Changing Times, Changing Dolls


Before I loved writing, I loved playing with dolls. The thrill I got from weaving tales around my dolls and imbibing traits and virtues into their personalities, I later translated to my characters in my stories. But most of my stories involved princesses not because I was especially fond of them but because the dolls available in stores, when I was young, would invariably be dressed in flowing, lacy gowns or printed summer frocks. Indeed the fact used to irk me sometimes. I remember wanting to buy denims and tee shirts for my dolls but even the size XXS would fit them! The last doll father gifted me when I was 13 or 14 wore a pair of cloth trousers. Though I was nearing the stage when I would soon set aside my dolls for real life dramas, that doll was the apple of my eye, and the envy of all my playmates. When enacting fashion shows, that pair of trousers was the most coveted item, because the fashion magazines we had just started browsing told us that real life fashion models did not wear floral gowns.
Yesterday when I went to the department store I was hard pressed to find those flowing gowns I so fondly remember from my own childhood. All dolls I saw were dressed in practical denims and crop tops or short cocktail dresses. Even the Disney Princesses dresses had undergone a modern makeover. They had become more practical, and the gowns less restrictive.
On the surface, I was happy to see my childhood dreams finally translating to reality 6 years later. Feminists who argue that dolls propagate patriarchy as they teach young girls that their role in life is only to cook food, manage the house and look after children will be happy with the change. When I was young, the slogans behind the dolls boxes were different variations of the generic theme: “I want to be a princess”. Yesterday I spotted dolls with different slogans – I want to be a reporter, I want to be a rock star, I want to be a doctor and so on. Kelly too I observed had left her girly frocks and was now driving a red sports car.
Maybe on some level this indicates a slight shift in how our society perceives women. She is no longer a simpering beauty meant to be pampered like a princess but an independent, career-driven lady who can kick ass. Being a woman myself, I can only celebrate this change.
Someone, like my mother’s cousin’s 100-year old aunt, would undoubtedly click her tongue disapprovingly, and rant about the rising immorality among girls nowadays. Maybe the short skirts and plunging necklines also indicate a downward shift of our moral values. Some of the dolls were dressed in flashy revealing dresses and maybe we are teaching the children to be insecure about their body image. It cannot be argued that Barbie wears make-up, which has only grown more prominent over time. Her stomach is totally flat, her legs and waist trimmed. She wears high heels, straightens her hair and short dresses. Why don’t we have normal sized dolls? I recently read that before releasing the doll version of their infamous villain, Ursula, Disney reduced her curves. Insecurities over body size and body image are plaguing girls as young as six years old! Here is a poetry performance by Melissa May, titled ‘Dear Ursula’ on the topic. I find the poem to be really good and hard hitting and couldn’t resist not sharing it:

(You can check out my previous article, published on Campus Diaries, on ‘Is Disney Propogating The Ideal Body Image Myth?’ here).
I don’t know what impact the dolls will have on children’s psyche for certain. Probably the makers do not either. But there was a small part of me that felt a slight twinge at the thought that young girls would no longer dream of becoming princesses. Practical, calculating reality barges in on childish dreams too soon.
I wish I could preserve my princess dreams, when anything was possible with just a bit of hard work and pixie dust. They weren’t so bad….