TY turns First Daughters into “Girlz”

crossposted from What Tami Said

I posted this on my blog last week. While I don’t particularly see this as a race issue, except where noted below, one commenter–the very astute Renee of Womanist Musings–said: “While I believe it is important for black children to have black dolls to play with I really dislike the idea of commodification without consent. Knowing that these companies are white owned further makes the recent spate of products designed to cash in on the Obamas offensive, I think it bothers me because whiteness has always assumed a right to our bodies. Perhaps if a portion of the profits were being given to the girls I would not mind as much.”

Your thoughts?

Bratz dolls are some of the creepiest, most disturbing toys I’ve ever seen. With pouty lips, trowel-applied makeup and club gear, what message are these dolls meant to send to the young girls they target? They celebrate a strange and dangerous modern feminine ideal: one that is infantile and stereotypically female (pink and festooned with butterflies), yet overtly sexual and preternaturally carnal (bared bellies and bedroom eyes). These are the toys little girls are to use for aspirational play. It is a sad reflection of the “pornification” of American culture. For all of the mud slung on Barbie (some of it by me), the damage done by the Mattel classic I grew up with seems minor in comparison. Interestingly, thanks to a lawsuit by Mattel, owner of the Barbie brand, as of December 2008, Bratz dolls are no more. Unfortunately, their legacy lives on.

Stroll through the girls’ section of your local Target or Wal-Mart and notice the glut of pink, purple and sparkles, next to low-slung jeans and cropped tees emblazoned with saucy sayings. And in the toy aisle, there are plenty of Bratzian dolls offered by competitors the Mattel behemoth hasn’t gotten around to squeezing out of the market. Take the TY Girlz (Replacing a boring “s” with a super-hip “z” makes a thing more au courant, or “crunk” if you will. Of course, it also makes our kids illiterate…), which are far less overtly sexual and offensive than Bratz, but still representative of what the blog, Packaging Girlhood, calls “dollZ”:

Well, you’ve heard from us quite a bit about the trend in dollZ to encourage little girls to play with teen dolls and everything marketers thing “teen” means. That is, Bratz and their followers party, have a passion for fashion, drink “juice” drinks in cosmo glasses, fly in jet planes, shop, and hang out in hot tubs. Read more…

Packaging Girlhood reports that TY is adding two new dolls to its line of glam Girlz: one for each of the young Obama girls. And rather than portray the pair for what they are: smart, poised and beautiful little girls with (I imagine) a variety of interests, the company is making their bodies more mature and accessorizing them with butterflies and hearts.

WELCOME MALIA AND SASHA to the world of teens. TY has made two dolls, Sasha and Malia, to match their other dolls. They’re the same height, look very teen, and even have breasts. What’s going on here? Read more…

(See video of the dolls here)

I agree with Packaging Girlhood that making the Obama dolls appear more physically mature than their real-life namesakes is reflective of a societal trend that matures young girls too early, but unhooked from that baggage, I actually find the Malia an Sasha dolls rather benign. The dolls appear older than the real girls, but still youthful. And despite the “girly” imagery in the video on the TY site, a creative little girl can make their Malia or Sasha do whatever she chooses, regardless of typical gender roles. I wasn’t that fascinated with dolls as a kid, but when I played with, say, Barbie, I always made her an adventurer. She was always heading to the Grand Canyon or somewhere in her tricked-out RV. Ken rode “shotgun” and read the map.

The existence of the Sasha and Malia dolls, in fact, may be a good thing, viewed through the lens of race. Kiri Davis’ re-execution of the infamous “doll test” proved that racial bias and self-esteem is reflected even in the choice of playthings. I am old enough (which is really not so very old) to remember when it was hard to find black dolls (or any dolls “of color”), much less ones designed to celebrate real role models. It is a good thing that my nieces can play with dolls that look like them (and that for the first time we have a First Family in which black children can see themselves). And I am glad to know that, no doubt, children of many races will want to have replicas of the little Obamas in their doll collection. Maybe a doll test done 20 years from now will have different results.

But our kids deserve a range of playthings that are free from all “isms”–those related to gender and race. And it is good that Packaging Girlhood is monitoring the messages that are marketed to growing girls. What pathologies will the next generation of girls be burdened with–the ones who have grown up on Paris Hilton and Bratz dolls? And what impact will this culture of early sexualization have on girls of color, who society already brands as naturally sexually aggressive and promiscuous?

I think the Sasha and Malia Ty Girlz are okay, but a lot of toys marketed at our children are not. We ignore them at our society’s peril.


First Lady Michelle Obama disapproves of the commodification of “young, private citizens.” And improbably, TY claims the dolls are not meant to represent the first children, but some other random Sasha and Malia. Riiiight. Read more…

Read Jessica Bennett’s “The Pornification of a Generation” in Newsweek.

(Hat tip to Jezebel)

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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