Tuesday, October 09, 2007

These Dolls Don't Play Nice

I was at the Hallmark store the other day getting birthday cards when I saw a rack of Ty Girlz – plush adolescent-looking dolls accompanied by an online code which grants the buyer entry into the Ty Girlz virtual world. I was curious about what Ty (the company that makes these dolls as well as the popular Beanie Babies) had created as their world, and why lately, I have witnessed an outbreak of teenager dolls (think Bratz, This is Me, etc.). I decided to buy one and do some of my own dollerific research.

Perusing my options, I wondered why all the dolls had such downright mean and sarcastic facial expressions. It seems we Americans think that teenage insolence is the coolest thing around, and further reinforce this idea—often culturally attributed to movies, music videos, and celebrities—by selling such dolls to 6 to 13-year-old girls. (I recalled a small girl I had seen the day before in a parking lot, strutting around in a mini skirt and high-heeled boots while holding her mother’s hand. It seemed to me the sale of those clothes benefited the manufacturer more than her.) In the end, I chose Rockin’ Ruby, a rocker chick in all-black faux vinyl or leather. Outfitted with a belly-button ring, choker (wow, a whole ’nother blog could be written on why it’s called that!), platforms, and oodles of makeup, she seemed like the toughest of the lot. (They each sported heels of some sort, makeup, and plenty of accessories though.)

As it turned out, Rockin’ Ruby had just been “retired” (no more of her type of doll will be made), but I could see from her goodbye messages in Ty Girlz world that her persona was a young woman on tour with a band, a teenager whose “positive” traits of independence and musical talent were actually just a hankering to party and dress like a celebrity bad-girl. The rest of the Ty Girlz were equally as into being flirty and glamorous (aka sexually suggestive and super-duper slim) according to their bios and appearances—but who can enjoy your own snazziness when you’re so busy worrying about how you look and which new clothes you need to buy? (You apparently also “NEED” to buy the rest of the Ty Girlz dolls to complete your collection, a direct marketing effort built straight into this world for girls.)

I apologize for judging the dolls based on their external features and certainly hope I am not promoting any negative stereotypes by discussing the personality types these dolls are meant to be, but it’s important to point out that someone purposely created their “looks” and “personas” in order to turn a profit. These skinny, lollipop-headed dolls make cool the anorexic/bulimic body figure, as if feeling bad about yourself, your life, and the state of the world, is normal or even fun and desirable. They imitate the insecurity many of us feel about our external appearances, activities, and relationships—and that makes them cool enough to buy? How confusing.

The Ty company, by involving real girls in their dolls’ virtual world, have infused these toys with a celebrity effect: that of being role models despite that they’re not real people in girls’ personal lives. The Ty Girlz world is a higher-pitched, curliqued version of the commercial MTV atmosphere. As I surfed the site, loud rock or dance music erupted from my screen to accompany chat rooms, fitting rooms, and bedrooms. All there is to do is shop (for clothes or furniture for your house), chat, and play games that all center around a gabby (even catty), sexy climate—and one that ultimately is simply there to endorse the Ty product. After playing some shopping, dressing, and dancing games (whose characters ask you aloud in a girls’ voice to help them “look perfect” or “look my best”), I became hopeful that the trivia game might offer a more interesting and 3-dimensional horizon to this world. When I found that it only featured Ty Girlz “facts,” I truly felt the narrow confines of the Ty Girlz universe: It would be like living in a mall, where every fashion, friend, activity, and thought is dictated to you. For all its colors, cell phone rings, zooming cars, makeover before-and-after shots, and easily-earned Girlz world money—all you have to do is stay and play, and your bank account fills again—its shallow interactivity would not normally hold girls’ attention. But feeling bad about what they look like, what activities they do, and how much money they have compared to their co-avatars sure might.

I am highly disappointed that today’s toys—objects that used to stimulate children’s imaginations—now tell girls not only how to play with them and who they should aspire to become but also who to be now. (One could criticize traditional babydolls for influencing girls’ hopes of eventual motherhood, but Ty Girlz and other such dolls pressure girls to be chic, sexually active, and exterior-focused in their current lives.) And while the Ty Girlz dolls may be accompanied by a bajillion play options that seem to expand or improve upon real-life make-believe—She’s not hard plastic! She’s a friend closer to your age! You can buy her tons of virtual outfits in any color!—her personality, fashion sense, wishes, and ambitions are built-in and pretty unchangeable. (Yes, Rockin’ Ruby’s shiny silver panties are woven into her skin and the rest of her clothes are sewn on—not to mention, the size of her head ensures that she will stick with her current top forever. Clearly, this IS the outfit she wants to be wearing.)

