OPINION: Someone Needs to create an Anti-Barbie

You know instead of just complaining about how anorexic or plastic-ly surgery-ied BBBBarbie is, someone should just develop a full-figured or at least reasonably figured “barbie” and unseat BBBBarbie forever.

I wonder how often this thought has been thunk.

Based on my research, the answer is: Often.

Several times people have actually followed through on this thought and developed a business plan, sought financing, developed prototypes, sought further financing, gone to production, marketed and distributed these anti-barbies.

Remember the Get Real Girls? The ones with sporty bodies who loved to travel and go on adventures?

Remember the three full figured playscale dolls? Brown-skinned Daisa, blonde Dawn and brunette Dena?  The Plus-Sized Ladies who rocked Ken’s world?

Let me jog your memory about these and a few other attempts…

Between 1989 and 1993, Cathy Meredig introduced the “Happy to Be Me” dolls. They were intended to come in a variety of  body shapes. They would be accompanied by books that helped convey fuller personalities and impart values. Two dolls – Jessica Lyn and Ali Marie were released. Then, It failed.

In 1999, Jenny Baker created a company called “The Get Set Club” and set out to manufacture the G5 set of teen friends. The dolls had realistic proportions, ethnic diversity and career paths built into their playsets. It failed. (read more herehere,  here and here)

In 2000, Jana Machin and Julz Chavez created a company called Get Real Girl, Inc. and that company created the Get Real Girls. Six gals known as “action  figures” who were fully articulated and played basketball and soccer? You remember – they surfed and went on safari? It failed. (read more here , here , here , here and here and check out some remaining examples of the website that once existed but doesnt anymore by clicking here and here)

In 2006, Audrey Bell and Georgette Taylor pushed things even further – they weren’t offering “realistic average-sized bodies” they were offering a plus-sized line of dolls called Big Beautiful dolls. It failed. Check out the BB dolls at this archived copy of their website. (or read more here)

So why did they fail? There are a few ideas that get thrown around. Here are the potential explanations I hear most often:

1) Little girls prefer idealized images like BBBBarbie. They want glamour and glitz. Big eyes, heavy makeup, short skirts, high heels.  They want the dream. They want Pamela Anderson, not Mommy.

2) Mattel systematically ensures that any competitor dolls fail. They control distribution channels and have the funds to step up
competitive marketing efforts when necessary. They lodge patent disputes that cripple startup companies. The startups are forced to cover legal fees instead of re-investing funds in continued product development or marketing.

3) Dolls that have high quality articulated bodies and high quality accessories are too expensive to manufacture for the price that they
command. With such small profit margins, the items cannot survive market fluctuations.

4) Women who don’t want their daughters to play with BBBBarbie avoid playscale dolls altogether thereby making the market for a
BBBBarbie alternative too small to support continued mass production. In other words, Mom’s who might like an Anti-barbie on it’s own merit are so blinded by their rage about BBBBarbie that they can’t see the value in any doll of that scale.

5) When the dolls are introduced by parents into existing playscale doll collections, the dolls are ostracized as “tomboys” or  “fat girls” by children playing out real world situations as they have seen them, therefore freaking out parents completely.

There is some mystery around when and how these companies failed — the above theories are just theories. The women themselves are certainly go-getters to be admired  (they are Barbie “I Can Be…” a Feminist Pioneer Entrepreneurial Toy Maker!!)

Part of me wants to find them and interview them about what went wrong. But part of me thinks they may not want to discuss their journey because it is painful to see something you believe in, and put so much passion, money and time into, fail.

In lieu of interviewing the Amazing Ladies of the Anti-Barbies, I’d like to answer each of the possibilities from my own perspective.

1) Do girls prefer Pam over Mommy?  I don’t buy that. And that’s what this blog is all about. My mantra is: You can use playscale dolls to teach your barbégé what you value in people and in life. Do I wish those companies had survived so I that I would have more purchasing options? Absolutely. I saw one blonde “Happy to be Me” doll in a thrift store and left her there but I have purchased four Get Real Girls on eBay and their bodies and accessories are completely excellent. G5 I have never seen. As for the Big Beautiful ladies, I understand from my Barbie-friend Lola that they can be quite expensive and are rare.

