In a previous article, I wrote about how both men and women prefer those who display neotenous (i.e., baby-like) features over adult features and rate those who exhibit them as more attractive.1 So what happens when toymakers manipulate these baby-like features to give off a sexualized vibe? Enter, the Bratz dolls.
Bratz, owned by MGA Entertainment, is a line of dolls that is very popular with today’s children. Bratz have seen a great deal of controversy in their time on the market, as they are often scantily clad and heavily made up.
The American Psychological Association (APA) formed the Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls in response to public concern over the growing problem of sexualization of children and adolescent females. Researchers have found that it is often females upon which sexuality is imposed, especially in the media.2,5 Not surprisingly, the taskforce has made mention of the Bratz dolls, noting their “sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and feather boas.” This task force stated in their annual report2 that there are negative consequences for both girls, and society as a whole, as a result of the sexualization of females. They differentiate sexualization from healthy sexuality, which focuses on an understanding of the body and having the knowledge to express sexuality in a way that enriches one’s life.4 Sexualization involves any of the following four components:
- a person’s value comes from his/her sexual appearance or behavior;
- the person is objectified;
- physical attractiveness is associated with being sexy;
- and/or sexuality is imposed upon the person.2
The APA summary notes that presenting females in a highly sexualized manner likely affects both females and males. Girls may engage in self-objectification,3,5 whereby they treat their own bodies as the subjects of others’ desires. Males may start to objectify and harass girls in order to make girls conform to the hypersexualized ideal portrayed in the media. This harassment will likely continue even after the girls have conformed to this standard, as it does not portray girls as people to be valued. Studies show that sexualization can negatively impact females in terms of their cognitive, physical and mental functioning, as well as their sexuality, attitudes and beliefs. The task force notes that although most studies have focused on adolescents and adults, these findings likely generalize to younger populations.2
Science communicator and artist Sonia Singh may have one approach to combatting this problem. After purchasing several Bratz dolls from flea markets and local shops, she set out to give them a “make under” to restore their natural beauty. She created Tree Change Dolls,6 natural looking dolls which mirror the girls who play with them. In a matter of weeks, her videos went viral and she now has a huge social media following.
Her husband notes that other dolls, such as Bratz, alter their appearance for the benefit of other people, “….whereas Sonia’s dolls are doing it for themselves.”7 To follow the dolls’ transformations and to get inspiration to create your own, see the Tree Change Dolls website. Perhaps with people like Sonia presenting more realistic versions of girls, we are moving a step in the right direction.
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1Cunningham, M. R. (1986). Measuring the physical in physical attractiveness: Quasi-experiments on the sociobiology of female facial beauty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(5), 925-935. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.115
2American Psychological Association. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-summary.pdf
3Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experience and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173-206
4National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2015). What is healthy sexuality and consent? Retrieved from http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/saam_2015_what-is-healthy-sexuality-and-consent.pdf
5O’Donohue, W., Gold, S. R., & McKay, J. S. (1997). Children as sexual objects: Historical and gender trends in magazines. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research& Treatment, 9, 291-301.
6Tree Change Dolls®. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://treechangedolls.tumblr.com/
Dr. Marisa Cohen
Marisa, along with a colleague at St. Francis College, founded the Self-Awareness and Bonding Lab (SABL) in Fall 2014. Research has focused on the development of relationships throughout the life span, including factors influencing mate choice and peoples’ perceptions of what makes relationships survive and thrive. Her specific focus is on how various relationship configurations impact the satisfaction derived from them.