Sunday, December 17, 2006

Things That Make Me Sad: 'Age Compression'

From a Chron article on the battle between Barbie and Bratz dolls:

Like many parents, Yaffe will be weighing a multitude of toy choices during the holiday shopping season. While she personally doesn't love the Bratz, she won't stop buying them. "As much as you want to hide and protect your child from questionable influences, you live in San Francisco," she says. "You want to expose them to everything."

But the choice between Bratz and Barbie is more than just kid stuff. Over the past five years, the toy industry has been watching an epic catfight: Mattel Corp.'s Barbie, the world's most successful toy by any standard, has been battling MGA Entertainment's heavy-lidded, scantily-dressed Bratz to hold onto its dominance in the doll world. . . .

But the popularity of the sexy Bratz and Barbie's move to recapture younger consumers by emphasizing fairies and princesses underscore two sides of the cultural phenomenon known to sociologists as "age compression" and to toy industry marketers as "KGOY," or Kids Growing Older Younger.
Let's leave aside that Yaffe woman's confusion over what "parenting" is . . . the Bratz dolls are pretty awful. And I know "Math is Hard" Barbie is hardly the doll to look up to. But she was less slutty, no?

The article quotes one 11 year old who likes Bratz because "they look real." Google them. See what you think. Personally, I kind of want to weep a little:

MGA Entertainment, which made a series of handheld electronic games prior to Bratz, gives credit for the dolls' success to the company's willingness to absorb and reflect what girls say they want in a fashion doll. Company President Isaac Larian created the doll on the advice of his daughter. Bratz have heavily made-up faces and puffy lips. They are slightly shorter and wider than Barbies, with smaller breasts, although the size of their heads relative to their bodies echoes the underfed look of young stars such as Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie, who have often been singled out as looking as if they have an eating disorder.
Yeah, a bit. Like the old, sickening Steve Madden print ads with completely distorted, somehow deemed attractive, girl-like figures.

My years as both a camper and camp counselor showed me firsthand this age compression. Where as my peer group waited until junior high camp (age 13 and above, which is still a bit on the younger side) for dances. By the time I was a counselor, all our kids attended dances - from age 7 or so on. The older kids got to stay later, but they all went. They still do, I'm sure. It wouldn't have been such a problem, except that some 11 year old girls are interested in boys and some are not. And the ones who are not should not have been made to feel wrong for being, well, 11. But they were. Mostly by other counselors who were, themselve, emotionally immature and over-sexualized teen agers. My poor girls - the ones who were happy to dance, but needed no partners, were so miserable by the time the dance rolled around. I tried to provide an alternative to my co-counselor's boy-craze-baiting words of match-making encouragement. But those poor girls.

I wonder if my kids will even have a chance.


Anonymous said...

I'm really, really, really hoping to keep Anya away from both Barbie and the super disturbing Bratz. I hope that doesn't result in too many temper tantrums down the road. It's so sad to walk the toy isles at Target and see how lame and even scary the "girl" toys are. I hope Anya ends up a tom boy!

Anonymous said...

My mom HATED Barbie (still does, i assume), but I had a few of them. They never were my cherished dolls or toys, though. I was more of a my little pony girl.

Even if Anya gets her hands on a Barbie, I know her mom won't let her shop for clothes that make her look like a Barbie - I think that's the real difference ;)

Eventually, I really took to the American Girl dolls - they came with books and were history lessons in themselves (pricey ones, but still) - so my mom was fine with them. I had a Samantha doll. Now there's a bunch more than the 3 that existed when we were little too . . . .