion doll lines have limited body types: Making a bunch of different body molds costs a lot of money, and most kids like to mix and match doll clothes; which wouldn’t work on different body types.
    I really don’t see how their clothing looks in any way pornographic either (again, to use Melissa’s wording).

    Having said that, I don’t like the boy- and glam- obsession present in the Novi Star’s personalities. As a character-designer-in-training, I know it’s not that hard to make a well-rounded character. I’m still waiting for a toy line that has really great, well-rounded characters without looking utterly bland and generic (sorry, I thought the Go Go Sports Girls were a nice idea with extremely boring execution).

    The closest thing I’ve seen to “The Perfect Doll Line” in terms of character and appeal was Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls… http://milkywayandthegalaxygirls.com/ which sadly has been out of production for months and will probably not be coming back.

  10. These are just dolls. Get over yourself. They are cute and I happen to like all of them.

  11. Samantha says:

    I am not sure why my original comment wasn’t posted. Oh well, here’s the most important part of it anyways…

    I think it’s disturbing that people are teaching their children to judge real-life women (as well as the character of fictional persons) based on how they dress. Some adults like to dress sexy, and that’s okay within certain limits. Children should not be sexualized, that much is certain, but teaching them that it’s horrible for an adult or older teen to dress a certain way is wrong. I used to do something similar myself – I judged men who wore hoodies, until I looked at myself and realized that I was being shallow and judging them by their clothing and not their character.

  12. @Samantha: Finally found the original post…

    I think the akismet filter is now set extremely high as we’ve had to guard against 3,091,050 spam comments and counting according to the dashboard!

    Thanks for your patience…and for trying again repeatedly. It’s the only thing that helped me ‘notice’ it w/duplication and I so appreciate you giving me that alert.

    You can always reach me via email amy at shapingyouth dot org if something doesn’t post properly, ‘k?

    Again, thanks for taking the time… :-)

    @Emily: you’re entitled to like or dislike whatever you wish, as am I. I’d be interested in hearing what makes them ‘cute’ and likable in your opinion, and at what age and why?

  13. Vaughan says:

    This is disgusting. I can’t believe people are as ignorant and depressing as this. Brands like Monster High are advertising and educating pre-teens about self-esteem. How to feel good about yourself and not care what others think. Has the person who wrote this even thought to read the Biographies and storylines of Monster High, Bratzilla’s or Novi stars? No. Or this wouldn’t be happening.
    Sad little people with sad little lives who have nothing better to do than pick on little girls dreams.
    Get over yourselves. Stop judging dolls or PEOPLE for how they look. If I want to dress sexy..I damn well will. And not to draw attention or sexualise myself…but to be myself.

    End of the day…those Go go girls or whatever they’re called are the ones left on shelves, whilst people are hunting and throwing money at toymakers of doll lines like Barbie, Novi Stars and Monster High. Barbie’s been going for over 50 Years. I doubt these sports girls will last a quarter of that!

  14. My daughter collects Monster High, and is now getting into Novi Stars….
    Are you saying that because of that she’s going to be some kind of prostitute when she’s older?
    Oh please darlings. Get a hold of yourselves! My kid’s a shy, outcast, and Monster High has actually made her feel BETTER about herself. Since when have clothing such as long sweaters, leggings and comfy boots been to do with pornography? That’s what her favourite Monster High doll wears. Another favourite of hers is Abbey Bominable who wears a ski-top type dress, with fur on top. Along with a furry headband, furry arm and leg warmers, ski boots and redish-blue tights. Wow….that’s SOO scandalous. You people are looking too much into this. Go sit down and calm down!

  15. Thanks, Samantha, for taking the time to post a thoughtful, articulate comment…Great point about the ‘judgment’ of hoodies/clothing/character, but ‘so sexy so soon’ is selling a diff element that is sorely LACKING in judgment, imo.

    Agree on the manufacturing side of the toy industry biz, though most of these ‘thin/stick’ dolls aren’t interchangeable body molds or figurines either (neither are American Girl with Journey Girls or Karito Kids or Heart4Heart even though they all are similar in body type-look)

    I think we always have to circle back to ‘who’s the target market?’ What’s appropriate/appealing to a 6 yr old is (or should be) much different than a 16yo, or even a 61 yo for that matter…And I’m not seeing that.

