Jobs for the girls

There’s a popular series of Barbie dolls called ‘I want to be…’, all based on careers for girls to aspire to be. It where the astronaut and teacher Barbie dolls fit.

I was thinking about these Barbie dolls some time ago and wondering whether the idea of a career doll is useful to a child’s imagination. I was actually thinking about my own dolls and costumes.

Thinking back to when I played with dolls as a young child I remembered that my dolls didn’t have jobs, instead they went on adventures. I would get the duvet off the bed and scrunch it into a heap (pretend mountain) making a little hole halfway up for a cave and a place for Barbie to camp. The play was of Barbie hiking to the bed and using rope (a shoelace) to climb the steep side of the bed up to the top and the final climb up the mountain to the cave where she would set out her few belongings from her backpack and settle down for the night. Or she’d go to the pretend beach and swim in the ocean bathtub. Imagination I had in spades.

My parents bought me the super duper Barbie camper which kind of ended the mountain climbs but then came long distance driving to the country of “Living Room” and of course, being a big camper Barbie took friends.

If this is how kids play (and I only have my own experience to go on) then is a career Barbie any use?

Let’s be honest, an 8 hour shift is no adventure and someone only focused on earning money is quite frankly, rather boring to be around.

Imagine being one of Barbie friends…

On a nice hot Saturday we all decide to go to the beach, because in imaginary land we all live near the beach. We grab our towels, costumes, lotion, beach ball etc… and off we go.

We run onto the warm sand taking our shoes off to feel the grains of sand between our toes and turn to our best friend to tell her how great today is going to be… but Barbie isn’t there! Nope.

Barbie of course is the sodding lifeguard. Of course she is!

Her day at the beach is sitting in a chair watching people have fun and the only excitement is having a whistle to blow at people. Boring. And yet, that’s what toy manufacturers seem to base our play times on.

What is this obsession with ‘being’ someone?

I remember hearing a wee anecdote about a teacher asking her kids what they wanted to be when they grow up. One little wise one replied, “Happy”. So much of life and our place in life revolves around a job title and we know, when we meet someone new one of the first things they will want to know is our job title. But is that right?

What if, instead of forcing our imagination into an eight hour shift with Barbie is… we changed our thinking with Barbie goes…

Barbie goes to school and instead of having to stand for hours on end in high heels teaching a gang of obnoxious kids she attended an art class, or learnt to ride a motorbike. Barbie goes to the beach and catches a crab, real adventures rather than eight hour shifts.

Saying all this though, I remember wanting to be a shop keeper as a child. I remember getting everyone’s shoes, lining them in a row and pretending to sell shoes. Later when I was old enough to have nail polish I remember pretending to have a job painting nails. I had a notebook that I had drawn nails into and painted them with my polish, and wishing I could have a job where I painted nails but who on earth would be daft enough to pay someone to paint their nails?

On the other hand I was also looking at the Lammily doll (www.lammily.com) an alternative to Barbie and her body size problems. I liked Lammily at first, or rather I liked that someone was offering up alternatives, but the more I look at Lammily the more I like Barbie. I know there are some folk out there (actually some are friends of mine) who think doll making isn’t art but I disagree. You need to be an artist to make a doll. Lammily though was made purely through mathematics.

A mathematician decided he would take the average measurements of girls and produce a doll based on those measurements. Great idea, but like I say, doll making is an art form not a science. Like all great brands Lammily also has a brand strap line, Average is beautiful.

So, Lammily comes onto the market, an average doll living an average life. Modern mummy’s flocked to buy the doll that wouldn’t make their child aspire to be skinny and long necked. Feminists applauded a less bimbo stereotyped doll. Her average life offers an additional pack of stickers to personalise your average doll. Sanitary towel stickers for when the doll gets a period, stretch marks (for when she’s had a baby or lost weight perhaps) acne stickers, bruise stickers (for when your average boyfriend punches you?) cut stickers (for when life is too depressing?)

I know, it’s not funny is it.

Whatever hidden message people think Barbie is flogging it isn’t shouting average. Be average, don’t stand out, don’t make a scene, celebrate being normal. Don’t make a fuss. Let’s be honest, we’re not average people, we’re all different so surely a doll shouting how being average is cruelty at its worst. You don’t want to be different, you want to be like everyone else, different is wrong.

