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Alternatives to Barbie and Bratz

Updated on August 22, 2014

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.

American Teen

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.

Takara Jenny

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?

See results

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.

Thoughts to Share?

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    • tobydavis profile image

      tobydavis 4 years ago

      Thought provoking lens : Body image plays such a central role in a girl's sense of self worth and can be imprinted on her at a young age.

      Whether Barbies are out and out bad, I don't know. Can playing with a barbie be any worse for a girl, than so many of the toys for boys that center around violence.

      It certainly brings into question a lot of the 'lessons' we may be unintentionally teaching our children, via the toys they play with.

      The alternatives to barbie you offer here, are a great way of bringing some perspective and context for a little girl. Perhaps even allowing for a mixture of dolls, including Barbie.

      I think the most important thing is that a little girl feels loved and valued for being who she is, how that is achieved, probably varies from child to child.

      Wonderful lens!

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 4 years ago

      I have nothing against Barbie, but think that kids need a selection of dolls in general. Probably TV has more impact on their view of their bodies, and everything else for that matter. We parents have to keep an eye on everything!

    • profile image

      palladay 4 years ago

      Thank you SOOO much for posting this! This sounds so flaky/liberal/progressive/hippie of me, but I was horrified when my 3 yo asked for a Barbie for Christmas. I don't want her to have body image issues as she grows into a young adult and the traditional Barbie sets a really unrealistic expectation of women's body types. These are a perfect selection!

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 4 years ago

      I love dolls and it is so wonderful to see all these alternatives! My daughter recently showed me something she found online: comparisons of Barbies from 1950s and now showing how much slimmer she has become- it's pretty disgusting!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      I think you nailed it with concerns about watching TV and real life situations. Kids have vivid imagination and they can believe this or that today and something totally different tomorrow.

      I really don't mind if Barbie is thinner than average girl. I don't care if a child is playing with pink dinosaurs. Toys are only objects in their plays. Role models are people from kid's life.

      If kid is lucky, these are parents and teachers, if not - random folk from the street. Like it or not, we are social beings, our knowledge grows from our experience and we always try to repeat what we have already seen (experience).

    • profile image

      GrinningFool 5 years ago

      Great lens on the alternatives. I did not mind Barbie dolls as much as I hated Bratz. Would not, could not buy those for my daughter.

    • AnnMarie7 profile image

      AnnMarie7 5 years ago

      Barbies are okay, and of course my granddaughters play with them, but I don't think they're a good choice for older girls. I do like the Liv dolls because they have more modest clothing choices and seem less glam. One thing that did bother me was RuPaul dolls. Someone would buy this doll for their child because...??

    • angelsigh profile image

      angelsigh 5 years ago

      Great lens! I'm gonna feature it on my Barbie lens. Choices are always good. Well, almost always ;)

    • profile image

      gemjane 5 years ago

      Good to know there are some alternative dolls out there! Especially the ethnically diverse dolls. And "yeah" for paper dolls! Nice to know that there are still lots of dolls more like real people that little girls can play with.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Hopefully, most little girls will just see these as dolls and not notice their figures. You do have some great alternatives here. Right now, Monster High dolls are the rage in my home.