    I’m seeing vampy/campy/canted positions in ‘come hither’ poses. bleh. As far as the passion for fashion, “Sex in the City” style stilettos/platforms are one thing for an adult; blinged out brattitude and fishnet thigh highs are sexualization in spades for kidlets imo…)

    The ‘boy/glam obsession’ you tapped into is the same ‘persona’ that permeates across the board and places the proliferation of these cues to kids in the ‘vapid and boring’ category as it reduces the character selection into narrowcast stereotypes and fails to uncork any imaginative flow of possibility beyond appearance and eye candy/boy toy bait.

    Actually, the oversexualized/porn industry productization M. mentioned is a direct reference to the outfits/attire…From lingerie bodices, corsets, lace-up bustiers, to spikes/buckles/chokers against platforms/stilettos/garters and thigh high fishnets it would make any parent of a 6 year old cringe in Frederick’s of Hollywood meets ToysRUs style.

    M. is ironically working on a post about that very issue to do a visual insight”show and tell” placing actual products next to dolls and cues to kids, which I can’t wait to see…sometimes I think as adults we’re desensitized to it because it’s become so mass manufactured in the toy aisle AND in fashion…Why can’t we celebrate the many facets of girlhood without preach and teach OR hyper-sexualized extremes?

    There are so many creative artists (I notice your handle links to a Deviant Art portfolio, and there’s some AMAZING anime and illustration work on that site alone!) yet the “sameness” of all these dolls astounds.

  16. Glad I found the original post, sorry for that, I think the akismet filter is set extremely high as we’ve had to guard against 3,091,050 spam comments and counting according to the dashboard! Thanks for your patience…and for trying again repeatedly. It’s the only thing that helped me ‘notice’ it w/duplication and I so appreciate you giving me that alert. You can always reach me via email amy at shapingyouth dot org if something doesn’t post properly, ‘k? Again, thanks for taking the time… :-)

  17. Thank you for the well-written response Amy. One thing I’ve noticed a lot is that many other people tend to talk past each other on these sorts of issues… I think raising children in general might be one of those “hot-button” issues.

    I’ve actually not seen many young children with Monster High or Bratzillaz dolls. Those are aimed at both collectors and somewhat older kids… usually over 6. At least old enough to realize the dolls aren’t based in reality. That doesn’t stop younger kids from buying them, of course. And perhaps they shouldn’t… but that’s not really a judgment for me to make, that should be left up to individual parents.

    As for the porn industry-esque clothing, I do see a lot of dolls with fishnets/lace/corsets/etc, I just didn’t see those sort of things on the Novi Stars specifically. And I personally don’t think those mentioned accessories have ever been exclusively found in pornography. Some of them do look a little tacky, granted, but there are tasteful ways of including them. I rather liked Rapunzel’s dress from Tangled, for example, which included a corset and some lace.

    It’s unfortunate that most doll lines do not have characters with varied personalities. Monster High is at least decent in this respect, though I personally thought Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls did the best job with character traits and design. It’s such a shame that the line only had one run and then ended; probably due in part to manufacturing costs versus the amount people were willing to pay for one. Such is the toy biz…
    Samantha recently posted..Sailor SATURN Sailor Moon World Doll FOR SALEMy Profile

  18. Vaughan says:

    At the end of the day, it’s parents who are in charge of educating their children. Not toys. I had toys as a child, to play with. I did not see my power rangers as the perfect men, I did not desire to look like them. I did desire to be them, as in action heroes who fight crime. Just like little girls nowadays want to be princesses, fairies…and surprisingly (in a good way) monsters now. When a child looks at a toy…they don’t think ‘oh…maybe I should starve myself to look like they do’ they think ‘OH MY GOSH! she’s wearing a red cape! Mom! find me…a red cape…now!’
    And as in reference to Monster High- Like I said, my favourite wears SKI BOOTS. Another wears converse heels. Another platform boots. What’s so bad about that? Well…if heels are so bad…I guess heels should be off the market completely then shouldn’t they?