Being an astronaut sounds fun. Getting to spend a year aboard a space station sounds like a great idea, but into the third week I’d be bored. Same old view from the window (do they get Netflix up there?) even the novelty of peeing in zero gravity will eventually wear off. But given the choice, I’d rather aspire to be an astronaut than average.

Bang Bang

When I made the cowboy outfit for MLCD (My little crochet doll) I pondered whether it was right. Should I be making dolls that typically carry guns?
I live in the UK, where Cowboys/Cowgirls are in short supply, but I’m pretty sure there is more to being a cow-person than shooting things.

Feeding cows, herding cows, counting cows… Yeah, we sure do have a shortage of cow-personnel around here.
The question I really had, and still have is, Should I make an outfit with a weapon?

 For years the question has been asked about violence in play, more recently in video gaming. Both sides have good arguments but as a long time gamer (although a bit of a chicken with violent games) I fall slightly to the gamers defence.

Can we blame a murderers behaviour on video games? People have been killing people long before TV, computers and video games were even thought of. Besides, if computer games influenced people into becoming what they play then I suppose many Facebook gamers would have left their office blocks to become farmers. Perhaps there is more to turning violent than playing violent games.

As with all hobbies and interests, there are those who enjoy the fun and those who have a problem distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

No truer example of this is found at Kings Cross station and the 9 3/4 platform where believe it or not, people have physically hurt themselves by running into the wall. While most of us realise it won’t take us the Hogwarts because we’re muggles, evidence shows that people actually believe they might just make it through.

I remember many years ago, one of my nephews was playing a notorious computer game, Grand Theft Auto. He was well below the recommended age for the game but had somehow persuaded a grown up to buy him a copy.

I asked him to show me how to play the game and he certainly did.

The purpose of the game is to commit crime, avoid the police and complete some missions, but the graphics and play of the game meant that you were free to roam around a virtual city and do anything you like.

My nephews computer character walked into the middle of the road and an oncoming car slowed to a stop. My nephew (as the character) pulled the driver from his car and got in, then drove off, hitting pedestrians on the way. All fun and games till someone gets hurt.

Driving round the city he found a dark alley with a woman walking along the curb and slowly drove alongside her. 

“If you drive real slow she gets in the car” he says, and yep the woman in the tight, short skirt poked her head through the window, then climbed into the passenger seat.

“Now you’ve got to drive somewhere quiet” and they drove to the beach and parked on the sand.

“Watch this” he says, as the car starts jumping up and down (yep, they really are doing what you think)

After a moment the woman gets out and his characters money shown on the screen goes down a little.

“Now, you’ve got to be really quick and kill her because she’s taken some of your money”.

Out he jumps and shoots the woman dead.

My innocent little nephew had no idea he had just mastered the ability to pick up a virtual prostitute and had learnt the ability to kill a woman to get his money back. To him and his tender age it was all a funny part of the game. He was far too young to understand what he had just shown his Aunty.

My nephew, thankfully, never grew up to be a gangster, nor did he begin driving down dark streets at night. He became a healthy, intelligent youth worker for the church, and now works as a carer for disabled adults, in his spare time he wrestles, but he’s as violent as a snail.

Though he didn’t quite grasp what he was doing, he was showing me something far beyond his years and I didn’t like it.

When I look at the news today I see it full of despair caused by hatred and violence, perhaps more than I have previously seen. In one sense, children can’t avoid gun violence and giving them a toy gun to play with is giving them something they see on TV and real life. 

Do I want to pretend violence doesn’t exist?

In 2014 a photograph of 4-year old Syrian refugee, Hudea, went viral. The photographer, Osman Sağırlı was using a long camera lens that the girl mistook for a weapon, a terrified look came on her face and she raised her hands in surrender.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-32121732

Kids today know what a weapon looks like, they see them on the news, TV, toy shops, video games, but it’s all fake or virtual. It’s not real, it’s on a screen or it comes in plastic with a bright red cap to prove it’s fake.

Suddenly we are faced with a child as young as four. Not in a game or TV show, but a child who knows only too well how to react to the reality of a weapon.
There is another concern, where the weapon were once bow and arrow, now it’s guns, what will be the next weapon of choice for future kids? A machete? toy bombs? I google my fear, knowing already someone has been there… Someone has already made a suicide vest Barbie.

