If you were a preteen girl in the early 2000s, chances are you were familiar with Bratz dolls. Compared to the classic Barbie, Bratz dolls were big-headed with sharp, made-up features. They dressed in street wear and other, edgier fashions, and these dolls were usually Black or POC, or a sort of racially-ambiguous shade of brown. I grew up collecting a few Barbies, but when Bratz hit the scene, I got more than a few. They made Barbie feel stuffy and proper. Bratz dolls were cool.
I and my other Black girl friends at the time were in love with these new dolls. They had an aesthetic that we wanted to mimic with our own clothes. They had names like Yasmin, Sasha, and Jade, names that were familiar to us. By the time the first live-action Bratz movie came out in 2007, I was in high school and had outgrown the affection I had for the dolls. The animated TV series came about in 2005, and I would watch a few episodes with the younger kids at my mother’s daycare.
All this to say, Bratz dolls were very much a staple in Black and Latine culture. The dolls are also racialized that way. You’re supposed to look at them and see people of color, save for the few white characters. So, it was a shock to many people when the Bratz team revealed that their first-ever celebrity collaboration would be with Kylie Jenner.
A primer on Kardashian Kontroversy
Kylie Jenner is a part of the uber-famous Kardashian-Jenner family. Her older sister is Kim Kardashian, who has also had her fair share of controversy. Despite their protesting in the media, the Kardashians and Jenners have been criticized for altering their appearance with plastic surgery and photo editing. More specifically, they’ve been called out for adopting features very similar to those of Black women.
This might sound like a non-issue to you. It’s her body and she can do what she wants with it, right? Well, many critics of the family beg to differ. The same features that Black women and girls have often been ridiculed or sexualized over were “in fashion” during the rise of the Kardashians. So, other people who are not Black copied and mimicked these features to attain money, desirability, and success.
Women like Jenner and Kardashian are often referred to as “culture vultures.” Culture vultures are people who try on aspects of Black culture and dispose of them when they go “out of fashion” once again. The problem lies in the fact that Black women can’t cast off our Blackness when it is convenient. In an increasingly racist, white supremacist world, that Blackness is so often criminalized or sexualized against our will. So, we live with the often cruel reality of being Black, while women like the Kardashians dip their toes in and out.
The Kardashians and Jenners have the money to nip and tuck here and there whenever they want, but many Black women don’t have the luxury to dispose of the features that people mock us for naturally possessing. Now, as the cultural tides are seeming to shift once again toward a “thin is in” mentality, siblings of the family like Kim and Khloe are allegedly getting their plastic surgery removed.
The reactions online
Reactions to the announcement from MGA Entertainment, the company that owns the Bratz brand, have been mostly critical. Many people have pointed out the obvious: choosing a white woman to lead a campaign for dolls that are based on women of color seems like a huge misstep.
Most people didn’t mince words when it came to describing their disbelief or disdain over the decision. Another huge point of conversation online was the shade they chose for the Kylie doll, compared to Jenner’s actual complexion. The Bratz doll is a noticably deeper shade than Jenner, causing many to wonder if this was a decision Jenner made or one made by MGA. The skin tone thing is so egregious it’s almost comical. It further accentuates the culture vulture narrative that follows the family.
Why it has struck a chord
If the Kardashian-Jenner’s can cosplay as Black women to the tune of a multi-million dollar empire, what’s stopping other people from doing the same? Granted, they had a bit of a head start when it comes to the millions, but this is no longer a unique phenomenon. Even if your social media algorithm is catered perfectly to you, you’ll likely come across a white woman wearing box braids and adopting a “blaccent” to her millions of followers, all against your will.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Jasmin Larian, who is the daughter of the Bratz founder Isaac Larian, said,
“Kylie truly embodies everything Bratz has stood for since its inception 22 years ago — from being disruptive and rebellious to energetic and expressive. Not only will this collaboration expand to Kylie’s millions of fans, but it will also reach the audiences that grew up with Bratz and are excited to relive the Y2K Bratz lifestyle today. We couldn’t be prouder to welcome Kylie into the Bratz family.”
The Hollywood Reporter
Bratz dolls are still fairly popular with young girls, but it’s hard not to see this move as a grasp at more money and relevance. Highlighting Jenner’s “millions of fans” really solidifies that notion. At the end of the day, MGA Entertainment is a business, and their goal is to acquire more money for their executives and CEO. They ultimately don’t really care if this deal is a slap in the face to many of the Black girls and girls of color who grew up with these dolls—the same girls who made the brand what it is today.
The Bratz team hasn’t released a statement about the backlash, so they likely will not address it at all. They too are capitalizing on a hot moment, seeing an opportunity to sell more dolls, probably at a higher rate than the traditional lineup.
Who could they have chosen instead?
The thing about Kylie Jenner is that she gets compared to a Bratz doll … a lot. I’ve seen comparisons go as far back as 2015, but are there other options that could have been considered for the doll? Maybe. Some people online have suggested Rihanna and Beyoncé. If they wanted to shoot for younger stars, they could have gone with Zendaya or singer Normani. Alas, a decision has been made. Because it is the internet, everyone who disagrees with the choice can say so.
What names would you recommend for a celebrity Bratz doll?
(featured image: MGA)
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