  19. By judging on the clothing alone you lose the message of certain doll lines. I know one line that has been criticized for being “too sexy”- Monster High- has partnered with the “Kind Campaign” and “WeStopHate” to put an end to bullying and build “Tween Esteem”. They teach children that it’s not only okay to have “Freaky Flaws” but you should celebrate and be proud of them because this is what makes you you. Their latest tag line of “Be Unique. Be Yourself. Be a Monster!” encourages children to be all they want to be.
    How ironic is it that parents are judging by clothing and not message, the same way bullies- the very thing Monster High is trying to put an end to- judge by appearance and not what’s inside.
    Ninapedia recently posted..BUTTMy Profile

  20. HI Amy I’ve studied and written about Monster High quite a bit, but not about this new line. Thinking about Monster High, there are a few things that stand out to me:
    1. The characters are extremely thin. It is well documented in research that media that shows the thin ideal tends to lead those who consume it, especially young people, to feel bad about their own bodies and often to engage in dieting behaviors.

    2. The characters are dressed in clothing that seems sexy, from short skirts to very high heels and a lot of make-up. They’re supposed to be high school kids, but the target audience is clearly much younger, with some merchandise marketed to 4 year olds. This movement of sexiness from adulthood to very young children is disturbing from a developmental perspective. Noting that is not judging a person’s appearance, it’s commenting on a companies decision to sell sexiness to 6 year olds. And frankly, as a mom of three and a professional educator, I’m going to call Mattel out on that and tell them I don’t like it.

    3. The biggest problem that I have with Monster High has to to do with their links to the Kind Campaign and WeStopHate. On the surface these seem like great connections, but delving into the MH story lines on their webisodes shows you a lot of bullying and mean girl behavior, with very little real support for kids developing healthy relationships. I’m all for Mattel really focusing these dolls on building esteem and positive relationships, but so far that’s not happening, even with their new launch. It’s surface, with ““Be Unique. Be Yourself. Be a Monster!” overwhelmingly overpowered by the themes of bullying in the vast majority of the webisodes.

    For more detail and links to the things I’ve written about Monster High, feel free to visit this post, and follow the links: http://wp.me/pLzVT-LP
    Jennifer Shewmaker recently posted..Are you ready to change?My Profile

  21. Elly Elliott says:

    I’m posting this in response to this article: http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=19119 , because the comments were disabled before I could post mine because I spent a good hour or two on it. The last line applies to all lines in this article as well.

    “I feel like I should tack on my opinion into this. At the age of 4, I was put into very bad situations involving rape and abuse and it left me with severe mental trauma, including two mental disorders: Body dysmorphic disorder and borderline personality disorder, as well as remaining mentally stunted at 7– which my therapist has said is most likely permanent. As I aged, I was trapped inside of a rock-hard shell.. I had no friends and no social skills: I’d become my own enemy because of how horribly I moodswinged, changed my opinions, and hated myself.

    Roughly a year and a half ago, I reached out, not to other people, but to toys. I related to them and could ‘think’ on their terms. One specific toy stood out to me: Monster High’s Holt Hyde. He had issues with his own personality, both because of his ‘dueling’ aura and because of random bursts of anger. He melted pens and I crushed them until I stabbed my hands. I became enamored, looking into every doll and eventually settling into collecting them.

    As I became a bit more comfortable, I found out about a newer character (one who was in the Kind Campaign video), Abbey Bominable. She felt that on occasion she wasn’t meant to have friends, and had speech problems– another thing I shared. She became my favorite, with her icy and strong personality– and Russian accent, which reminded me of my no-longer-with-us father, who had been heavily Belarussian on his mother’s side.

    These were all before the ‘good-washing’, of course. Not very relevant. Along these lines, I acquired a new person in my trio: Hoodude Voodoo. A living voodoo doll, he had many self esteem issues, in his webisode agreeing when another student rudely said that he wasn’t even a real person. This stood out to me, a stab through the heart: One of the biggest things that caused my constant self-hate was the thought that I wasn’t a real person. At the end of the webisode, Hoodude learns to love himself with help from the main ghouls.

    This helped me a lot. Over the time I’d loved MH, I’ve learned to love myself a bit, too: I’ve gotten into a healthy relationship, I have several friends and a healthy pride in my hobbies and creations. Monster High helped me achieve a fairly healthy lifestyle and confidence, though I’d had such an unhealthy past. Many girls never get through this and several people with borderline personality disorder commit suicide because they cannot keep relationships. I have people now to talk to, and owe Mattel for that and their creation.

