If you’ve ever held a Barbie (or any such) doll, the one thing that’ll strike you is how un-childlike she is. With excessive make-up including eye-tints and false eye-lashes, she is usually in very grown-up clothes flashing thigh-high slits in those elaborate gowns, or wearing very sexualized clothes, with towering heels to go with them.
With the full make-up and shampoo-commercial hair, she looks like she’s spent hours in the salon, not having done anything interesting in the day, apart from taking care of her high-maintenance looks. If this what we want our kids to aspire to? If not, then how exactly do such dolls fit in as toys for children??
It’s exactly this question that led Tasmanian artist Sonia Singh to take matters in her own hand, quite literally. Picking up Bratz dolls from local thrift stores, she simply removed their make-up (it must have taken her a while, considering that the Bratz dolls are even more artificially presented than a Barbie with a shockingly plumped-up mouth gleaming with gloss.)
Then, she removed the heels and replaced them with colourful gumboots. She then took some paint and made her own eyes and mouth for the doll. She painted wide eyes with a child-like sparkle. The lips were naturally coloured, and the hair tied back in a ponytail or left loose. Her mother knit the dolls some fun clothes.
Voila… the dolls had had a MAKE-UNDER!! The results, when you see the video are so dramatic, they fill you with exhilaration and exasperation.
Exhilaration, because obviously this is a huge thing. Finally, the power has shifted. We can now reclaim these “fashion dolls”, and transform them into something we’d actually like to gift our kids. We no longer need to “pick up a Barbie” as a lazy, uninspired gifting option.
As for feeling exasperated, this video shows us that we’ve been going terribly wrong so far. Because of the marketing hype, peer pressure, or a lack of option we have allowed our kids to play with the sexualized trash that comes packaged in the form of a doll. It’s the same as playing Bollywood item songs at kids’ birthday parties. And one also feels a justified anger towards toy manufacturers.
As Sonia’s partner says in the video, “The before-and-after shots of the Tree Change Dolls really show what these dolls are and what they could be. And that’s a choice by the toy manufactures are making.”
But there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. This is an idea whose time has come. And as divine miracles go, the solution is gentle, effortless and quite unstoppable. Sonia Singh has started a fire (she herself seems charmingly dazed by all the attention), and it’s up to us to fan it.
She now offers YouTube tutorials on how exactly you can convert a fashion doll into a Tree Change Doll. You heard that right…a ‘Tree Change Doll’— one who you can imagine climbing trees and running around, wearing overalls and muddy gumboots, with messy hair, mischief in her eyes, and the brightest smile on her lips.
(Another option, yet to come to India, are the Lammily Dolls, brainchild of graphic artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm, crafted with the belief that “average is beautiful”.)
The kid at home has seen the Tree Change Dolls video. I am amazed that she is willing to allow most of her fashion dolls to be transformed. She wants some of them to be going to parties, so they will have child-like party clothes and glitter on the sneakers, which is great.
This is going to be our little project these summer holidays. And we’re going to make extra ones to gift to her friends, with individual touches!
I, for one, cannot wait to get started. This will be a fitting gift for our little people who’ve never had the joy of playing with a doll that looks and dresses like them. About time, isn’t it?