Even if I consider social or community aspects offered by the Girlz world that one might not have with a regular ol’ lone toy, in addition to the confusion between doll and self caused by the online avatar world, these dolls as playthings teach girls that appropriate friendship activities are to “dress up your room” and “give your girls makeovers.” (In imitation of today’s narcissistic ‘social networking’ friendship sites, the “All About Me” section is coming soon to tygirlz.com.) The Girlz chat-room scene is equally as grim. The fact that—against a background of animated silhouettes clubbing—clickable pre-written phrases exist to aid girls too young to type gives me a clear signal that perhaps they shouldn’t be there, and that this is not a place where real friends are found. (Moreover, the fact that I signed up as a 25-year-old yet had full access to the chat rooms doesn’t make me feel any better about the security of girls who might be excited by a stranger’s flattery.)

One website cannot of course single-handedly make a girl devalue herself, no less contribute to how secure she is as she becomes a woman in her teenage years. But in a nation where girls’ (and therefore women’s) self-esteem is dropping, I would say that it certainly adds to—and profits from—the cacophony of voices telling females of all ages who and how to be.

But enough of my ideas—what do YOU think about these dolls? What are your opinions about doll ages (baby, girl, teen, adult)? Do you have TY Girlz or similar dolls with an online playspace? How are they the same and different than dolls that don’t have an online world? What do you think are the pros and cons of playing online? Feel free to disagree with anything I said or comment on a related question I didn’t mention—let your voice be heard! I look forward to reading…


Anonymous said...

As much as I love the New Moon blog, you guys defiantly need to post more by girls, less by employees... that's what it's al about, right?

Heather said...

We're always looking for blog entries written by girls! In fact, if you or any girls you know have something you'd like to blog about you can type it up and submit it to blog@newmoon.org. We'll be checking our inbox in anticipation!

Anonymous said...

I just saw these same dolls yesterday at our local Hallmark store, but didn't realize what they were. Thank goodness my daughter doesn't know about them, because she would be begging me to buy her one! She is totally obsessed right now with the Webkinz world, which is the animal version put out by the same people. Fortunately, from what I've seen, the only people she's interacting with in the Webkinz world are people that she knows in real life.

I am more and more disturbed by the constant marketing to the "tween" group, of which my daughter is right in the middle of. She is just 9.5, and while still innocent in many ways, is so obviously influenced by this marketing. We talk about it constantly, but I can tell that she thinks that I'm just an old-fogey mother who worries too much.

In spite of the fact that these dolls are teenagers, you know that teenagers could care less about them. They are marketed to the younger crowd, the same way the TV shows (i.e. Hannah Montana) are all marketed to the younger girls. Most teenagers find this stuff silly.

I would really like to see restrictions put on marketing to young children, but I doubt that our country will ever do that. And as long as parents and relatives continue to buy these dolls for young girls, they will continue to sell. I am shocked at the number of people who will buy these for 3-4 year old girls!

I don't have an answer for how to deal with it beyond constant vigilance and just downright refusal to purchase these types of toys. Our answer as a family is to move away from a big metropolitan area to a very small rural town in New England where we will need to go to a small local store to buy cards, and the chain stores like Hallmark, etc., don't even exist.

The less my daughter is exposed to this stuff, the happier we will all be.

Devin said...

Wow. I am just so sick of steryotypes. However you spell it. I have not seen these girls in stores, but I have heard about them and seen pictures. It is horrible that these dolls look like this- and it's even worse on the websites where you can learn MORE about their suggestive appearences. Its sad that dolls, in general, are like this. Polly Pockets are not only pocket-sized (hence the name) Their arms are as thin as their lips.
I prefer Webkinz more than these human online sites. It is a similar idea, but they are animals. Monkeys, dogs, cats, bears, tigers, elephants... and the purpose is to "care for" the pet. Many people say that sites like these don't let you use your imagination, but I think that Webkinz does. You can crate it's room, feed it, and let it walk around your room. In a way, it's introducing small children to civilization. You complete games to earn virtual money, which you can buy thinks with to decorate your room, or to buy food. The user has to spend money wisely, something that happens in the real world of teens and adults.
Thanks for the interesting article!


ps. sorry for the spelling errors, I'm not a great speller.