    I also would like to point out a more recent change that I think will support children: Robecca Steam, a robot whose father went missing. It’s one of the ‘edgier’ kicks to MH, and in that sense, I read the journal Robecca has to my young cousin, in order to help her cope with her father being in a war right now. She was ecstatic with it, and happy to have a doll to relate to. Her friends are similar: One of her friends, adopted from Malaysia, relates to C.A. Cupid. A boy in her class relates to Rochelle Goyle as he recently moved to America from France. Another little girl just disregards the personalities and gives them whatever they like! The personalities are optional, something the children should be taught. The line can be inspiring to children and adults alike if you let it be, and teach your children not to want to be exactly like dolls, but to learn lessons from them, not just for Monster High, but all doll lines.”

  22. @Elly…At the risk of your poignant thread taking us off topic from the *sexualization and mass cultural context* I want to first and foremost applaud your seeking help and support in any/all manners. So glad to hear the dolls have helped you in some manner with healing, as many know toys and puppets in therapy are commonly used w/trauma/victims and I have sincere compassion empathizing with your plight.

    That said, the aspects of the dolls you found healing could EASILY exist without all the porn underpinnings of fashion, anorexic bodies, sexualized messages, etc. which may have helped YOU personally, while perpetuating other stereotypes and imagery that are harming tons of other girls, for different reasons…

    I’m not a developmental psychologist, but I do have two pros with this background serving on our board who remind that it becomes a ‘zero sum game’ if the prominent negatives of a toy (appearance/behavioral cues etc) are blasted into the kids sphere impacting millions (in order to MAKE million$) because they drown out poignant indiv experiences such as yours that may have helped in your healing.

    Again, we are talking about large scale patterns and impact–guided by research–there will be always individual cases and exceptions, like yours.

    p.s. I completely agree with your media literacy line about ALL dolls, (teaching not to be exactly like the dolls but to learn lessons from them) we profoundly differ in what ‘gets put out there’ to begin with, as I feel we’re working at a deficit to ‘counter-market’ the cues being sent to kids from the get go.

    I guess I’ll need to do a follow up post on what I mean by this, with photos of the productization and mixed messages since it seems the MH fan base is unclear on what I’m trying to impart.

    I don’t wish to be ‘unkind’ I simply won’t be bamboozled by $96.2 million in MH/Mattel profit via a “slew of savvy promotions and tie-ins that include a young-adult book series and a Web show” in order to drink the corp Kool-Aid being served en masse…it’s toxic.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2012/07/17/mattel-sees-brightened-profits-from-batman-dark-knight-toys-horror-movie-dolls/

    amy recently posted..Mattel’s Manipulative Monster High Marketing Machine: Unkind.My Profile

  23. For parents navigating this minefield w/toys I’m going to add a post by Dr Jennifer Shewmaker who deconstructs “how to decide if a product is right for you” in this post on MH:

    http://jennifershewmaker.com/2011/09/23/deciding-if-a-product-is-right-for-you-deconstructing-monster-high/

    And add one point I forgot to mention, which is that the AGE and STAGE of kids being targeted with Bratzillaz, Monster High, Bratz and NoviStars are definitely NOT able to ascertain any nuanced psychological messages…they are literalists in ‘show and tell’ emulation of attitudes and imagery put forth, which is why the FTC has ‘bumpers’ on ads and shows…

    So again…let’s look at things like ‘shelf height’ product positioning and what’s being SOLD to girls (Monster High’s ‘meet at the mall’ message boards? Coffin carrying case of makeup/false eyelashes/bling; mirrors on walkie talkies, etc) and then talk about what ‘sticks’ in over arching messages of what’s valued w/such ‘diversity’

    Here’s Dr J’s great post asking, “MH may be good for biz, but is it good for girls?” http://jennifershewmaker.com/2012/07/27/a-monster-problem-monster-high-may-be-good-for-business-but-is-it-good-for-girls/

    Read it thoroughly please. It’s an important one. And it applies to all of these dolls. Not just MH.

    Strongly feel narrowcasting consumer choice and putting profits over public health is the embodiment of this post…

  24. I’ve read all these comments and the article and this made me think , what if it has something to do with how a parent teachers their child to interpret things , if a mother or a father were to teacher their child to interpret a woman wearing fishnets as a whore , and maybe she is one , but she could also maybe be a woman who just loves to dress her mind without trying to be sexual .
    I’m not disagreeing that children are influenced by brands like monster high , bratz ,and novo stars. But , is it always bad . Monster high does make millions of this idea of teen monsters , but I love monster high , and I’ve read the diaries and watched the webisodes , and these girls are learing to embrace themselves for who they are and that’s what monster high wants their consumers to do. Buy since it is a company trying to make money , they show these important lessons through the characters which are fashion dolls.
    I’m 13 , which probally makes my opinion get thrown out the window , but I’m just saying , that the message behind the big and scary companies are what we need to pay attention too . but of course that’s up for your interpretation .
    – Sky :)

  25. Vaughan says:

    At the end of the day, the way you think is a minority compared to how many disagree.
    I’m sorry, but its more of a harm to ‘shelter’ chidren, and deny them their own views on things as you are doing than letting them like whatever doll they do.