Then I read about the “Lion and Lamb” project who run toy exchanges, allowing kids to bring in their violent weapons in exchange for non-violent toys, or the “Guns aren’t fun” project set up by 16 year old Cody Hill, who exchange toy guns for sports equipment.

One such exchange programme happened at the Salvation Army in Marquette, Michigan. They explained that they hoped they could get toys to kids that weren’t associated with death and destruction.

Suddenly I see another argument that makes sense. With the Salvation Army, known for working in poorer areas of the world I can imagine many of the children they come across have seen the result of guns and violence. If a child has suffered the nightmare of seeing a friend or family member lose their lives to gun violence, do we want to be giving them a weapon as a play item? 

I took a trip to one of my local toy stores, The Entertainer. I don’t always manage to look around this shop because it doesn’t open on Sunday’s. The owner, as a Christian, believes in the keeping Sunday Special idea. I know many Christian families who appreciate the ethics of not selling on Sunday and choose this shop over the other alternatives in town.

I’m a regular at all of the local shops (If you make dolls, you need to keep an eye on what’s happening in toy land). As I walked around the shop, taking notice of the boy toys and weapon toys. This shop seems to sell more nerf guns and warfare toys than the other shops, which stock more playmobil, Lego and outdoor toys. I walk around the ‘boy’ section, mostly stocking Nerf guns (they now have purple nerf guns for girls) and war styled action figures, words on the boxes stand out to me, doomlands, vagabond, dual-strike, retaliator, Battle ’em, Solder in action, stealth forces, beywarriors, Battle set, Super hero mashers, Star Wars, Avengers, Furious rampage, Civil war. I wonder how the Christian ethics of the shop feel about being the biggest seller of toy weapons in my town.  

I think about that little girl with her hands up, if I could make her any doll, what would it be? Certainly not a doll with a weapon.

Another little known fact about the Salvation Army. In the UK they help rescue 100s of people caught up in slavery in the UK. People brought to the UK in the guise of a better life, yet brought into slavery, and often with their family.

A friend of mine is part of a team that drives to locations across the country to collect rescued victims from the police and drive them to opposite ends of the county to safe houses. She asked me once about knitting teddy bears, because often she has children in the car. They don’t understand what is happening and often don’t know our language. They have a long (several hours) car journey and the thought of being able to give each child a teddy bear to hug during the journey just might help.

There can be something magical and healing in a doll or bear for a child. It’s one of the best things about making dolls, imagining the child who will receive it and the possible life-long friendship between child and doll. 

There has to be an alternative to the never ending supply of violence in boy-targeted toys, and perhaps me making dolls without weapons is a small step, but it at least is a step in the right direction

Teen Doll Comp Shop

I decided I would do a comp shop. This is where a fashion/textile designer goes around shops looking and comparing their items to what’s available.

However, instead of comparing clothing I would compare dolls. I wanted to see what was on offer in the teen doll market, usually the 11″ dolls like Barbie, aimed at young teen and pre-teen age.

In Leeds there are two toy shops, The Entertainer in the Trinity shopping centre, a small shop with a small selection of dolls and Smyths at the Crown Point retail centre. Smyths is a much larger shop, and I knew they would sell a wider variety than The Entertainer.

Interestingly enough though, The Entertainer I believe is a Christian owned brand, which is why they don’t open on Sundays. Sitting here I also realise I’ve never seen any of the ghoul and witchy style dolls that seem to be popular and I wonder if this is because of their beliefs.

I looked at dolls at Smyths and TK Maxx.

Barbie

Let’s start with the doll who has everything, or should we rephrase that as the doll who is everything?

Barbie seems to be the name everyone mentions when they complain about dolls and body image, but she has stood the time beating off several rivals over the years. When I was a kid it was Barbie or Sindy, but many of us had both dolls who played happily beside each other.

The good thing about Barbie (that I saw) is that she is the doll of variety. You can buy the Rock and Roll Barbie with outrageous clothing, the Style Barbie with eyelashes as long as her nose, or the wholesome Barbie with minimal make up, simple practical clothing and a bike with safety helmet.

