When I think about memories of growing up with my little sister, one of the first things that pops up in my head is how we’d sit around for hours playing with our dolls (I would mostly knock them down, but only because I was mad that she’d never let me touch her newest ones). My sister would meticulously dress every doll up, carefully testing every combination for an outfit. She’d decide on a name and background for each doll, according to the scenario that she was about to play out with them. And then, she would put on an entire show.
For my sister and lots of other young girls, dolls have been an important way to express themselves. A way of saying, “This is who I am, this is what matters to me!”
Like the girls who played with them, each doll also had a story of their own. The first documented “dolls” date back to ancient Japan, where they were used as childhood toys and religious symbols. I’d say that today, the culture and lore that surrounds our current popular dolls is something of a religion itself. There aren’t only dolls, but entire TV and movie franchises built off of them, not to mention multiple other forms of merchandise. Each doll has a fanbase and a world of their own.
All of them are wildly different, but all of them are wildly influential.
Barbie is classic. She is the blueprint. She was our very first doll. Even if you didn’t have one, you could recognize that blonde hair and bright pink pumps anywhere. The very basic concept of Barbie – the idea that a girl could be anything she wanted to be – was the leading force behind the creation of the more “modern” dolls we see today, such as Bratz, Monster High, and American Girl Doll.
The girls who played with Bratz dolls are now the Instagram baddies. They’re the ones who created their own makeup or singing accounts in middle school and were followed by the whole school. They ran those loom bracelets and slime businesses. The Bratz girlies were the entrepreneurs, the original “girl bosses”. The Bratz dolls are recognizable by their iconic dramatic look, which includes colorful eyeshadow, pumped up lips, and a tiny, glittery outfit. They are often wearing jewelry as well, whether that means big gold hoops or a little diamond on their stomach. Known for their attitude and confidence, the Bratz dolls are a way of literally reclaiming the word ‘brat,’ a term that is often used to describe women in a derogatory way. While the word brat itself has a negative connotation to it, openly identifying as one sets a precedent for young girls that they are allowed to be vocal about what they want, and should do so proudly.
Race is also a factor in how revolutionary the Bratz dolls were. The main quartet of girls features an Asian, African American, and Latina doll. They all accept each other for who they are, and there’s no catty hierarchy between them. In fact, according to W Magazine, when there was some pushback against the dolls and Cloe, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll was the only one some customers were interested in buying, Mi`cro Games of America Entertainment CEO Isaac Larian said “ ‘They come together. ‘You either buy them all, or none.’ ‘ When they were first released in 2001, Bratz dolls were huge for girls of color (and still are) who had not previously seen themselves in mainstream toys. In that same article by W Magazine, Black and Latine aesthetics scholar Dr. Hernandez says, “The major influence they have had is in placing girls of color and their style in the mainstream, and that is definitely making a huge impact on beauty standards.”
On that note, I want to talk about my own personal favorite, the Monster High Dolls. Monster High was for the Freaks And Geeks. They were for the gays, the girls who were a little weird, the girls who were into experimentation and had alter egos. If you ever dyed your hair a funky color or shopped at Hot Topic, you definitely had a Monster High Doll.
When asked about why she preferred Monster High Dolls, first-year student Autumn Valdes explained how “Monster High had such a variety. It felt weird having [Barbie] dolls that all looked identical. I liked the idea of being different but also stylish and pretty at the same time.”
Junior Eli Perron affirmed this. They explained that the dolls they preferred varied by age.“As I got older, like maybe six, seven, or eight, I started playing with the Monster High Dolls a lot. My favorite part about them was this customizable line they came out with and you could give them different faces and different torsos and you could also customize their clothes.”
Personally, I watched the Monster High movies more than I played with the dolls, but I thought it was awesome that the girls with scars and flaws and skins of all colors whether that be brown, pink, or blue, ruled the school. To me, the Monster High dolls serve as an ode to unapologetically being your truest, freakiest self.
The American Girl Dolls (AGD) are a little less “outrageous” than Monster High Dolls, but the theme of girlhood is still present. Each doll had a name and an intricate backstory and a book to follow it. Many dolls were based off of famous female historical figures as well. American Girl Dolls girls were definitely the history girlies, the ones who had a crazy hyperfixation on a random time period in history like ancient Egypt or the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. They loved and lived for academic validation.
Also, unlike the other three dolls previously discussed, the American Girl Dolls are large in height and have a boxy shape to them. These dolls were perfect for girls with parents who were stricter or more conscious about body image.
Sophomore Audra Fitzgerald also added that her parents wanted her to be conscious about money: “They also instilled in me that, yes, AGD were more expensive so I would never have an excess of them and that made me care more about having one or two.”
While I realize I’ve spent this entire article categorizing which types of girls played with which types of dolls, I want to simultaneously emphasize that this is an exaggeration. What I’m trying to say by talking about the many types of dolls is that girls are multidimensional. Femininity is fluid. The dolls I talk about in this article are all examples of how girls don’t have to- and shouldn’t be forced to- fit into one singular box.
Dolls might come in pretty little packaging, but once they’re out of their boxes, they become something more. And when girls are allowed to be free and expressive, they become everything.
Alefiya Presswala is a sophomore journalism major who definitely WON’T judge you based on your favorite doll growing up. They can be reached at [email protected]