  26. @Vaughan…I agree with you that ‘sheltering,’ bubble-wrapping, or hot-housing children can create a diff set of resiliency issues…that’s not remotely my mindset or intent.

    In fact, my belief is just the opposite, kids are unable to FORM their self-expression when toys like these over-shadow with sameness, dominating the marketplace.

    I WANT girls to express themselves. I want parents to have CHOICES.

    I WANT children to express themselves WITHOUT the clarion call of craptastic cues telling them ‘what’s hot or not’…including themselves.

    Self expression? Nope, not seeing it here. This is media/marketing’s mega-millions telling kids what’s ‘cool’ …a classic case of defining kids before they can define themselves.

    I DO believe in the right for children to HAVE a childhood before being body-snatched into adulthood plunked into an appearance-driven landscape of ‘hotness’ and superficial fashionista/consumption cues based on self-serving greed from toy manufacturers single-minded agenda. That much I’ll cop to.

    Respectfully, “the way I think/being in the minority” is both subjective and irrelevant…

    This convo is not about ‘me’ or my ‘thoughts’ this is about quantifiable PUBLIC HEALTH RESEARCH, adolescent psychology, and neuroscience on brain development and plasticity pointing to inherent, preventable harm.

    Talk to educators, scientists, psychologists, health care professionals, and child development pros before making sweeping statements abut ‘minority/majority’…(fwiw, I don’t count sales figures, Mattel’s minions and mouthpieces or the corporate pay for play PR machines of ‘mom for hire’ blogs as a ‘mindset’…Those all have vested interests)

    Finally, to your point about the “end of the day” may I remind we don’t yet KNOW what will happen ‘at the end of the day’ that’s why I’m writing about it as intervention into ‘reap what we sow’ mode, as the quantifiable leap in body image/eating disorders/depression stats and such is hard to ignore, even in just the last few years, here’s just a teeny snapshot from Science Daily:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090202174816.htm

    “At the end of the day” I think we need to put children’s health and well-being above a profit-driven agenda.

    Marching like lemmings into a sea of sameness and artificially created concepts of ‘cool’ are about corp GREED with a capital G. Not any modicum of self-expression…

    I’ll keep comments open for another 24 hours and close ‘em off, as we’re going in circles, ‘k?

    Thanks again for taking the time to voice your views though…we may agree to disagree, but at least the freedom to SELF EXPRESS is there…;-)

    Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth recently posted..Dark Knight Rises: Resources to Reassure Kids My Profile

  27. @Sky Since you say you’re 13, I’ll add that your voice actually IS the one I want to hear loud and clear, far from being ‘thrown out the window’..;-) I’ve never had any rub with “big and scary companies” nor do I consider Mattel to be one, in fact, I find them rather cowardly to use youth as corporate shills, but that’s another story for another time.

    I definitely DO hear what you’re saying in terms of the ‘fishnets should not equal hooker’ fashion judgment, much like Vaughan’s and Ninapedia comments above, etc. (fyi, there’s tons of research about emulating imagery and antics in younger years, and parroting in preschool, etc so I don’t want to digress to the same old points about coinage and consumption trading on vampy campy ‘fashions’…as you can see, I’m no fan of Beyonce’s Dereon Divas line either, so perhaps that IS my ‘judgment’ and that of Dr. Robyn, our own child dev specialist advisory board member as you can see here>> http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=1530)

    Again, I’m trying to remind that part of the messaging being marketed here is landing on kids as young as 4-6 who are literalists…mirroring and absorbing the behavioral attitudes presented. (see Dr Jen’s comment above and her well-researched work about same—she’s really got some good points about separating the ages and stages of ‘collectors/twenty-somethings’ and ‘tweens’ and preschoolers)

    In this case, if you’re 13 you’re already in the ‘older’ skewing bracket for the conversations we’re having here, as you’re able to discern and process the information in a diff manner than younger kids.