Another thing I like about Barbie is her sisters, a very clever marketing idea, that has sister dolls of younger ages, making Barbie the doll to grow with as you age and grow out of Skipper, turning to Barbie the… well, how old would you put Barbie?

Am I the only one who used Skipper as Barbie’s child? Barbie, as an astronaut had to be in her 20’s at least. Am I the only one thinking this? That Barbie is old enough to be married with kids, yet toy manufacturers insist on keeping her barren?

As a child the best part of playing with dolls was the clothing, changing clothes, picking outfits, making new clothes out of old material. It’s nice to see that the clothes are returning to the shops. For a while the little stand-alone outfits seemed to disappear, leaving the only way to buy a new outfit was to buy a new doll. I have a theory that the lack of outfits for Barbie is the reason so many naked dolls are sold unwanted in charity shops. Kids wanted clothes, not dolls galore.

Bad points? Although clothing has made a come back it is very limited. Clothing came in at £6.99 for a small dress or £3.49 for a couple of accessories. I still don’t think enough is done to stop the mass of naked Barbies, and while supermarkets continue to sell a basic doll with outfit for around £6 the unwanted dolls will continue to add to landfill.

Yes she’s thin, yes she has a long neck, but she’s versatile and has stayed the test of time.

Monster High

 

When people complain about thin dolls then quote Barbie as the perfect example I feel the need to hang my head. Have you never seen a monster high doll? While the male dolls look like they’re on steroids the female dolls look severely anorexic.

I’ve yet to see additional outfits and while the dolls seem to be slightly more expensive than other dolls it’s the sad case of having to fork out for another doll over a new outfit. Each doll has additional parts depending on their character, for example, one might have fins on their legs. This would cause a problem in selling single outfits because of the variety of doll shapes.

I’m not quite sure what the appeal is, a skeleton doll or doll with two heads just doesn’t make me want to hand over my cash, which probably explains why I still haven’t bought one, I’ve been close, but something always stops me.

Traditional Disney Dolls

Buy the film, buy the doll. I see the concept, but don’t know how much imagination you can get from a Disney doll when it’s story has already been written. What if Snow White wanted to run away with Aladin or Ariel? Well she can’t because that’s not in the script.

There is also a theme running through Disney dolls, if you’re not a princess in a ball gown then you just don’t make the grade.

One trend I have noticed in dolls is the painted or moulded on clothing, it’s as though manufacturers have given up. They just can’t be bothered making a full outfit, so we’ll make a skirt and paint on the bodice. But then maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong and the first thing a child does when they get a doll isn’t to remove the clothes, but It’s what we all did, it’s why build-a-bear are so popular. Paint underwear on them to your hearts content, but please let us continue with the age-old tradition of taking off all the clothes and put them back on. It’s like female mechano, except instead of gaining dexterity with nuts and bolts it’s press fasteners and trying to get rubber non-slip legs into tight pants. It’s every little girls first ritual when acquiring a new doll. I beg you, please don’t take the ritual away from us.

Disney Descendants

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A new style of Disney dolls have arrived, the descendants are the children/grandchildren? of Disney heroes and heroines. I don’t know… that’s all I can say.

I don’t know who is who, Mal (above) is the child of Maleficent, a truly original name. Some inheritances remain, they all have Coronation editions (not outfits, you gotta buy another doll) so yep, all Princesses. The problem with only having a minuscule selection of darker skinned original characters is that through the ages the skin tones have blended to pretty much one, white (with very subtle shades of light skin), ‘Tis a crying shame I say.

Ever After high

Staying on the Fairy tale theme are the Ever After high dolls, again descendants of storybook characters. Pretty much same-old same-old, All princesses, all in private high schools. I can hear a voice in my mind, but they’re not all white… no, of course, there is a purple one!

By the look of the dolls they come from the same mould as Monster High, but aimed at the kids who wants a doll that doesn’t hide in their closet at night they made them cry. Who are they trying to kid!

Moxie

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Be True! Be You! with a Poopsy pet Panda. First of all, Panda’s don’t make good pets, and secondly… Green poop? I love that they put the rear view image on the box, just so you can see the Panda pooping. Great, I was just about to get my tea.

