When I was young, I had a significant Barbie collection filled with blond and blue eyed Day and Night Barbie, Skipper, Dallas Barbie, and many others. I had a camper, a horse, a pool set, and I played with them like any typical girl would because what else was I supposed to do? My mom was an avid doll fan and buying dolls for me and prior to that, my sister who was 13 years my elder, was her chance to relive her youth. But when I got a bit older and able to make more Santa-related choices of my own, my focus switched to My Little Pony (MLP). My friends and I built houses out of shoe boxes and staged epic battles that often involved their brother’s Transformer’s collection.
Now, I’m the mother of two girls. My parents got rid of my MLP collection some time ago, and I have deliberately restocked it because obviously my daughters would want to play with the toys that I grew up with. Apparently, I was wrong. They do like their ponies, but care more for Littlest Pet Shop. They also have a solid Barbie collection including a dollhouse, because that, along with Disney Princesses, is what you’re supposed to buy for little girls nowadays, right?
Actually, I hate Barbie. Okay, maybe hate is a strong word, but I don’t care much for her as a toy for my kids to play with (though I’d personally love a designer Barbie collection to display in a special room in my dream house). Other parents have concerns over the harmful body image she presents and I have issue with Barbie’s lack of diversity, but mainly, I just find Barbie to be boring as a toy, no matter how many occupations she would like girls to aspire to.
My girls, now seven and nine, don’t care much for her either. At least, not anymore. They have a number of Barbies, like I said, but I’m not the one who’s been buying them. Apparently, telling people that you don’t want your daughters to be inundated with pink and princesses is actually a challenge. Not that we’ve denied anyone who’s given them such toys, but my husband and I haven’t actively purchased Barbies and Disney Princesses for our girls. Instead, they usually get them from friends and family for birthdays and Christmas, with a lot coming from my mother, who continued to live vicariously through the kids. I will note that, since Mattel Inc. started offering a bit more diversity on the store shelves, my mom always found the ones with darker skin and curlier hair.
My girls also have several movies and corresponding books, which I probably know by heart because I’ve had to see, hear, and read them repeatedly. I thought for sure that, thanks to my comic book influence on them along with the power of Barbie, they’d fall prey to the doll’s latest appeal to girl power, Super Sparkle:
“In [the] Barbie in Princess Power movie, a modern-day princess is kissed by a magical butterfly and discovers she has special powers. Will she join forces with her “super” friends and rid the kingdom of its enemy?”
But, unlike the WWAC staff, my girls had very little interest in designing their own superhero Barbie. My eldest blames the company’s marketing campaign, which, during their favourite cartoons, spammed the obnoxious advertisement at every single commercial break. Finally, they understood how I felt about having to listen to Barbie mess with my favourite tunes from the ’80s and ’90s in movies like Barbie and the Three Musketeers or The Princess and the Popstar.
Littlest Pet Shop is still the ruling toy in the house, but when it comes to dolls, thankfully, Barbie has been replaced. Enter the ghouls of Monster High.
Also made by Mattel Inc, Monster High features a series of high fashion dolls inspired by horror stories from various cultures. The core group of dolls covers vampires, ghouls, mermonsters, mummies, werewolves, gorgons, and more, all re-invented as high school students. Unlike Barbie, who stands alone and can play various roles depending on your imagination or her given occupation, each Monster High character has their own unique personality that stems from their monstrous background. Many of the Monster High stories and videos are narrated by Frankie Stein, the daughter of Frankenstein, who comes to “unlife” at the age of sixteen and must figure out the logistics of teen monsterhood with the help of her friends.
I’m probably biased by my dislike for Barbie, but I much prefer both the Monster High dolls and their movies and don’t mind when the girls watch them repeatedly. Like Barbie, the stories all attempt to teach a lesson. I’m all for girl power—or in this case, ghoul power—but I really like that Monster High doesn’t keep the boys out, and none of them are merely there as love interests. Through seemingly benign stories, Monster High videos have dealt with unhealthy relationships, acceptance, perseverance, being yourself, and more, all with a cute twist on the horror genre, and many amusing puns.
There are still body image concerns with these super-skinny, hyper-stylized dolls, but I suppose I give them a pass because they exaggerate these aspects and emphasize the fact that they are monsters, not humans.
What really does please me about Monster High is its diversity. Not only can I find characters of varied colour, but of varied cultures as well. The creators have tapped into monster myths from all over the world, and, though the characters reflect those cultures, they are not stereotypes. And the advertising?
That’s an image that tells me I belong and offers my daughters dolls that reflect them in so many different ways. No matter how much Barbie tries to diversify, and no matter how often Barbie.com tells me that, through Barbie, “kids get a chance to express and explore their individuality,” the blond, blue-eyed character is still front and centre. Meanwhile, Monster High’s motto is much more inclusive:
“Monster High is a school where teenage monsters from all walks of unlife are accepted, just as they are. The students and the classes they attend are definitely out of the ordinary, but what makes this school special is the community where imperfections are scary-cool and embracing everyone’s differences is encouraged. Monster High captures the awkward teenage moments that we all experience in high school. At its core, the brand celebrates everyone’s inner monster by encouraging all to: Be Yourself. Be Unique. Be a Monster.™”
This is the kind of message that is really important to me. I hope that, for my daughters, I have taught them well enough when it comes to respecting themselves and accepting others, but having a little outside help never hurts. Monster High isn’t necessarily perfect in the lessons it tries to teach, but I think it is a monstrous step in the right direction.