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Jewesses with Attitude

Goodbye, Barbie. Hello, Bratz.

If the doll industry is any measure of today’s commodified standard of beauty, assimilation is out and multi-ethnic is in. Forty-eight years have passed since Barbie came to represent the ultimate American fantasy: a leggy, blonde-haired, teeny-waisted preeminence of elegance, with a flamingo pink sports car and Ken by her side. Despite Mattel’s attempts to recreate and diversify Barbie’s identity to reflect social trends and more eclectic “girl” activities, Barbie has had trouble keeping up with the times, even if she does wear a tallit.

Nearly half a century since Barbie’s birth, the Bratz dolls—all of whom are now characters in a live action film—have turned Barbie’s beauty inside out and created a whole new ideal: a multi-ethnic ideal. In the Bratz doll posse, Jade is half-White, half-Asian; Cloe and Sasha are African-American; and Yasmine—the first Bratz doll created, front and center in the photograph below—is half-Jewish, half-Latina.

A recent JTA article explains that these dolls with their ‘girl power, be yourself’ personas, have captured the attention of young girls who see the Bratz identities as far more reflective of their own social realities than Barbie.

There’s a lot that interests me about this shift, not the least of which is that both dolls were created by Jews. Barbie was created by Ruth Handler, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Bratz was created by Isaac Larian, an Iranian Jewish immigrant-turned-toy-entrepreneur with an explicit agenda to create an anti-Barbie. For Jewish girls growing up in the 1960s, Barbie may have embodied their goyisha (non-Jewish) yearnings, fed their eagerness to break away from lingering social stigmas of shtetl life and shmate-wearing mothers, and perhaps honed their desire to be something “other,” and someone “pretty.” But in today’s world, being Jewish isn’t as “uncool” as it once was. It seems to me that a doll’s half-Jewish, half-Latina identity represents the normalization of Jewish culture in American society and reflects an expanded notion of what Jewish identity looks like; Yasmine’s appearance certainly defies the Ashkenazi-centrism that the American Jewish community generally experiences and often perpetuates. It still feels slightly uncomfortable, though, that “Jewish” and “Latina” are positioned as independent categories as suggested by Yasmine’s “halfness.” Why can’t Yasmine be marketed as a Latina Jew? Or a Jewish Latina? Must her identity be so pointedly bifurcated? Is “halfness” really an accurate expression of multi-ethnic experience?

In spite of their diverse identities, these dolls still don’t fully live up to their anti-Barbie potential. Although “white and blonde” have been abandoned as a doll ideal, mini-skirts, spaghetti-strap tank-tops, and long flowy hair (except for Yasmine’s hair which has a familiar “Jewish” curl—no accident, I imagine) still reign. In 2007, I suppose it’s cool to be “half-Jewish, half-Latina” as long as your lips are plump and pouty with shimmery lipstick that suits your skin tone, and as long as you wear tight, skimpy outfits to sexualize your tiny body. Apparently, you also have to be a “Brat.”

While the image of ideal beauty has gotten a bit more colorful, fashion, body image, and behavior—at least in the doll world—have generally remained static. So just how far have we come? I challenge the next anti-Barbie doll inventor to give a female doll a faux-hawk and a striped tie.

3 Comments

Is it the end of Barbie? well, i don't think. Bratz doll is also a popular doll brand in toy fashion doll market, but Barbie is still the leading brand. The range of this Bratz doll has affected Mattel's sale of Barbie. However, Some parents are against this toy product because of the dress styles that is sexually provocative, which is not a good example to childen. Nonetheless, Are we so bored that we need to know how Dora the Explorer is going to grow up Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ like when she goes to cartoon college? Mattel decided to "update" Dora for the elementary school crowd (because their tastes are so refined) and made Dora into a "tween" version Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ in other words what she would look like as a preadolescent. It has created a backlash because a lot of people think the new version is overtly sexualized and reminiscent of the Bratz dolls, which were aimed at ages 8-12 and had attire that most respectable adults won't wear outdoors. Read more on http://personalmoneystore.com/....

Bratz were designed by Carter Bryant, a former Mattel employee. If Isaac Larian had done the work, as you claim, there would have been no Mattel lawsuit.

very compelling and thought-provoking - - have we truly come to the age where 'it doesn't matter if you're black or what', so long as you are tiny and tight?

Why do some "beauty standards" appear to remain consistent across the ethnicities in the US ( skinny with cleavage, wide eyed) while others shift in and out of vogue ( light hair vs. dark hair, wavy vs. stick straight) And what does social acceptance have to do with it?

Connect this posting to thoughts on the Quinicinera (*sp?) & Bat Mitzvah connection. Would the Jewish Latina doll have both?

Great posting Jordan

How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. "Goodbye, Barbie. Hello, Bratz.." 10 August 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 25, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/goodbye-barbie-hello-bratz>.

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