Anonymous said...

Ty Girlz are great!They have cute clothes,too.I just don't like the belly rings.

Anonymous said...

Ty girlz are so fun! They also have the cutest oufits!

Anonymous said...

I have (or used to, it expired) a Webkinz. It is a online plush animal with a code, but unlike TY Girls, it is an animal. On the site I can play games like Soaring Typer, where you must type quickly to fly a plane. I can also answer trivia at Quizzy's Question Corner. The categories are math, science, writers, fun facts and My World. Webkinz World sets a better example on childen than TY Girls because it promotes education and caring for pets. (you must feed, exercise, and play with your online pet).

Anonymous said...

Wow!! Thats terible!! I notice a lot of yonger girls play with these dolls.

Anonymous said...

yeah i know like little girls think they have to look the same as the doll.Like with those dolls they think they have to be bad for people to like them.=(

Unschoolgirl said...

I saw those dolls in the store and got so angry! I watched a little girl pick up the toy and beg her mom for it. In the end, the mom gave in. These dolls really DO make girls think that they are not good enough. Not to mention they show WAY to much skin and don't look like teens. Or kids for that matter! That really needs to change! In my opinion It's the media. That's what it is. The media.
What i also really don't like, is the love for polly pockets my little sisters share. they don't look like real girls. In ANY way. It's just so sad the way girls feel about themselves these days.
It's wrong. So wrong.
I like webkinz much more than those other sites.
TY girls, are just awful. I can't find the word to express my utter revolsion.

Wait until you people see a site called "stardoll.com". You'll go crazy.

Anonymous said...

Hey New Moon Girls!
I just want to say that I agree with the person who typed taht blog. I believe that they shouldn't be able to sell dolls like that to six-year-olds.

Once I saw this girl in the mall wearing a mini-skirt and holding a sequin tote bag. She also had lip-gloss smeraed on her lips. See what the media and other stereotypes turn girls like that 7-year-old I saw in the mall? I'm not saying that all dolls are stereotypes, I'm saying that the ones that are, are turning girls bad.

Some dolls cover up by making movies that are pink and fluffy and tell girls how to be yourself, and they show this super thin blonde smiling, with pink flowers and sparklers everywhere. I agreed with the girl apposing the Barbie in the Barbie Debate in one of the New Moon issues.

Those dolls are turning young girls into fashion divas like Reese Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde".

Anonymous said...

my mom and i have always felt this way about the "Bratz" collection, but could never put it into words like you did. great job!!!

Nobodie said...

The doll companies try to cover up the stereotypeness by giving messages in their movies, "Follow your dreams....bleah blah blah blah." But guess who's saying it: a young, thin, blonde, American girl with pink lipstick and perfect teeth. I don't think so! And it's working. Little girls are in love with Barbie, and there's no way to stop it. Soon, the Barbie comapny will take over all the doll companies, and hypnotize little girls with pink make up and seguin totes and chunky necklaces. Ggggaahhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nobodie said...

Thank You very much! And I'm only eleven years old!

Anonymous said...

Where can I get one?

Anonymous said...

not that im bragging or anything.

Anonymous said...

I have a TyGirlz doll and I love having her! Safe chat is a great thing for kids. You cannot write it if it's not in the TyGirlz dictionary! That's great.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with Barbies and we never once ever related the dolls to reality. There was never a "I have to look like this or dress like this" Barbie was a vehicle for hours of imaginative fun which I feel inspired me to grow up and have a creative career. Little girls do no look at Bratz or TyGirlz as whores until they hear an adult mention it first. They see a doll that they can dress up and play pretend with. Watch the videos on the Ty site and these kids are using tons of imagination. Also the TyGirlz dolls have gone through a makeover (2008)and look more wholesome Limited2 than club girl Bratz so I think mothers will feel more comfortable with them. The site if you look at it more as virutal paperdolls isnt going to corrupt your child. It does still need improvements but its a great site that keeps improving.