A Small Messaging Problem with the Wonderful Tree Change Dolls
Unless you live under a rock, one of the things that may have grabbed your attention on social media this week is the “Tree Change Dolls.” I know they grabbed mine.
The family combs local thrift shops and finds discarded fashion dolls. They give the dolls a more natural-looking make-over and sell each as a unique work of art, and as an improved toy for young girls.
The before-and-after pics of the dolls that are circulating the internet really highlight the vision and creativity behind the Tree Change Dolls.
I love upcycling, I love creativity and I love entrepreneurs. I love overnight social media success stories, like this one. One would think I would be completely in love with the Tree Change Dolls. The parenting world, and the feminist world, are lauding the Tree Change Dolls as a positive alternative for young girls.
I understand all that, and I appreciate it. However, for me, there is something a wee bit disturbing about the subtle marketing message of these dolls. Even more disturbing is the fact that few people seem to be seeing this message as questionable.
The vast majority of the dolls who get to become Tree Change Dolls are Bratz dolls. Bratz dolls have glitzy urban clothes and lots of makeup.
The “Tree Change” process takes the makeup off the dolls, and puts them in dowdy clothes. Now, apparently, according to the marketing, these dolls are able to play and explore and live in ways that their makeup and clothing prevented them previously.
Most folks agree that the Tree Change Dolls are a lot cuter than the original Bratz. Many parents dislike Bratz, feeling they promote a certain attitude that is undesirable in young girls. I find all fashion dolls a bit questionable, and wonder why Bratz earns the ire of parents who are happy to feed their daughters a constant diet of Barbie and Disney. I’d take a sassy Bratz over a dishwater Disney Princess any day, and wonder if all the Bratz-hate is rooted anti-urban racism and classism.
As a child, I would have loved a cute Tree Change Doll much more than any fashion doll. As an adult, I, like many, have been concerned by the lack of ethnic diversity available in dolls, and the unrealistic expectations that fashion dolls like Barbie might create among young girls.
At the same time, taking the makeup and snazzy clothes off Bratz dolls and promoting the changes as wholesome improvements also sends an undesirable message.
In a way, this message is just as limiting to young girls as fashion dolls are.
Why can’t a person wear makeup and fashionable clothes and still be smart, athletic and fun? Why can’t a fashionable urban girl love nature? Why does taking the makeup off a doll somehow make that doll more wholesome, more spiritual, more intelligent or more appropriate?
I really appreciate the creativity and talent behind the Tree Change Dolls. What I don’t appreciate is this subtle slut-shaming message.
To me, this message smacks of blaming the high heels, short skirt and lipstick for the rape. “If only the woman had been dressed more appropriately she would never have been attacked. She was asking for it!”
I recognize these dolls come from a different country than I do, and that I might not fully understand the cultural implications from an Australian perspective.
I also know that concern about how women dress themselves is an international issue of extreme political importance, unfortunately.
Like many people who love the Tree Change Dolls, I am concerned about the message that fashion dolls send to young girls. Unlike many people, I am also a bit concerned about this aspect of the message sent by Tree Change Dolls.
Women must be free to dress the way they want, without the judgment of others. Neither fashion dolls nor anti-fashion dolls really promote the idea that women get to choose how they present themselves.
The problem comes from the culturally-acceptable-but-truly-heinous idea that it is fine to judge a woman’s character, talent, intelligence and moral standing based on her outfit and makeup.
I’m not expecting a small family with a brilliant suddenly-booming cottage industry to change the world any more than they already are. I think the Tree Change Dolls are inspired and lovely, and I wish them much success.
At the same time, I also wish they would stop suggesting that women who enjoy makeup and fashion are somehow less appropriate than women who don’t. To me, that seems a slippery slope toward legally-enforced fashion choices.
Women in many parts of the world are legally required to dress in certain ways. Don’t we make room for the attitude that demands that kind of subjugation when we judge women’s characters based on their clothes and makeup?