Update April 7, 2015 Toy Joy! New offerings upending the toy industry to send healthier cues to kids: Lottie Dolls, GoGoSportsGirls, and now this new Kickstarter, Ember World adventure dolls, highlighted in this post.
“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.
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
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
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
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)
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)
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