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Alternatives to Barbie and Bratz
Singing the Praises... and Some Concerns
Lately I've been exploring the role of Barbie in children's lives. When I was a kid myself, I had a Ballerina Barbie and several inexpensive imitations. I never thought of Barbie as a role model, and I didn't give a lot of thought to her proportions.
But I needed adult characters in my play. My fashion dolls were alternatively teenagers and adults, mothers and teachers, storybook characters from long ago. I am not sure when I first heard the controversies surrounding her little plastic self. There are several things to consider: her body type, her makeup and clothing, her wanton consumption of pink sports cars.
I've come across moms of forums discussing alternatives. Their responses sent me on a bit of a journey -- surely there were more Barbie alternatives -- other dolls that are like Barbie, but not quite like Barbie. The Only Hearts Club? But those dolls are little girls! If a child just wants a "big kid doll" to tote around, dress, and accessorize, they'll serve. But is she engages in complex play with her dolls, those little girl dolls won't be good stand-ins for the adult actors.
I sifted through thirty pages of Amazon results and also followed a few hunches to uncover some little plastic people that don't appear on Amazon. Here are some alternates to Barbie... and the Bratz dolls which many of us find more objectionable.
Character Dolls: More Realistic Figures and Clothing
Some modest and attractive dolls are actually TV or movie spinoffs. I hadn't heard of the movie "Wizards of Waverly Place" when I came across this doll, but the magic wand was a tip off that there was a story of some sort. She comes in quite a few varieties and outfits, but it's a less glamorized wardrobe than Barbie -- including a lot of basic street clothes. (And, no, these don't don't all come with wands.)
I believe, as a child, I would have used this as a basic adult actor in a lot of play. I was amused recently to see a post, written a decade earlier, from a mom who had chosen to give a Mary-Kate doll as opposed to a Barbie because of the more appropriate figure and clothing.
Kurhn Fashion Doll
I just discovered the Chinese company, Kurhn, though I gather it is fairly well known in the United States. Many of the dolls have Asian features while others are blonde or red headed. There are some demurely dressed fashion dolls (probably older editions), and some with Disney Minnie-themed costuming.
Some are listed under the brand name "Keer", which I believe is a distributor.
Mixis Dolls: Mixed Ethnicity Dolls with Realistic Figures
The Mixis dolls aren't available from Amazon, but you can order them from several online dealers. Each doll represents someone of mixed ancestry. The dolls are slim, but don't have the hourglass shape of traditional fashion dolls. The Mixis company designed them for children eight to twelve -- as well as for collectors of all ages.
These realistic dolls are worth seeking out.
Most fashion dolls with "realistic figures" are still thinner than the average person. Not so with American Teen. At 10 inches, this doll is a little smaller than Barbie, but will work in the same scale -- she's 5 ft to Barbie's 5 ft 9. After all, real women aren't all 5 ft 9! (I personally don't object to Barbie, but I do think the average doll family can use a bit more diversity.)
There are other dolls in the line, but some are hard to come by. There is a black female American Teen doll named Tara and one named Dominique. The Amazon description notes that Dominique wants to become a teacher.
Perspectives on Barbie
The doll's clothing and accessories have some bearing on how a child chooses to play with a doll. But I think more of the role play has to do with what she's seen on TV or the movies, what she's read, what she's heard about from peers or adults. Which is more significant, I wonder: whether a child is taught by a commercial to value a particular doll/ object for a particular reason -- or whether she actually owns the doll?
What do Barbies signify to children, and are they a healthy toy? Here are some more perspectives.
- Middle School Perspectives on Barbie
What do kids have to say about Barbie? Here are the results of two studies of middle schoolers. Many express ambivalence, liking some things but expressing concern over others. Some boys expressed that they would have liked to have used Barbie to act
- A Catholic Mom's Perspectives
Thoughts from a Catholic homeschooling mom who has realized that she is in the minority, in her own peer group, when it comes to accepting and embracing Barbie. She notes that children act what they know. (Her children's Barbie is a homeschooling mom
- A Short Sampling of Opinions on Barbie and Bratz
This writer used Twitter to sample the opinions of moms (and aunts).
- Study: Dolls as Role Models
This 1989 study asked four- to six-year-old children to speculate on the lives of three dolls: Barbie, Mrs. Heart, and She-Ra. (What does she like to do on Saturday night? What would she do if she had a conflict with a friend?)
