Kellie Deys, Binghamton University
Kellie Deys is a PhD candidate at Binghamton University whose academic interests include Feminist Studies, Cultural Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Victorian Literature, and Composition. She has taught courses on Oscar Wilde, representations of "Otherness" in American popular culture, Western gender roles and body image in the twentieth century, and postcolonial literature with a focus on global constructions of women in relationship to nature. She is currently on a Dissertation Year Fellowship.
Barbie's (R)Evolution?: Bratz Dolls, the Rhetoric of Democracy, and a 'Passion for Fashion'
Since their debut in 2001, Bratz dolls have become a cultural phenomenon, not simply because they hold a 40% market share or because they seem to have shaken the unflappable Barbie, but more importantly, because they offer both the rhetoric of democracy—a superficial acceptance and encouragement of multiethnicism—and the rhetoric of female bodily realism (i.e. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty)—a superficial acceptance and encouragement of more realistic female body image. Marketed towards young girls, Bratz carry important messages about female worth, but also strive to create consumers whose very self-identity is predicated upon consumption. Beneath the less busty, slightly fuller-figured, shorter exterior of the Bratz dolls though is an image of femaleness dependent upon and consisting of: shopping, beautification, and sexuality. Unlike the different incarnations of Barbie, the Bratz dolls stand on multiethnic equal footing. Bratz dolls can seemingly portray multiethnic choices, because through this veneer, they reinforce stereotypes of women as shopping-obsessed narcissists, non-white women as overtly and aggressively sexual, and consumerism as the ultimate evaluator of worth. However, as I will argue, the ambiguity of their ethnicities, though offering some positives, seems not only to make them more marketable, but also, significantly, to devalue their different ethnic backgrounds by placing them under an umbrella culture of MTV and BET consumerist "gangsta chic." I will argue that in the construction and marketing of Bratz, MGA uses the rhetoric of choice and democracy to sell a limited notion of female sexuality, pursuits, and abilities, which despite the extremely contemporary and "sassy" exterior, ultimately reinforces gender and ethnic stereotypes.