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Five Things That Shouldn't Be Controversial About Dolls

An avid doll collector, Koriander Bullard is not afraid of the dark side of the toy aisle.

Butterfly Art Barbie and the original Barbie

Butterfly Art Barbie and the original Barbie

Ever since Barbie first hit store shelves in 1959, grown adults have been looking for reasons to be angry with fashion dolls. Below are five doll trends that have been viewed as controversial, as well as notes on why the controversy is ridiculous and often harmful.

  1. Adulthood
  2. Representation
  3. Puberty
  4. Expectant Mothers
  5. Makeup and Fashion

1. Adulthood

As soon as trouble-seeking adults saw the once-teenage fashion model with a full set of breasts, they started spreading the false rumor that Barbie was selling "sex" to little girls. Once the truth came out that her design was stolen from Germany's Bild Lilli, religious groups deluded themselves into thinking they had been proven "right," and before long, parents who were old enough to know better were calling for a full boycott and toy burning.

But Barbie endured, as did her competitors, because fashion dolls serve a variety of useful purposes to children. They're not just fun to play with; fashion dolls also represent the world around us, and subsequently all the different types of people children will likely meet as they grow up.

Children live vicariously through dolls; following Barbie's debut commercial and song, they make believe that they "are" Barbie, Ken, Skipper, or any of their friends and extended relatives. As part of unstructured play, by roleplaying with dolls, children activate problem-solving skills and trigger the reward center of the brain—so, in a sense, playing with dolls is crucial to brain development.

Barbie seemed "controversial" to those who had never seen paper dolls, which also had adult characters, simply because she had breasts. People equated breasts with adult sexuality, showing a jealous bias against women comfortable with their own bodies.

This wasn't the only time adulthood was deemed "scandalous" in the toy aisle, either.

Tattoos

In 1998, Mattel once again caught some negative press just because Butterfly Art Barbie had tattoos. Never mind the fact that she came with sticker tattoos you could peel off or choose not to use, or the fact that temporary tattoos were already in vending machines and given out with children's Valentine's Day cards; people just had to pretend that there was a "problem" with a doll of a now-adult Barbie with tattoos.

Conservative voices in media demanded people pretend that tattoos on dolls would teach children to get into crime, because these same people have an unjust bias against those with tattoos. This completely ignores the fact that, by 1998, many moms and dads had tattoos. In fact, many Millennial children and tweens in 1998 already had grandparents with tattoos, and most of these folks were normal, law-abiding citizens.

Bias is where fantasy controversies stem from, and annoyingly, these two fashion dolls are not the only dolls to have been hit with such inappropriate backlash.

Laverne Cox's doll, Earring Magic Ken, dolls featuring diverse ethnicities and body types, and a doll that uses a wheelchair

Laverne Cox's doll, Earring Magic Ken, dolls featuring diverse ethnicities and body types, and a doll that uses a wheelchair

2. Representation

Bigots got bent out of shape in May of 2022 when Mattel unveiled Laverne Cox's beautiful doll, complete with honey-gold hair and a Christmas-red gown. Fox News fans lit up the internet with hate, and embarrassingly, this wasn't new.

Since 1993's Earring Magic Ken, critics have accused Mattel of somehow altering kids' orientations, and they've used LBGTQ-specific slurs against Ken, who was seen in all advertisements dancing with Barbie, his longtime girlfriend. Vulgar detractors even went so far as to falsely accuse Mattel of having Ken wear a sex toy, when, in reality, he is wearing a plain, silver chain with a circular hoop.

Since 1968, Mattel has been slowly but surely expanding on the ethnicities represented in their doll line. But with each new ethnically diverse friend comes unwarranted backlash from racists, with angry trolls on the internet in the early 2020s calling the dolls "woke Barbie."

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Bratz and Moxie dolls also faced similar backlash when racists began telling parents via Fox News and biased newspapers that the ethnic features of these dolls automatically made them appear as "prostitutes"—which, of course, was never the intention from any designer at MGA.

Dolls featuring physical disabilities have also been seen as "scandalous," with articles actually daring to ask if kids were "ready" for such dolls, ignoring those who grew up with disabilities and who absolutely deserve representation.

Growing-Up Skipper and Growing Up Glam

Growing-Up Skipper and Growing Up Glam

3. Puberty

It's a fact that kids are often given certain toys to help prepare them for adulthood. Baby dolls exist to teach children about parenting. Occupational toys allow kids to imagine themselves as doctors or soldiers.

Tween girls hit puberty, so wouldn't it make sense for them to have a toy parents can use to talk to them about their changing bodies, so they won't be ashamed or frightened when it happens?

That was the intention for Growing-Up Skipper and for later puberty dolls: They were created to help kids understand how a girl becomes a woman and to take all the stress and fear out of growing up.

Alas, trouble-making adults somehow linked the idea to teen pregnancy, and articles even into the 2020s have wrongly classified puberty dolls as "inappropriate."

Two versions of Midge and Baby

Two versions of Midge and Baby

4. Expectant Mothers

Every child asks where babies come from, especially if a new baby brother or sister is on the way. To help parents explain this, in 2003, Mattel released Happy Family Midge, a pregnant, grown adult doll who had been married to also-grown Alan since their 1991 wedding set, complete with matching, carved-in wedding bands and a picture on the box of Midge, Alan, and their older son, Ryan.

Somehow, the same people who have no problems with Teen Skipper carting around various babies of her own in a "babysitter" line suddenly wanted the world to pretend that Midge, fully grown and traditionally married, was somehow teaching kids to have babies out of wedlock. No such message is on the box.

The same teen pregnancy–obsessed conservatives also started telling the press that Midge being a "single" mom (when, again, she is married) was somehow "detrimental" to children, when half of all children at this point were living with single, widowed, or divorced parents.

By inventing a fake controversy, these adults made every child who grew up in a single-parent household feel inferior, and that did far more damage than the doll.

My Bling Bling and Bratz Sweet Heart

My Bling Bling and Bratz Sweet Heart

5. Makeup and Fashion

Kid Millennials were sold makeup kits and dolls, with advertisements telling girls as young as three that if they wanted to woo the boys, they needed makeup.

Imagine the confusion when these same kids became tweens, bought Barbie and Bratz dolls caked in glittery makeup, wore the same makeup, and suddenly were getting publicly shamed by adults for doing as they were told.

Boomers and Gen X wanted it both ways, it seems. They wanted their girls to wear makeup and to enjoy dolls with makeup and skimpy clothes, but when their wishes were granted, suddenly their children were now "bad" girls, and the dolls were blamed for the oversexualization of kids.

While it's not okay for a doll aimed at kids to wear fishnets or "flirty" clothes, shorts in the summertime with tank tops shouldn't be seen as "scandalous" since people in general don't wear sweatsuits in 90-degree weather.

And while it's inappropriate to push makeup onto little girls, it's worth noting that adults wear makeup. Once more, dolls should represent the world around us. Adults typically wear makeup and trendy fashions as a form of self-expression. Many are moms and dads.

It is wrong and dangerous to feed kids the idea that people are "asking for it" if they wear certain fashions or makeup. It silences victims of sexual abuse, making them feel as though they are to blame because of what they wear, and it excuses crime far more than it does to prevent it.

Adults shouldn't take things that are normal and twist them into false controversies.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Koriander Bullard

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