Bratz, Beauty and Instagram Goddesses

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Our generation of 90’s babies was the first to grow up on MGA Entertainment’s Bratz dolls. Soon after its release, Bratz joined the masses of other children’s toys that are scrutinized for messages and ideals it communicated to female youth. There has always been much speculation and concern on how dolls effect the psyche of young girls because they often emulate seemingly unrealistic standards of beauty. Psychologically, experts have found that many girls’ self-image expectations are rooted in comparison to their beloved playmates.

In 2001, Brat dolls hit the market and became fierce competition to the original girls’ play sensation, Barbie. The short dolls with large heads, made-up faces, thick hips, skinny waists and no feet served as a sexy alternative to tall, slender, top heavy Barbie who exclusively favors high heels. Their sass, unapologetic sense of fashion, and bold makeup choices created a seemingly confident contrast to Barbie’s cookie cutter clothes, career goals, ultra-conservative makeup, and permanently painted smile.

Despite the aesthetic variation the dolls offered, many parents were concerned about the doll’s overall lack of career ambition. The overall message of these dolls seemed to emphasize beauty and attractiveness over emotional and intellectual depth. As great as it was to have a toy that offered more ethnic features in comparison to Barbie, there was still a widespread issue with its themes of hyper femininity.

As the original group of Bratz fans now blossom into adulthood a question is raised: was the Bratz phenomenon of our childhood a precursor to the social media goddess trend of today?

With a flick of the finger, it is all too easy to find a girl on Instagram with a microscopic waist, large hips, flawless contour and tresses tumbling down her back, posing for gratification and double-taps. The trend itself is nothing other than self sexualization, a learned behavior. Has this aesthetic of beauty been influenced by standards imposed on youth in their childhood? Are we still chasing after dolls?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), young girls are exposed to images of sexualization at a young age through cartoons and toys. Research conducted by the APA defines sexualization by any of the following characteristics: (1) placing value solely on sex-appeal and behavior and excluding other characteristics (2) holding people to a standard that equates beauty to sexiness (3) sexually objectifying people, or seeing them as objects of sexual pleasure rather than a human with independent action and decision making skills (4) inappropriately imposing sexuality on a person.

Even now as we are several years removed from playing with dolls, makeup trends now emulate the painted faces of our once treasured toys. Although I doubt grown women wake up in the morning saying, “today, I want to look like my old doll,” I do believe that we mimic standards of beauty were taught at an early time in our lives. The perfectly lined (and for some, over-lined) lips, contours, highlights, and constantly “fleeked” brows, are something we first saw on Bratz in 2001. Likewise, these dolls were sporting formfitting clothes and crop tops before we ever came of age. Is the parallel between these trends and the dolls a coincidence or a direct result of pre-exposed subliminal sexualization? Though the aesthetic of our age group and style of our toys seem related, only time will be able to determine the link between the two. Until then, I implore readers to pay attention to themes of sexualization and sexual-readiness in media and in children’s products. What message do these things send to you?

Jessica Smith – Senior Copy Editor

-Email Jessica at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @prima_noire