2) Does Mattel systematically crush their competition? I hope not. But I leave open the possibility that this has happened.  There is some evidence that the anti-barbies actually created the pressure that brought about improvements at Mattel. Did anti-barbies lead to the creation of the Generation Girls? The Belly Button body? Maybe the articulation offered by the Get Real Girls led to Fashionista articulation? Then again, maybe Fashion Royalty articulation led to Fashionistas? One could certainly say that while the competitive dolls failed as toys in their own right, they suceeded in changing what our  barbégé’s dolls look like today. In that respect, they were a success.

3) Can Better Quality items be priced to sell? Spinmaster’s LIV seems to be able to do it. But I’ve heard rumors that Mattel expects a very high profit margin from their doll designers and that this expectation limits quality. Why is LIV able to give us full articulation and great accessories and clothes, but Mattel is not?

4) Are realistic dolls ostracized just like their human counterparts? This is actually a perfect scenario for my blog – it’s a teachable moment for a parent to convey values to a child. It’s exactly why such dolls are needed- so we can disabuse our barbégés of their biases at home and encourage them to take their enlightened views out into the world. Chubby girl dolls will be teased?  Bring it on.

While it feels at times like Mattel does their thing and doesn’t bow to criticism, that is not always clearly the case. Mattel has improved their diversity with various ethnic representations and great face molds over the years – largely due to criticism. With SIS they have embraced the need for more than one brown girl at a time.  But they also seem to go through cycles. They had more articulation for a while during the 90’s then they abandoned it for a decade or so only to return to it with the release of Fashionistas.

Mattel has also given us a few larger bodies of note. Rosie O’Donnell and Happy Family Grandma (seen here with SIS Grace Belly Button Body in between for comparison).

Additionally, Mattel  A company called Jakks Pacific has given us two truly Plus-sized dolls in the the form of the Hairspray Movie collection. Tracy and Edna Turnblad.

So, is there a need for an anti-barbie at all anymore? Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe there is only the need for rumors of anti-barbies.

We still don’t have the option of all three in one: articulation + the range of skin tones + the choice of some thicker body types.

So maybe I will start one here and now:

Did you hear that there is a company with a crazy amount of start-up capital that is designing dolls in a range of skin tones, with a “pick your body style” that includes “Average” and “Plus Sized”  options? These body styles have articulated knees and elbows (and maybe even wrists and ankles). This company is going to blow the socks off Mattel!! Spread the word!

26 Comments Add yours

  1. Hello Kristl. I was wondering where you were. Haven’t heard from you in a while. This topic continues to perplex me. I no longer even pretend to have any answers. I guess I would like to see research done that actually asks girls of all ages, what they want in a doll. The girls that have played with or currently play with Fashion dolls. And also those girls who don’t play with them. Why don’t they? I am starting to think that the Fashion Doll industry would not be able to survive without the adult collectors buying them too. So what are the adult collectors looking for in their fashion dolls. I have fashion dolls of all sizes. I must admit that is is very frustrating to have dolls that you can’t buy clothes for. So if they are going to produce larger sized dolls, the company needs to provide clothing for them. My Rosie doll is still in her same outfit, and until I sew her something new, she will remain in that same old outfit. I remember the Get Real dolls. At the time they were released I was on a major break from dolls, so I don’t have any of them. I have a lot of flat feet dolls. I like them because they can usually stand on their own. But then there is the difficulty in finding enough flat shoes for them. I LOVE how some of my 16″ dolls have interchangeable feet. When I want her to have flat feet she can. When she wants to wear cute heels, she can. The LIV dolls can handle this too, with their articulated ankles. I finally rebodied one of my flat feet dolls because she started wearing more dresses and she needed those heels. Hair is another issue. I love all types of hair textures. Two of my favorite dolls are the Barbie Basic #8 Target Exclusive with the short curly fro, and the AA Harley Davidson with the micro braids. I love the ethnic hair dos, as long as I don’t have to put too much energy into styling it. I made the mistake of trying to restyle Trichelle’s hair. Whew, that was so much like trying to do my own hair, that I put her aside. It will eventually get done. But if I have to spend too much time styling the hair, it isn’t worth it to me. So the natural style needs to be carefree and easy. So I have no answers and I have vowed to stop speaking for the younger ladies, until I start talking to them and finding out what drives them.

