I wasn’t allowed to have Barbie dolls as a child. My mother—ahead of her time, for sure—objected to doll’s the unnatural proportions. She did not want anything in our house giving the message that her daughters needed to look like something other than a normal human female. One night, hearing a banging, I found her using a hammer to remold a sand-filled flamenco-dancer doll into a more natural shape before allowing my younger sister to play with it. At the time (as a middle schooler) I laughed hysterically. The image still makes me smile, but I also want to say, “Go, Mom!” Talk about flexible thinking.
Perhaps that history is why I wanted to cheer over the recent Make magazine story about girls transforming Bratz dolls into Star Wars Rey dolls. Bratz dolls, for the uninitiated, are “fashion dolls” with large eyes, stylized bodies, and heavily made-up faces. They have been criticized as overly sexualized and defended as meeting current standards for attractiveness. I know what my mother would think. Rey is the heroic trash-picking light-saber-wielding center of the latest Star Wars movie.
The Make story describes a group of girls who, frustrated by the lack of available Rey merchandise, transformed old Bratz dolls into the figures they wanted. This is way better than my mother’s efforts with the hammer. The girls stripped off the fashion make-up, repainted the dolls with more realistic coloring, and created clothing and accessories appropriate for Rey. Light saber anyone?
Hacking toys to make them your own is a great family or maker-space activity. But this story can be used to inspire a number of school activities as well.
- If you teach about advertising strategies, discuss the differences in dolls/figures created for boys and girls. How are they different? What messages do they send? You might want to study the recent press about which new Star Wars characters were—and weren’t—abundantly produced. What explanations can you offer? Is there evidence for any of them?
- If you teach math, calculate the measurements for a human based on various dolls. Alternatively, calculate the size a Bratz doll would be if based on a healthy adult. An athlete?
- If you teach language arts, why not tap into the wealth of speculation on Rey’s backstory? Have students write their version, defending it with specific references to movie plot or dialogue (that might have to wait until the movie is available on video, but I’ll bet that isn’t long).
However you share the Make magazine story, it gives you the opportunity to talk to students about models and give them an example of young people using creativity to transform something old into something better. Who knows what you might inspire?
PS Just in case you want to know more about remaking dolls, here’s a video to get you started.