[Image: A makeunder of a Bratz Cloe doll. On the left is Cloe in full makeup with large lips. On the right is Cloe with her face repainted to look as if she is not wearing makeup.]
People have been doing “make unders” on Bratz dolls for a while now. At first glance, it looks like a solid idea. Bratz dolls are sexualized, caked in makeup, and wearing tiny clothes. What could be better than stripping that all away to repaint their faces so they look like “real” girls? But what message are these made under dolls sending and is it the message that should be sent?
It’s one thing to identify problems with the Bratz dolls and entire media franchise and I have done that until the proverbial cows have returned, left again, and come back with McDonald’s. Bratz characters are one-dimensional caricatures of young women who can only think about clothing and boys. It shows femininity and being a girl as something that exists within an enclosed space of superficial wants which allows no room for a girl who likes to read or wants to pay attention in class or dares to do anything with her life other than be a fashion designer.
The problem is not that the Bratz are wearing makeup. That is far too simple a concept to say that makeup is what makes the Bratz bad role models and examples of femininity for young girls everywhere. Because makeup is something that women can enjoy and like to use. It should not be unanimously declared dangerous or problematic. Makeup can be a symptom of beauty standards shoved onto girls at a very young age, but it doesn’t have to be.
Neither does their revealing outfits or the urban style in which the dolls are dressed. Some women wear revealing outfits. Some women dress like the Bratz dolls and do so because it makes them feel fulfilled and empowered. Makeup isn’t the problem and neither are the clothes.
So what’s the problem? The problem is a combination of factors which together deliver a message of female appearance and actions with no alternative presented. It shows there is one way to be a girl and it’s this way. It gives young children role models to think of as extensions of themselves and allows them to play only as one example of femininity. That example is already mirrored all over pop culture and gives children who want something different no other option.
It would be too easy if we could say that banning makeup or short dresses would solve the issue with Bratz dolls. But it goes much deeper into what the dolls represent and how the dolls present adult concepts such as sexualization, autonomy, and identity to their young audience. When young girls look at their dolls and see nothing but one shallow stereotype of feminine behavior with no variety or engagement, the message received is a dangerous one of upholding beauty standards, conforming to societal expectations for women, and never questioning either because the dolls have assured them that this one way of being a girl is called being true to yourself and that following the crowd is being an individual.
I regularly come down hard on the Bratz franchise for setting a poor example for their audiences. But the Bratz are not the Bratz solely because they are wearing makeup and outfits adult women would wear to go clubbing. Girls who want to dress like this and feel empowered while doing so deserve a space in society and a voice in feminism. The message of fake individualism, conformity, and subservience to beauty standards is what makes the Bratz so dangerous.
[Image: Makeunder of a Bratz Yasmin doll. Left shows Yasmin in full makeup. Right shows her with her face repainted to look as if she isn’t wearing any makeup.]
Making under their dolls does little to combat this massive problem. Making their dolls over to be famous, accomplished women is a step in the right direction, but it’s just a step. We can’t blame makeup or clothing on this societal issue. The more we try to, the more we divert everyone’s attention from the real problem and continue to sexualize women and girls who dress like real-life Bratz.
Like all societal problems of this nature, there is no one simple solution and I’m certainly not going to even attempt to pose one. The Bratz dolls were created in order to make money and make money they did. In the end, the creators are not interested or even concerned about the huge social and psychological burden that has been placed on them when their consumers are so young and impressionable. Selling a sexualized, made up doll in a short skirt made people money the easiest way they knew how.
For any examples of how little the Bratz media team cares about the quality of the entertainment associated with the dolls, please feel free to view any of the thousands upon thousands of words I’ve already devoted to it. When girls are presented with role models, there should be room for all role models. Banning women who wear makeup and revealing clothes does not help anyone, because these women are women as well and deserve to be heard.
At the same time, presenting one type of woman to millions of young girls and not allowing them to see any other representations of what it means to be female in society is a deeply-ingrained issue that will take a lot more to fix than simply repainting a doll’s face. All women deserve to be present and respected, no matter if they wear makeup to make them look more conventionally attractive, or never wear anything on their faces and don’t care what society’s view of beauty is. When it comes to being a woman, there is no right or wrong way and it needs to be made clear to young girls that however they express or don’t express themselves is the right way to do it.