    1. Lola says:

      I have found that the Dora Explorer girls clothes fit Tracy Turnblad and Mimi Bobeck. Rosie can wear Ken clothes…and let’s face it some of them are kind of girly:D

  2. Vanessa, I was traveling for work for two weeks in a row and I got really behind on everything. Rosie at my house is also in that same old tired pantsuit. Here’s the really cool thing – I was talking with Stephen Sumner who seems to be Mattel’s choice to take over Stacey’s position leading SIS and he says we may have the ability to buy more variable headless bodies on the collector site. If Plus-sized bodies were avail online do you think you would buy some? I know I would. Yes- there would def be probs with clothing but I’ve never understood why really good seamstresses don’t carve out a niche doing Grandma, Rosie and other uncommon body clothing lines. I love the BB#8 Target. I gave one of her to a little Puerto Rican friend of Leah’s that has a blonde ‘fro but we have her also. As for natural hairstyles I am STILL trying to come up with a method for making dreadlocks. I work on it every few days or so. It is really difficult. Re the Liv dolls – I would never have tried them without your post about your first rebody with a LIV and now i love them. I think we have about 5 LIVs as bodies.

    1. Lola says:

      You know I would buy more plus sized dolls! I just recently bought a new Mimi and and a new Rosie. I have gotten much better at touching up paint jobs so I might actually keep Rosie’s head this time:D

      1. Well Lola – you were my inspiration for this entry. It was your email that made me go on mission trying for more body diversity. I’ve got a lot of Mimis on my eBay watch list and one Tracy Turnblad. Great point about Rosie wearing Ken clothes!! Why didn’t I think of that!! Are the Dora clothes hard to find? I guess I have to buy that giant Dora doll don’t I?

      2. Lola says:

        You don’t have to buy a dora, they sell the clothes separately. I first found them for 2.99 an outfit at Tuesday Morning. They’re called “fashion packs”. The pants are a little long for even Tracy, but they still look great. Will have to send a pic.

      3. Lola says:

        Well duh. The picture I already sent you of my plus sized girls, Tracy was wearing a Dora outfit and Mimi was wearing a dora shirt.

    2. That’s good to hear about the headless Barbies. I wouldn’t mind having a couple plus size dolls in my stories. I used to be a good sewer, but I seem to have lost my touch since I stopped sewing fashions about 6 yrs ago. I am trying to slowly get back into it, because my Elite group needs more clothes, my SIS dolls and my OHC dolls need more clothes. But I’m so engrossed in the videos, that I just don’t have the time needed to make it all happen.

    3. Sophie says:

      I know this is old but I thought if put my 2 cents in. In order to work out a way to make dreadlocks, you have to know whow dreadlocks form. They form much in the same way that a craft called “Felting” works or the way that wool jumpers shrink and get thick in a violent washing machine. That is, the individual hair cuticles catch on each other like little hooks and compact. So, to make realistic dreadlocks, you’ll need real hair or animal hair with real cuticles.

  3. Lola says:

    Just found this. Apparently Tonner also made a plus sized doll (16 inch, I think), the Emme doll. Again, not available anymore except on ebay.

  4. Lola –
    Fantastic link. I looked for pics of the Big Beautiful girls and couldn’t find them. You have a knack I think. This is a great article. Gotta go back and read it more in depth. Thanks for posting it.


  5. Great article about the plus-sized dolls. I almost bought one of the Tonner Emme dolls at a doll show last year. There were 2 versions. The first one was plumper than the second one, but neither one did well with sales. Then I remembered that I haven’t done anything with the 16″ dolls I already have.

    Personally, I don’t want dolls having rolls of flab around their belly. There are so many young girls today walking around with these crazy bellies. I can’t stand it. The amount of fat around the waist is the number one indicator of pending health issues. Don’t they watch Dr. Oz? So I am fine if even the plus size dolls have proportionally flat bellies, because that’s what we all should be striving for and promoting.