Moxie dolls are meant to encourage you to be confident in who you are, Be true, be you… Ok, so where’s the tomboy dressed, chubby kid that was me?

After a while it all feels like marketing garb with no real thought thrown in. It’s almost like they sat in their office one day listening to a YouTube video of some mother complaining about Barbie and her low morals and they just thought, “Hey lets make a doll that bleeds enthusiasm. Lets make her look like a the girl next door, with long blonde hair, short skirt… It just somehow feels as though this dolls style was made for the enquiring mind of a teenage boy rather than a young girl. I own a second hand Moxie doll and I admit, she’s cute, but there’s just something uncomfortable about the doll that makes me want to hide her when my nephews come to visit.

Bratz

Bratz are fashion concious dolls with attitude, smaller than Barbie, and thinner than is natural for a head that size, Bratz seemed to take on the Barbie doll, targeting the kids who just don’t want to be a princess or be a… well, they weren’t ready to play at careers. They just wanted to experiment with fashion and have fun.

There is just one problem. Yes, the clothes come off, but the shoes, well they come off too, but the feet come off with them leaving little bobble stumps. This only added to the naked unwanted doll problem because not only were doll discarded naked, but shoe-less, therefore, foot-less. Oh dear, we seem to be going backwards.

Bratz had cool playthings, like chopper bikes and sports cars, and boyfriends that not only looked the same age, but didn’t need to be substituted by Action Man (Ken, you just didn’t man up enough for my Barbie) I digress here but Action Man didn’t have a willy either, but at least they painted underpants on him so you could imagine he did.

The chunky shoes let the doll down for me, and a lot has been said recently about make-under dolls (removing the excessive make up and repainting a plain doll) It’s a great idea, but those teeny tiny eyes they paint on just look creepy.

Bratz dolls didn’t have sisters, but smaller and baby versions of themselves. This seems a great idea, especially for the adult who doesn’t want to admit they still have dolls. Get a small one you can hide in your bag.

Project MC2

When I first mentioned to a doll making friend that I’d seen science themed dolls, she remarked, Yep, but I bet they’re dressed in pink.

They’re not.

This isn’t a doll with attitude, or filled with positive energy, or even old enough to already have the job. These dolls, four in all, each have a different personality and want to take on a different role.

McKeyla wants to be a journalist or writer, she also likes upcycling!!! Wow, a doll who likes upcycling, maybe she can do something with all the naked leftover dolls.

Adrienne doesn’t want to be a chef, but a culinary chemist! She likes marshmallows and rescue animals, Awwww.

Bryden wants to be a photographer and likes everything technical, doesn’t like being without wifi and likes consipracy theories.

And Camryn likes building things in the garage, and the greatest thing is, she doesn’t like PE class, Hooray, I hated it too!

Dolls come alone, or with a little science experiment (What? No handbag and pooping doggie?) There are also additional science kits to buy without dolls.

Could this be it? finally a doll for real girls?

Maybe if they didn’t hide her on the lower shelves she might have a chance

Conclusion

No doll had everything I would look for, but I came up with nine things I think I would like in my ideal dolls.

More than one skin colour – out of the eight dolls only three had a doll of a darker skin colour in store (Bratz, Monster High and MC2) while Barbie has collector editions in various tones and ethnicities the regular priced dolls are hard to find.

It seems ridiculous that this is still an issue in today’s society, yet people would rather complain about a dolls neck length than there being no skin and ethnic differences. It’s not just about having a token black skinned doll, where are the Asian, Indian, Chinese, Brazilian dolls? What about short hair? or curly hair? why does every doll have the same shiny straight hair?

Clothes come off – Three of the dolls (Disney, Bratz and Moxie) have either clothes painted on or feet stuck to the shoes. I believe one of the greatest enjoyments of playing with a doll is the dressing and undressing. To not allow that to happen ruins the enjoyment of play.

Additional Outfits – only two dolls had additional outfits as options (Barbie and Bratz) While the Bratz outfits came with slightly more clothing, the original price of £12.99, reduced to £8.49 is still more than the cost of a cheaper no frills version of the dolls. I think it is about time doll manufacturers stopped trying to make dolls scary, motivational or princessy. Get rid of the gimmick, one doll – one outfit and supply more clothing for the doll a child already has. Imagine a world where you could buy the Barbie as a teacher doll, or if you already have enough dolls, the Barbie teaching outfit and accessories. It’s not just a matter of saving money by not having to buy yet another doll, but in this world of environmental awareness we need to either see a recycling solution or an end to the charity shops naked doll phenomenon.

