‘Copycat-kids? The influence of television advertising on children and teenagers’ by Pam Hanley et al.

This was one of the essays that turned out not to be too relevant for my dissertation, but I found pieces of it very interesting in general. Television was spontaneously identified as a secondary, yet powerful, influence on children and teenagers. Role models such as pop stars and sport stars fell under the same category. Family, friends and close relations showed to be the primary influence. However, a quote really caught my attention:

There was a feeling that, because advertisement usually appear again and again, any negative impact can be magnified (Hanley et al., 2000, p. 5)

In the early stages of my dissertation, I was looking into far too many things at once. One of these was toy design and advertisement of branded dolls such as Barbie, My Scene or Bratz.

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I remember the My Scene dolls being advertised on Cartoon Network when I was younger. I remember thinking they looked strange and angular, but the combination of animation and dolls in the adverts was cool. Then the Bratz dolls came along, and I absolutely loved them. -Let’s ignore the fact that by the time the Bratz dolls emerged I was far too old to play with them-. What I recognize now, is the difference in appeal between the My Scene doll and the Bratz doll. My Scene tend to have crisp edges, whereas Bratz uses soft, curved lines: which matches the technique character designers often recommend for creating appealing characters. Presumably, I did not find the My Scene dolls ‘pretty’ in a sense because they were sharp rather than soft.

Image source. Bratz pyjamas party.

Image source. Bratz pyjamas party.

Image source. My Scene dolls.

Image source. My Scene dolls.

Furthermore, the study found that children and teenagers recognize television as a source of inspiration, often for things which are simple to copy, such as clothes and style, language, actions and catchphrases. One thing that has caught my attention over this research period, is the focus on the Bratz dolls’ appearance. Many, many people argue that the dolls are too sexualized, where as many, many young girls seem to absolutely idolize them and attempt to get their look. The video below shows a make-up tutorial showing how to make yourself look like a Bratz girl.

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On another drastic transformation, the Australian artist, Sonia Singh, decided to give some Bratz dolls a ‘makeunder’. Her Etsy shop opens on February 15th, 2015.

These dolls have been rescued and rehabilitated from op-shops and tip-shops around Tasmania. These lil fashion dolls have opted for a ‘tree change’, swapping high-maintenance glitz ‘n’ glamour for down-to-earth style. I hand-repaint the dolls’ faces, mold new shoes, and my Mum sews and knits their clothing (Sonia Singh)

Image source. Bratz doll Chloe before and after her 'makeunder'.

Image source. Bratz doll Chloe before and after her ‘makeunder’.

Image source. Bratz doll Jasmine before and after her 'makeunder'.

Image source. Bratz doll Jasmine before and after her ‘makeunder’.

 

Image source. Another Bratz doll Chloe after her 'makeunder'.

Image source. Another Chloe after her ‘makeunder’.

Another designer has done a similar thing. In 2014, Nickolay Lamm launched his Lammily doll, with the tagline ‘Average is beautiful’. This doll was mentioned in a lot of the feminist books and articles I read for my dissertation research. It is expected to start a ‘feel-good’ generation of toys for children.

Image source. Barbie doll measured with Lammily doll.

Image source. Barbie doll measured with Lammily doll.

I find these doll designs to relate strongly to what I want to do with my character designs. The only thing I find a bit ‘wrong’ with projects like these, and feminist works in general, is that writers generally (not everyone, of course) seem to deny the existence of skinny people. I don’t think the problem lays in dolls or female characters being skinny, but rather the lack of variations in body shapes and body mass. The Lammily doll considers this, I think, but the doll markets itself as being based on the average girl rather than the common beauty ideal. I think, like Hanley’s study found, that advertisements are more influential because they are repeated so frequently. When I was a kid, and I doubt this has changed, there were between 1-4 doll commercials within every commercial break. I think that product designers like Singh and Lamm can prevent the establishment of a limited beauty ideal, simply by offering variations to the commercial template of the female figure. I want to do the same with my character designs.