Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bratz Set Us Back

I promised in my last post that I wasn't going to write about little kid issues anymore (what generation would they be anyway? I'm considered "Generation Y" so I'm just going to the youngins as "Generation XX"). Anyway, despite this promise I feel compelled to bring up something else after reading this blog entry over on AfterEllen which discusses the upcoming Bratz film along with the Bratz phenomenon. In this entry the writer links to an article on the UK's "Daily Mail" entitled "Over-sexed and over here: The 'tarty' Bratz doll." The article is worth a read, but I will cite some of the information in here.

Little girls loooove the Bratz dolls. At the community center I worked at, we had xeroxed coloring pages of everything from Disney stuff to anime to fantasy to Sponge Bob and Hello Kitty. The Bratz coloring pages would disappear like nobody's business. The Bratz dolls, launched in 2001 by MGA entertainment, bring in about $3billion a year from the dolls and their accessories. Chief executive of the UK Bratz distributor, Nick Austin, says that "their edgy, streetwise style appeals to the post-Spice Girl generation." The author of the Daily Mail article, although despairing about the dolls, admits that they're undeniably appealing to girls, with their "catwalk chic, huge expressive faces and multi-ethnic skin tones." American product designer, Paula Treantafelles says that she designed the dolls to appeal to the 7 to 10 year olds that Mattel -- makers of Barbie -- was failing to reach.

And sure enough, the dolls are outselling Barbie at astonishing rates -- as much as 2 to 1 in the United Kingdom. Whereas Barbie used to be aimed towards girls 6-10, it now appeals to mostly 3-6 year olds while Bratz is taking over the older age group. Why? According to Treantafelles, "[Bratz] are about self-expression, self-identity. When Barbie was in her prime, girls were taught to be career women, to be men’s equals. Today, yes, career and education matter, but it’s also “express yourself, have your own identity, girl power."

And now, thanks to the Bratz dolls' ever-increasing popularity, Barbie has begun to follow-suit, creating a sort of "race to the bottom" in terms of appropriateness. Mattel recently came out with the "My Scene" Barbie dolls which include a "My Bling Bling" and "Street Style" Barbie doll. These dolls come complete with navel piercings and tattoos. And, no, this is not a joke. You can buy them on Amazon or any other online shopping site.

I don't even know where to begin. I spent the past two entries discussing the glimmers of hope for young girls in the media, but it is products like Bratz that are keeping these few positive influences from really making an influence. This past winter the American Psychological Association (APA) released a report stating that advertising and media images that encourage girls to focus on looks and sexuality are harmful to their emotional and physical health. In February 2007 they created the "Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls." USA Today wrote an article ("Media Cited for Showing Girls as Sex Objects") that detailed this report. The author explained that the APA spent 18 months analyzing over 300 studies that "included a variety of media, from television and movies to song lyrics, and looked at advertising showing body-baring doll clothes for pre-schoolers, tweens posing in suggestive ways in magazines and the sexual antics of young celebrity role models." The APA cited the Bratz dolls in particular: "Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality."

Apparently the CEO of MGA Entertainment (the manufacturer of Bratz), Isaac Larian, strongly disagreed with the report, stating "These are the clothes that are worn if you go to schools anywhere in the USA. They are not sexy." An associate professor at NYU, Ann Pellegrini, voices concern over what she sees as a "panic" about the sexualization of children. According to her, "I do think girls and women are still profoundly objectified when it comes to sex, but there may well be some things that look like objectification that are being experienced by girls and young women that feel empowering." I think that this relates back to what I was discussing at the end of my last post where there is a fine line between encouraging girls to be proud of their bodies and promoting the sexualization of their bodies. Larian says that the clothes Bratz wear are the same as ones any girl would wear to school. I couldn't disagree more with this. One only needs to look at the Bratz dolls, covered heavily in make-up and wearing skin-tight, revealing clothes such as miniskirts and fishnet stockings to know that very few six-year-olds look like that. And no six-year-old should. There is a strong difference between sexuality -- how one feels/relates to her body -- and sex. Pellegrini is wrong when she suggests that images that sexualize young girls can be empowering. When empowerment is tied to looking thin, sexy and beautiful, this can actually be harmful to the sexuality of girls. Girls have lower self-esteem and self-image, thinking that they must look a certain way to be "powerful" or acceptable in society. This leads to a negative relationship between girls and their bodies: they try to mold themselves to be a certain way rather than celebrating who they are as individuals. Larian explains that young girls do not see Bratz as sexy, just as pretty. However, Larian is unable to critically examine the subliminal impact that dolls such as these have. No wonder the APA Chair, Dr. Eileen Zurbriggen, says that "sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development."

Not only that -- the message being sent to the male population is dangerous as well and contributes to the consequences listed above. From these media images, little boys receive their first messages about what girls should look like and how they should behave. Images that focus solely on the appearance of the female body are objectifying. It doesn't matter if it makes the girls feel good or not -- what is important is what these images are saying about women. And what they are saying is that the body continues to be the female's most important asset. As Dr. Zurbriggen states, "As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings - ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls."

Only those looking to commercialize on the sexualization of youth could argue with that. But unfortunately it is those people exactly that control what images are being put out. Once again, parents and other adults are left with the responsibility of trying to promote healthy body-images, high self-esteem and a sense of competence beyond appearance. Good luck with that.

1 comment:

camo794 said...

i dont have kids but if i did i wouldnt let my kids play with stripper dolls there not appropriate for anybody.