OTT Make Up – Half of the dolls had over-the-top make up, but some of this was down to the whole scary nature of the doll. Barbie had the most variety, but please, lose the eyelashes. I feel the make up on dolls has calmed down recently, perhaps due to the many comments from doll make-under artists.

Scary or Cute – Apart from the Monster High dolls, all dolls could be classed as cute (by my standards) Bratz had a bit of attitude and Project MC2 had a more geeky style. Barbie though has more variety with dolls as fairies, punk band singers, spys, extreme fashion, and homely styles.

Ultra thin – Monsters High and Ever After High both have dolls that were worrying in the lack of skin department. All other dolls were slim-thin. I’ve seen the new style of natural size dolls and to be honest they look odd, frumpy. I’d like to see a larger doll, but I doubt it would sell. The message seems clear, Don’t make dolls too thin, we will complain, but don’t even attempt to make a larger size doll, unless it’s or a joke shop.

Different abilities – Princess style dolls are perfect, but then history tells us what happens to princes with disabilities (look up the story of the lost prince). Monster high had a merman in a wheelchair, but he is only wheelchair bound when in the water. Barbie has had both a wheelchair bound friend and a cancer charity Barbie, but they are very hard to find. A couple of the dolls wear glasses and the Project MC2 has the difference of focusing on the dolls intelligence. On the whole though, disability is not supported in dolls. It’s difficult in some ways, how do you make a doll showing a hidden difference like depression.

Mixture of tastes – Only Barbie really showed a variety of styles in dolls. Whilst some dolls focused on horror or cuteness, Barbie was the only make of doll to offer a wide range of styles.

Big extra’s – This wasn’t looked at much, but I was looking for large additional purchases like a house or car. Barbie really does turn out to be the doll with everything, with cars, bikes, houses of varying sizes, Project MC2 has additional chemistry sets, but these are for separate play, not imaginative doll play. Bratz has similar toys to Barbie and like Barbie they were not located on the shelves.

Our Generation dolls

Turning into the next aisle in Smyths I found a doll which almost had everything. She came in two sizes.

The smaller 5″ doll is a shrunken version of the larger 18″ doll, similar but very much cheaper than the American girl doll. The small dolls have additional outfits, cars, a moped, caravan, horse and dance studio. I think one thing doll manufacturers are failing to see is the human need to collect. I don’t just want one doll, I want them all, and unlike Barbie who has just too many versions to have them all I can achieve the impossible. The caravan and car are perfect, and even though I never once dreamed of being a dancer, I too, would love the dance studio.

The 18″ dolls don’t disappoint either.

Cars, Bikes, Horses, horse boxes, retro diner, country kitchen, travel sets and bathtubs. Extra clothes can be bought with a matching outfit for you, well if you’re the right size.

Suddenly my life long love of the 11″ doll went to ground as I stood in the shop imagining the fun I would have had as a child.

You see, when I was a child, I had lots of dolls and lots more outfits. My dolls dreamed of going camping on the mountain that was the scrunched up duvet, I made homes out of boxes as instructed by Blue Peter, Action man was the one to date because he had a tank and a canoe. My dolls weren’t pop stars, or princesses, they were too busy having fun camping, too busy driving around the house to become a teacher; and science experiments happened in the bath tub using up mum’s talc and bubble bath.

Forget the gimmicks, the latest Barbie spy that comes with a giant plastic twirly thing you have to shove in the side of the doll to make her do a tumble, my dolls could all do that, I simply turned them over to make them tumble. I would have laughed at the Barbie with a camera on her chest and I literally did cry when I bought a Barbie that was just for fashion so much that the legs wouldn’t bend.

Give me a car and caravan and lots of clothes over fancy wings, light up dresses and gimmicky one trick ponies any day. I want the our generation 18″ doll with horse box.

But as I looked at the dolls, all neat on the shelf the same old disappointments also rose, can you spot it?

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This is 2016, multi-cultural Britain – Do we doll lovers still have to point it out?