If you haven’t heard, Bratz, the line of dolls known for its caked on makeup and oversized heads, is back on shelves after taking a long hiatus to focus on its branding. The relaunch comes amid a decade-long series of lawsuits between its parent company and rival Mattel, which owns Barbie—the two brands battling it out for the souls of little girls everywhere.
Now, finally, Bratz is back. After two years contemplating its messaging in the face of criticisms over the hyper-femininity and sexualization of its dolls, the brand’s new products consist of six lines ranging from fitness-themed to study abroad-themed. And good news! The new dolls are all about feeling good about yourself. Seriously, the brand’s new mantra is, “It’s good to be yourself; It’s good to be Bratz.” Here they are:
Wait. The new Bratz look exactly like the old Bratz. The enormous heads, the eyes in a constant state of smize, the #KylieJennerChallenge lips, and the spindly legs with gigantic feet at the bottom. Clearly, it’s not the Bratz themselves that have relaunched, but the packaging—now under the guise of empowerment.
An excerpt from a press release sent out by parent company MGA Entertainment:
The Bratz brand has always stood for self-expression, individuality, diversity, confidence and creativity. Now the dolls, which have a reinvented look that speaks to a new generation of girls, will also provide ample activities and avenues for girls to create their own worlds, discover and express their true selves.
Not only is it pretty silly to discuss individuality and diversity when all the dolls are manufactured to have the same exact body type under different skin, hair, and eye colors, but it appears the company has simply translated its brand into faux-feminist language. I mean, let’s look at the revamped cast—here’s the first episode of their new web series (which will be coupled with an interactive Bratz app), introducing the characters:
I’m just going to put this out there, but I’m not sure these characters count as “role models.” Consider their character descriptions on the Bratz website:
Jade: She’s the badass one, the one who skateboards—but her only non-sport hobby? “Mix ‘n’ matching outfits and creating looks with her deconstructive fashion choices.”
Yasmin: She’s the “boho hippie” who does yoga and probably uses namaste as a verb. She might be the deepest Bratz because she writes poetry and makes music, but she also loves making flower crowns.
Cloe: She plays soccer, but also loves, um, shopping. Also her life motto is “Live. Laugh. Love.” A travesty in and of itself.
Sasha: Sasha’s purpose in the Bratz world is to get rich and famous through acting or performance. But on the bright side, she does have her own makeup series on YouTube, so at least she’s an entrepreneurial self-starter.
And introducing Raya, the lovable goofball who wears hamburgers for shoes (which I would also like to wear :/) and loves glamping, or “glamorous camping,” which shouldn’t even be a thing.
Notice how none of these girls have any passions outside of having fun with friends and looking good—which, given that the dolls are a response to the issue of gendered toys, is not cute.
Perhaps they aimed to remedy the lack of academic presence with their Study Abroad line. How do we know they studied abroad? Well, Yasmin, who “studied abroad” in Brazil, came back with pineapple earrings, and Cloe returned from her study abroad trip to China with an adorable panda shirt and what appears to be a fortune cookie purse, which is strange, given that fortune cookies aren’t even from China.
Meanwhile, their Fierce Fitness line, featuring flat sneakers, yoga mats, much less makeup, and hashtags like #IAmStrong might actually be a welcome respite from the usual Bratz aesthetic—on the other hand, they also just launched a #SelfieSnaps line that comes with a photo booth playset, which I am sure truly empowers girls who are already bombarded with the message that one’s image is what matters most.
Isaac Larian, founder of MGA, told Forbes that in conducting research for the relaunch, the company got in touch with millennial women who grew up playing with Bratz. (Just by the by, he also mentioned in the same interview he doesn’t believe for a second that Bratz could promote negative body image.)
“We have doctors, lawyers, journalists,” Larian told Forbes. “Now more than ever before, Bratz empowers girls. They can create worlds. They believe it’s good to be themselves. They’re fearless. They have independent spirits.”
So why are none of the Bratz aspiring doctors or lawyers or journalists? Why don’t the Bratz reflect the dreams of the real girls who played with them? It’s as if MGA listened to the persistent calls for more realistic and empowering features, then twisted the definition of empowerment to suit the Bratz standard. Yes, it is empowering to design your own dress in your C.I.Y. (that is, “Create Your Own”) platform, another new playset. But why not also teach the damn Bratz to code or something? Or think about anything outside of appearance?
It would be one thing to simply continue the Bratz line as it always has been—but to parade the same schtick with some hashtags and call it “empowering” is a joke. Of course, I guess the fact that their logo is still a pair of large lips says enough.
Either way, it all comes down to one thing: Would you feel comfortable giving these dolls to a girl between the ages of 5 and 12? Would I want to bestow upon a 5-year-old the idea that selfies, crop tops, and being able to design a dress are what define her generation of powerful, forward thinking girls? Nah. But then again, I probably wouldn’t feeling comfortable gifting Barbies, either.
UPDATE: A Bratz spokesperson responded to Fusion’s request for comment after publication, explaining over email why the brand chose not to address the dolls’ professional aspirations:
“Bratz do not label themselves into categories of profession. They are free to be who they want to be. They are fun, fresh, fearless and confident. Each girl showcases individual personalities, unique interests, talents, facial features, skin tones and fashion. These girls love to be themselves and they love to create their own worlds.”
As for why the new lines appear so similar to previous lines?
“Bratz didn’t want to change every aspect of the brand. They wanted to keep what makes a Bratz, a Bratz—big head, big feet, the doll with a passion for fashion. As the brand has a large and loyal fan base, they stuck with their core qualities, but made changes that embody the interests, passions and personalities of the modern day girl.”