  6. Vanessa – I agree that we have to be careful about promoting poor health. So there is a limit but there is also reality. I really am for more diversity all around. I’d like to see as much diversity in bodies as Mattel already gives us in heads. LIV is shorter with smaller boobs and less of a marked waist. That is what I looked like as a teen. I would like to see a doll shaped more like Michelle Obama – she’s a pear. She has a tiny torso and shapely arms – she carries all her weight in her butt and legs. I am an apple. Built more like Rosie O’Donnell at this point in my life. I know there are always the issues of clothes but I find that with stretch fabrics I get a lot more re-use. I feel like we are SO close to getting the diversity in bodies!!

  7. You are my hero LOLA!!!

  8. D7ana says:

    There are some newish ethnic dolls with more realistic (heavier) bodies, but they have old-school articulation – yes, clickable knees. They are called the Mixis. I have several posts on my blog about the Mixis dolls, but this one shows the Mixis dolls nude and in comparison to a Get Set fashion doll http://phillycollector.blogspot.com/2009/02/get-set-club-and-mixis-body-comparison.html

    For taller, heavier still roughly Barbie-scale figures, you can try JEM and the Get Set dolls – shown here in comparison shots – http://phillycollector.blogspot.com/2009/02/get-set-club-and-jem-doll-bodies.html. You can try for JEM and/or the Get Set aka G-Five dolls on eBay or one of the other online doll auction sites.

    Wishing you continued doll fun with your daughter.


    1. Hi D7ana – I’ve been a reader of your blog for some time. Love your comparisons. I will be on the lookout for these dolls on eBay. I love diversity!!

  9. Ms. Leo says:

    It has been hit or miss but I have found outfits for my fuller figured dolls. I will have to do a post! Shoes and clothes are the challenge! I like having older looking dolls too. Mature women and not just twenty somethings. Grandma should not have to wear a mini skirt! Not everyone is Tina Turner! So finding age appropriate clothking is important too. After the Fashion Avenue Barbie line, everything became rather slutty. Finding things I think they would were has really been an issue.

    1. Ms. Leo – Please do a post. I have been thinking for some time that I would do a clothing comparison (SIS kidswear fits Kelly in width but not length etc)…all of us could use several posts of this type. Lola (see above) has Edna Turnblad wearing Dora clothes…we can all share what we find and benefit from eath other’s “hit or miss” experiments.

  10. Ana Morales says:

    Yoy really have to see this Angel Gate doll, I love her body, is perfect in a diferent kind of way 😉

    she’s not finished yet, but you can see her body very well in this picture ^^
    con esos brazos rechonchitos… ¡Dan ganas de comersela!
    I don’t know how to say it in english xDDD
    but you speak spanish right?
    kisses from spain!!!!

  11. Ms. Boss says:

    Hello all. My name is Audrey and I am the creator and president of the Big Beautiful Doll Collection. I am actually working on a book about brining a new doll to the doll world and what happened to the company and my experience being in the industry. I loved being there and there aren’t many days that go by that I don’t think about coming back to the industry. So much has changed since I had the idea for the dolls back in 1999. Do I believe they could be a success now? Yes and no. Dasia was our top seller so she would probably be a success, but Dena and Dawn probably wouldn’t be. They weren’t back when we were running the company and probably wouldn’t be today. I loved being in the industry and will probably come back with just Dasia. If you would like to be added to my list to be notified when the book is done I can be reached at Audrey@msboss.net.

    1. I contacted Audrey and arranged to get my very own Dasia!! She’s wonderful in every way and she “sits” better than any other plus-sized doll. I will put together a post dedicated to Dasia VERY soon.