Takara Jenny and Licca are Japanese Barbie alternatives. They have large eyes, but they create a very different appearance than the Bratz dolls -- little in the way of attitude here. The earlier dolls were modestly dressed. More recently they have introduced fashionista dolls with clothing that's more flamboyant and Barbie-esque -- and, yes, shorter -- but you can still get the modest ones.
Here's a modern Jenny with a long formal -- and that "princess look".
You can also look for the "Beautiful Mother" Licca doll, modestly dressed in denim pants and a striped shirt. She has a more mature look than most dolls in the line.
Jenny Fashion Dolls
Here you can see quite a few editions of Takara Jenny, some dating back to the 80's. You can still find older models of Jenny on eBay.
And There's Rosie!
Some folks buy the Rosie McDonnell doll just to get a fashion doll with more of a plus size figure. Unfortunately, Mattel didn't do as much with this doll as it might have -- like provide her with a nice wardrobe. If you have some sewing skills, you can go to town! Otherwise, you may have more success outfitting her in fashions designed for Ken.
In Search of a Plus-Size Role Model
There have been so few truly plus-size fashion dolls. The Turnblad sisters, from Hairspray, have been represented as such. However, some versions make them look a bit like a joke. (The mere fact that the show represents the 60's can go a long way toward making the ladies look unfashionable. I mean... a flip for a hairdo?)
I like the musical version of the Tracy Turnblad doll. I think she looks elegant in her pink dress and up-do. The song she's singing is not inappropriate and may even project a positive message. I know people have given this doll to young girls to send a message that folks with full figures can be beautiful. The one thing that gives me pause: the print on Tracy's pink boutique bags.
Your Turn: Issues With Barbie
If you don't like Barbie, what is it that bothers you most?
Moxie Girlz and Teenz: Less "On the Edge" than Bratz
Moxie Teenz and Moxie Girlz are two separate lines of dolls. I think the Girlz have a fashion sense and style that's more like what moms would want to see on their own teenagers.
The Teenz represent something of a midpoint between a Bratz doll and the doll that we might wish our little girls favored. They do wear quite a bit of makeup, but it's still toned down compared to Bratz. Their faces lack that look that says "attitude". I do think some of the clothing is a little provocative. Other ensembles, though, come across as sweet to me.
Moxie Teenz are larger than Barbie. Moxie Girlz, which resemble younger teenagers, are about an inch smaller than Barbie. They present more of a contrast to Bratz and Barbie as they don't tend to wear clothes that accentuate their figures. They have wholesome accessories: pets, school books, musical instruments. The Girlz aren't stand ins for adult characters in the play of an older child, but they could make good teen dolls for little girls.
Liv Dolls: A Mainstream Barbie Alternative
Liv dolls are among the more mainstream alternatives to Barbie. They're for the person who likes some things about Barbie, but wishes she was a bit less glammed up. You'll find a bit less glitz here, and generally more modest dress, though they do have some mini-dresses in their wardrobes. The figure is a little different than Barbie's as well.
Yue-sai Wa Wa - A Chinese Fashion Doll
Here she is, a strong female character, Yue-sai Wa Wa. Yue Sai was designed by a Chinese woman and is available in several styles. Some focus on glamour, others on work. Here she is depicted as a doctor, one who blends Western medicine and herbalism -- you might think of her as an alternative to Career Barbie.
Happy Family Grandma
A More Realistic Figure... and Some Laugh Lines
Happy Family Grandma and Grandpa are no longer being manufactured by Mattel. You can still find them online, though: both the Caucasian and African American dolls. It looks like eBay has better deals than Amazon.
You can buy Grandma or Grandpa separately with a stack of baby accessories or you can buy Grandma and Grandpa together with their kitchen. Some sets are brand new, some used. This creates a good deal of the price difference, but some are simply better deals. Some people also make handmade clothes to fit Grandma -- she's not plus size, but she's not skinny or hourglass shaped either.
Barbies With Other Body Types
Some of the modern Barbies marketed to children have proportions very different than the much publicized ones of bygone years. The waist is larger, the bust a good deal smaller -- but Barbie is still thinner and has more of an hourglass shape than the average person. She has become possible but not typical.
- Barbie at Piano