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Could Uglydolls Become the Next Barbie?

06 Jun

A few weeks ago, we discussed that the Classic Barbie- white, blue-eyed, and blonde-haired- is not a realistic representation of most women, and that Ken-doll is not much better for men.  We focused on society’s elevation of Classic Barbie’s appearance as ideal, and therefore the norm.  This, however, is problematic because it not only makes beauty and race normative, but it also tells the countless girls who don’t look like Classic Barbie that they’re not good enough.  As Jezebel puts it, “If we teach that long, straight hair is beautiful and fun to play with, and these are not representations of short hair, cropped hair, or kinky hair, what kind of message does that send to a child?” (1)  With so much pressure on doll companies to make more realistic dolls that validate a wider community, black and Puerto Rican Barbies are now on the market.(2)

BARBIE® SO IN STYLE® BABY PHAT® KARA® Doll - Shop.Mattel.comBARBIE™ THE PRINCESS & THE POPSTAR TORI™ Doll - Shop.Mattel.com

However, these alternative dolls are no quick fix for the companies, as the latter still face criticism for making “inauthentic” dolls. (3,4) If “black women, [for example], come in all shades, shapes, and varieties, there is just no way to capture everyone with three dolls.” (5) Following this logic, why not just make one thousand varieties of black women and please the whole community?  Jezebel reminds us that there are economic constraints: “For the toy maker to turn a profit, mass production is usually the way to go.  However, due to costs, these designs are limited.” (1)

Following this discussion, I felt trapped: Classic Barbie creates norms and deprecates consumers, but appealing to every consumer is just not economically feasible.  Was there any good solution or would some consumer always feel inadequate next to her doll, always feel ugly?  And so I got to thinking- what if Uglydolls caught on and became the next Barbie (in terms of popularity)?  Uglydolls are stuffed cloth dolls of fantastical, unattractive, debatably cute creatures.  The website welcomes viewers with the following message: “Welcome to the Uglydoll universe where ‘ugly’ means unique and different, and celebrating who you are inside and out is the new beautiful.”  Dolls have names including Babo, OX, Ice-Bat, and Uglycorn.(6) So these dolls tell consumers that the genuine self is beautiful and being different is OK.  They accept all consumers and are the polar opposite of Classic Barbie.  I like them already!

Tray the Uglydoll: "The Brain of the Bunch"

Tray the Uglydoll: “The Brain of the Bunch” (7)

While they look nothing like humans and have names beyond that of any normal human (or even animal!), each Uglydoll is personified through a set background and personality.  (See countless amusing descriptions here.) (7) The Uglydolls have enough substance and identity that the consumer can relate with them on a real level.  The casual tone of these descriptions and the fundamentally ugly aesthetics of these dolls make their image more approachable and accepting to the children who play with them.  So the Uglydoll, the anti-Barbie, is the perfect solution, right?

Not so fast.  By being entirely aracial and agendered, are Uglydolls actually taking a step backward in solving the problem of finding an inclusive doll?  Are they so extremely unrealistic that they ignore these powerful problems of beauty, race, and gender?  Are we being copouts by promoting Uglydolls as substitutes for traditional dolls?  Or do Uglydolls in fact confront Classic Barbie’s social exclusion through the explicit emphasis of ugliness?  And, furthermore, why do these dolls have to be ugly in order to represent the acceptance of difference and anormality?  Why can’t they be beauty dolls and still serve the same purpose?

Works Cited:

  1. Peterson, Latoya. “Black Barbies: A Question of Representation.” Jezebel. 12 03, 09. http://jezebel.com/5418165/black-barbies-a-question-of-representation (accessed May 26, 2013).
  2. Mattel Barbie Dolls: Barbie Basics, Barbie Mermaid, & Holiday Dolls, “All Barbie Dolls.” Last modified 2013. Accessed June 2, 2013. http://shop.mattel.com/family/index.jsp?categoryId=3748552
  3. Cisneros, Sandra. “Barbie-Q,” in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. (New York City: Random House, 1991.)
  4. Negron-Muntaner, Frances. “Barbie’s Hair: Selling Our Puerto Rican Identity in the Global Market,” in Latino/a Popular Culture, ed. Michelle Habel-Pallan and Mary Romero. (New York City: New York University Press, 2002.)
  5. “New Black Barbies Get Mixed Reviews.” CNN.com, 08 21, 09. http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/10/21/black.barbies.irpt/ (accessed May 26, 2013).
  6. Uglydoll, “Uglydoll: Official Online Store.” Last modified 2013. Accessed June 2, 2013. http://www.uglydolls.com/.
  7. Uglydoll, “Uglydoll: All Products.” Last modified 2013. Accessed June 2, 2013.
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3 Comments

Posted by on June 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

3 responses to “Could Uglydolls Become the Next Barbie?

  1. eondich

    June 7, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I don’t think it’s a step backwards, exactly, though it certainly isn’t ideal. Kids aren’t going to be aware of the politics behind their dolls, they won’t notice the lack of representation of diverse people, and since companies like Mattel aren’t going to change overnight, removing even a few of the negative images and replacing them with neutral ones is definitely positive. That being said, I agree that it would be better to simply have diverse dolls that look like people.

     
  2. varanass

    June 7, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    My friend gave me an Uglydoll as a high school graduation gift and it came with an attached note that read something along the lines of: “Whenever you don’t feel pretty, just give me a squeeze and know there’s something uglier than you.” I never thought of how concerning that tagline was until reading this blogpost, Molly. Do we really need some sort of validation via an “ugly” plush toy, rather than having the confidence in ourselves of our appearances? I’m not sure how to properly answer that question. Also, I never thought of the Uglydoll as a potential replacement for the infamous Barbie. I’m not sure it’s necessary to create an anti-Barbie, but rather adjust and improve on the current Barbie. But, I guess then I would wonder, how exactly..? Unlike eondich, I do think using the Uglydoll instead of a Barbie would be taking steps back because we are completely ignoring beauty, race, and gender issues. Solving these issues cannot be handled by ignoring them. Even if kids do not acknowledge them, that does not make it okay to disregard them anyways.

     
  3. blueebird

    June 7, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    In addition to varanass’ problematic questions, the Uglydoll tagline also seems to be promoting a competitive atmosphere of comparison. “Feeling ugly? That’s okay there’s always something/someone out there who is uglier than you are!” Is that really satisfying to the company? Should we be promoting the idea that in order to make yourself feel better you should look for and then exploit the faults in others? We should be offering companionship and community to those who need support, not promoting the idea that you can define your self-worth in other people–or even worse by putting other people down. I wouldn’t go so far in saying the ugly doll are a step back from Barbie, but they definitely aren’t a band-aid or a cure all.

     

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