Monsters vs Barbies
When my five-year old came home from preschool raving about Monsters Hive (sic), I didn’t pay much attention. All I knew (oh, ignorance is bliss) was that there was a TV show called Monster High which some family friends’ kids watched, and that it was about vampires and zombies and stuff.
When she asked for a Monsters Hive (sic) doll for Christmas, I payed slightly closer attention.
To start my education, we rented a Monster High DVD from the store. It was the worst kind of inane, but I reckon one could have a few meaningful conversations about diversity and minorities, so I wasn’t too annoyed. The shoes and clothes were rather disconcerting though.
Christmas rolled around and an over-generous (grand)Father Christmas sent along not one, but two Monster High dolls accompanied by various other dolly paraphernalia. All other presents went into the cupboard and Frankie Stein and Cleo De Nile (yes, those are their given names) have accompanied my daughter pretty much everywhere since then.
In the last week, this obsession has taken on a whole new level. Our neighbours have returned from holiday, and lo-and-behold, their five-year old also received a Monster High doll for Christmas. So now the kids play happily for hours and hours and hours with their Monster High dolls and a collection of Barbies.
Now, Rose herself does not own any Barbies. I have very successfully undermined the Barbie marketing for the last five years by simply saying that I personally don’t like Barbie, I think she is silly and I won’t buy Barbie stuff. But since I won’t buy any branded stuff at all, this isn’t a big deal. (Yoghurt is the exception; Barbie yoghurt is permitted as long as it is alternated with Spiderman yoghurt.) Rose’s school has been very helpful in supporting this view by banning all character clothing. However, Rose’s friends are all fairly fond of Barbie and she gets a “healthy” dose of Barbie play at other people’s houses.
- Their anatomy represents an almost unobtainable (and for most unhealthy) ideal
- They are over-sexualised
- There is limited racial or cultural diversity
- They tend to have girly occupations (even the astronaut wears high heels! And Mars Barbie, though her shoes are more practical, still wears a pink and white space suit. And she doesn’t have any gloves which means her hands will explode.)
- They epitomize the massive consumer marketing machine.
Now, however, my keenness to find a Barbie alternative has come back to bite me. Zombarbie. That is what Monster High dolls are. And since they are also made by Mattel, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Have you seen how thin these things are? Have you noticed how deformed their feet are? Granted, they have cool hair, but do you know how much make-up they wear? Oh, and they cost about four times as much.
And why, oh why must all little girls sit down with these kinds of dolls and instantly start planning a wedding? Since Mou and I are not married, why is my daughter so obsessed with this? I do my best to subvert the Disney-like narrative by proposing that the two dolls marry each other, rather than waiting for their boyfriends to pitch up, but nope, that is not an option. (Because on the TV show they actually have boyfriends, not because there is an in principle objection – I am grateful for the small things).
Having witnessed, and/or participated in a number of monster weddings since Christmas morning, I was fully expecting the same kinds of games when the two girls played together with the combination of Monster High dolls and Barbies. Imagine my surprise when in fact the Monster High dolls, with a few Barbie allies, gang up on the “bad” Barbies. It’s Monsters vs Barbies folks! Bring on the popcorn.
I’m not particularly keen on games that involve violence and death, but a little reading has reassured me that when it comes to Barbie (and so why not Zombarbie) this is normal. A 2005 study led by Dr Agnes Nairn found that it was common for girls to mutilate and torture their Barbies.
“Of all of the products we asked the children to describe as ‘cool’ or ‘not cool’, Barbie aroused the most complex and violent emotions,” said Dr Nairn. “The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a ‘cool’ activity in contrast to other forms of play with the doll. “The types of mutilation are varied and creative, and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving.” (Press Release)*
Erm, what?! Now my anxiety about what my child is playing and why has just taken on a whole new level!
The researchers found that the children were treating Barbie in this manner because she is “babyish’ (we’re talking about 7-year olds here!) ‘unfashionable’, ‘plastic’, has multiple selves and because she is a feminine icon.” All good reasons for rejecting Barbie, but really kids, torture?
We haven’t quite reached that level of play (yet). So for now, while Rose and her friend battle it out with the Barbies, I’ll just keep inserting my subversive narratives and hope that, while my opinion is still valued a little, I can counter some of the rubbish to which my daughter is being subjected. Hopefully, without turning her into a raving psychopath.
Mom: I can see that these really are monsters.
Rose: No they’re not, they’re people.
Mom: But look how thin their arms are. Only monsters could have arms so thin.
Rose: blank stare
Mom: And their eyes are so big. Like the wolf in little Red Riding Hood.
Rose: even more blank
Mom: And look at their hands!
Rose: slightly annoyed Come on, we need to get ready for the wedding!