    On a larger scale level, I’ll reiterate that the ‘looks’ and brattitude/sexualization of the dolls are one of many irksome factors, for me it’s also about the narrowing of choices and options and the desperate need for independent thought and genuine SELF-expression, not marketing’s version of self-expression, packaged in a box with pre-fab personas in ‘pick one’ mode.

    Thanks for dropping by and adding your voice to the mix.

  28. I’m happy that there are some people out there that share my point of view. Regarding body image, these toys are just DOLLS. If you want to pick on something that sends girls the wrong message about being “too thin” go after movies, TV, and magazines. Should we have dolls that are overweight? Because that’s not healthy either. We are currently facing a major childhood obesity issue, not a childhood “too thin” issue.

  29. This is a great article and thread. I’ll have to come back and reread all the comments because the discussion is so nuanced. In the short term, here’s a piece I wrote about the Monster High dolls : http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/08/19/mattels-new-monster-high-dolls-play-on-old-school-stereotypes/

    I’ve been interested in tracking reaction and what else Mattel develops. My thanks for such thorough commentary.

  30. Thanks, Elline, for taking the time to comment, wow 180 comments over on your Ms Magazine post from 2010…and I believe I just made it 181!

    Similar thoughts echoed between the two sites, even with the two year spread, though as I mentioned in my comment at Ms Mag, the ‘new news’ is simply the money being tossed behind refreshing the brand to reframe/overhaul the brand and obscure the original product by add-ons that seem (emphasis on illusion) more palatable.

    Have also noticed the depths of low in terms of the common threads peppering the blogosphere w/incivility by rabid ‘defenders’ which have caused many educators/parenting/youth media literacy sites to be forced to shut down comments for the first time ever (ours included) That saddens me, not just from a rhetoric perspective, but from a corporate shill standpoint, since I’ve visited numerous blogs with ‘essay’ style point refuting that are about as ‘faux’ on the tween front as a plastic doll.

    On your Ms Mag blog, I liked the point toward the end from ‘@writerchic’ that speaks to the notion that if you cast appearance specifics aside, any doll (Barbie, MH etc) can be a blank slate to imprint early imaginative characters on. “The real problem is the characterization; the terrible bios and awful cartoons that mandate the characters’ behaviors”

    yep. That’s the rub that goes beyond the sexualized cues…If even a SMALL portion of that marketing clout were redirected to creating products w/positive positioning from the get go, just think of the worldview that could be elevated.

    On that note, I think I’ll close off comments now as we’ll have another one up soon where the fandom can go to town as we deconstruct the top layer/brandwashing associations with youth advocates ‘doing good’ amidst a cauldron of lousy cues bubbling just beneath the surface, throughout the balance of the branding, personas, product cues and merchandise.

    Stay tuned. Back soon…

  31. As a 15 year old I adore Bratzillaz, Monster High, and Novi Stars. Monster High’s main slogan is “Be Yourself, Be Unique, Be a Monster!” While I admit Novi Stars are kind of, er, not all there in the head. (Light Years is a messures of distance not time!) I think they are adorable. And I like the whole Monster/ Alien/ Witch theme of these dolls. It’s the reason I also collect Living Dead Dolls. DOn’t judge a book by it’s cover. Monster High has been teeming up with WeStopHate and the Kind: Campaign, to try and tell people to not care what other people think of you. And those Go Go Sports girls are the UGLIEST dolls I ever seen! And that’s compared to the Bratz! And they are also VERY bland. And again they are just dolls, get over yourself. Kidds aren’t stupid. My 6 year old niece adores Bratzillaz, Novi Stars, and Monster High. She knows that they are JUST DOLLS. And she has a lot of fun dressing them up, and acting out the webisodes with them. Oh, and she thinks the Go Go Sports Girls are dumb. Just saying.

  32. Emily, I’ve never met a 15 year old who is remotely engaged with ANY dolls, much less adores these particular ones, so thanks for stopping by and mentioning that…

    Yep, very familiar w/the brandwashing and affiliations of the We Stop Hate and Kind Campaign through Mattel’s marketing machine, and sincerely hope they don’t impact those youth advocates…I’ll do a follow up post as to why/how that could happen, given the unfavorable “personas” and content/coding to kids…

    AND…Thanks also for reminding me to close comments, I’d forgotten! My apologies, see you all next round as the convos continue! Appreciate everyone taking the time…