Bratz Remixed: Hypersexualized Dolls Turn Into Inspiring Female Role Models

Figures that once sported heavy makeup and revealing outfits have been reimagined as heroines such as Malala Yousafzai and Jane Goodall.

British primatologist Jane Goodall and her transformed Bratz doll. (Photos: Goodall: Wikipedia; doll: Wendy Tsao)

Oct 15, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Here are two phrases you don’t usually see in the same sentence: “Bratz doll” and “role model.” With skimpy outfits and glitzy eye makeup, the Bratz line has long been criticized for promoting a hypersexualized identity and unrealistic body image to young girls. Now Wendy Tsao, a mom who has been making toys by hand since 2007, is transforming gently used Bratz dolls into likenesses of inspiring women.

“Personally, I like the idea of subverting a Bratz doll to make it more like a doll that I would like to play with,” wrote Tsao in an email to TakePart.

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Indeed, with her considerable skills, Tsao has morphed dolls that look like they’re ready for an evening at a nightclub into figures of accomplished women, such as girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai and a young version of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Tsao’s been sharing pictures of her one-of-a-kind dolls on her website over the past month. However, the project really caught the attention of the public after she posted images of her remixed Bratz dolls on the website Bored Panda last week.

Tsao hadn’t realized it was possible to change the appearance of a Bratz doll until she saw the Tree Change Dolls created by Australian artist Sonia Singh. With their natural appearance and hand-knit clothing, Singh’s dolls, which she created from Bratz dolls obtained from thrift shops, became a viral sensation last year. Tsao was so inspired by Singh’s dolls that she decided to attempt to create her own. “I wanted to explore further the idea that toys or playthings could have an impact on one’s identity,” she wrote.

Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist and youngest Nobel Prize laureate. (Photos: Yousafzai: Wikipedia; doll: Wendy Tsao)

When creating a doll, Tsao takes into account the appearance of the original Bratz doll, including its hair and skin tone, and considers “possible inspiring female role models that would suit those parameters.” And in a world where research shows half of girls ages six to eight wish they were thinner and 80 percent of 10-year-olds have been on a diet, shifting the focus from a doll’s flashy outfit and pouty lips to her accomplishments matters.

“I research the women that I think of and personally admire, but I’ve been receiving more suggestions from the public, which is great, because I always appreciate learning about other amazing women,” wrote Tsao. Along with creating the dolls of Rowling and Yousafzai, Tsao has made figures of British primatologist Jane Goodall, Somali model and activist Waris Dirie, and Roberta Bondar, the first female Canadian astronaut.

Tsao has also made a half-dozen diverse dolls that aren’t based on a particular person but who are still characters that young girls can aspire to be.

The doll Tsao named “Abby” can be “found reading under her covers even though her mother keeps warning her that she will strain her eyes and need glasses,” according to Tsao’s website. Her doll named “Carina” enjoys music and soccer and “was named after a constellation. When she visits her grandfather in Mexico, she always asks him to point it out to her in the night sky,” reads the description on the site.

Tsao wrote that she has “been caught off-guard” by the positive response to the dolls. But if you want your own Malala doll—sorry, Tsao doesn’t plan to mass-produce it. However, she does plan to auction it and the other figures off on eBay sometime in the future.

J.K. Rowling, British novelist best known for 'Harry Potter' series (left); Roberta Bondar, first female Canadian astronaut. 

(Photos: Rowling and Bondar: Wikipedia; dolls: Wendy Tsao)

Jane Goodall, British primatologist and U.N. Messenger of Peace (left); Waris Dirie, model, author, social activist. 

(Photos: Goodall and Dirie: Wikipedia; dolls: Wendy Tsao)

Abby (left) and Carina. (Photos: Wendy Tsao)