  12. Autumn says:

    I’m reading this site and I love what I’m reading, but this message makes me kind of squirmy. I’ve also spend a lot of personal time researching this issue because I’m a sort of anti-feminist. I almost always disagree with the shallow opinions and systematic demonization of femme women by feminists. I always roll my eyes when anyone complains about Barbie, I can’t help but hear their own insecurities which are so engorged a doll sends them into a venomous rant. But you would like the Barbies I carried around all my life, safe and clean in their “family home” which was a suitcase. I didn’t have many possessions and seemed to always be moving. I poured into that little “family” everything my real family wasn’t. Except I made them colored, across the board. It’s funny to see them now and remember this weird kid pysche I had and how it played out. My collection of over fifty dolls are old and young, male and female, and every ethnicity I could collect. And I’m as white as you, but in my situation there was speculation I might be “black”. My mother bought me a few cheap dolls, which happened to be black, and I had such an intense love of them and of seeing them with the others, after that I collected dolls carefully for their range of physical features. So I’m not a BBBarbie Collector, and the BBB was never “me”. (I was a Ballerina Teresa with an articulated body) But I wouldn’t leave her out, I wouldn’t demonize her. That’s just as mean, right? Isn’t it just as crazy to hate someone for being beautiful as to hate them for being ugly? I’m always crushed when some feminist gets in my face and tells me I like cleaning and cooking and barbies because I’m brainwashed and stupid. And I feel they are brainwashed and stupid to think so rigidly in the absurd boundaries set for them by people just as manipulative as the Patriarchs. Show me a world where all women are allowed to be anything they want to be, and no one says they have a sick self image or that they are or aren’t what a woman should be. Not by a man and certainly not by another woman. Having said that, I understand your situation is different and your child faces potential injustices. And I think what you did to address that is really beautiful.

    1. I love your story. Mixed race children raised in otherwise totally white families have such a strange weight on their shoulders. I love it that you cherished your little suitcase family as a way of coping with that weight. It took me a few years to realize that my hatred of BBB was based on the fact that I lost the blond hair at puberty. As I have written this blog and heard comments over the years I’ve had lots of mothers say to me, “Well Barbie is not a problem for us because my daughters have blond hair.” At first I just said, “Oh, yeah. I guess that wouldn’t be a problem then.” What I’ve come to realize is that BBB hurts everyone. The reason is because the number of American women who reach adulthood is very, very small. 90% of the blonds you see at the shopping mall or at work have fake hair color. IOW, to raise up as singularly perfect, an image that virtually no one mirrors in real life – is to challenge all women to aspire to something no one naturally achieves. Just last week the Barbie brand announce their new body options — I love the variety of skin tones, hair colors, and body types. I love the natural faces that don’t look like they are sporting makeup. I even like the blond ones in the collection. It’s hard to say whether I like them because they are so much better, or because I’ve gotten over some of my emotional pain from the past.

      1. Autumn says:

        Thanks for the reply. I didn’t think you would change my mind, but you did a little. I understand your point a lot better now. It isn’t that only a very few women are hyper blonde, it’s that practically none are. It isn’t that Barbie is somehow sending the message most women are less than attractive but that women all are implicitly less than. You’re right, that is pretty concerning. Where I’m from in the Southern US, we have a lot of religious brainwash. Women down here are given a different message: Don’t dress like a tramp. Don’t bring bad things to yourself by being too attractive. Essentially, down here female beauty is highly demonized. And from my perspective growing up, the way I rebelled was by going platinum and drowning my face in make up. The skirt and the cleavage and the whole package modern feminists abhor really came to my culture as a feminist movement, to allow women to be as pretty as they wanted and not fear violence if they should wear a skirt. I just personally feel it’s really important to remember not all women feel beautiful in the same outfit. Also, when I researched this matter for myself, I found that the creator of Barbie didn’t understand what her daughter found so enthralling about the doll. She noticed the child adored it and she went with that. Mattell can be accused of stacking the deck in favor of the BBBarbie but truthfully they’ve always made other models that just wouldn’t sell. Why won’t they sell? I don’t think anyone knows (but I’ve noticed in the last five years Mattell has struggled to sell BBBarbies). Probably something to do with our subconscious female archetypes. Ancient goddesses have the same distorted shape, as if the human pysche gravitates toward this extreme expression of femininity. But I’ll be meditating on your message and keeping it in mind. And I’ll be sorting through your other posts, I really like this page.

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