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Douchebag Decree: Monster High

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Sometimes, products are all the more disappointing when they sounded pretty cool at first.

Case in point: Mattel's blockbuster franchise, Monster High. This series of dolls is centered around the children (mostly daughters) of werewolves, mummies and other classic beasties of horror tales. When speaking about the franchise to the New York Times, Tim Kilpin of Mattel said, "Who doesn't feel like a freak in high school? It started with that universal truth." Of course, high schoolers aren't Mattel's target market; in fact, most Monster High products are officially listed as "Age 6-8." Still, dolls that promote not buying into superficial mainstream standards would be neat, right?

Yeah, they would. Too bad that's not what's happening here.

monster high dolls, via api.ning

Look again: They're not Bratz. (picture source)

Well, what do you know? Hypersexualized, heavily made-up dolls with über-Barbie proportions. Not only are their waists much narrower than their heads; they're close to the size of one of their calves. The ladies are homogeneous in height, shorter than their few male counterparts so as not to be intimidating. The designated nerd, zombie Ghoulia (third from the right), is the only female to come with a pair of pants; mummy Cleo de Nile (second from right) appears to at first glance but is actually clad in strips of fabric prone to gaps and wink-wink wardrobe malfunctions. (She also supplies those of us who remember Clone High with a serious case of déjà vu.)

These are the quintessential high school outcasts? Most of the characters, from the personae established by the ridiculous website, TV special, webisodes and tie-in books by The Clique author Lisi Harrison, are popular cheerleaders. Monster High's tagline is "Freaky just got fabulous," which manages to be at once uncomfortably suggestive, insulting, and materialistic. "Fabulous" denotes fashion, and even if "freaky" is only supposed to signify that some of the characters are pseudo-weirdos, this sends the message that unusual girls are only interesting if they are fashionable. While some would be quick to say that clothing is the point of dolls in the first place, I'd argue that the best use of such figurines is as a springboard for imagination. What were Barbies, Polly Pockets, or even G.I. Joes ever for if not do-it-yourself storytelling?

cottonmonster, via TreeHugger

My dolls could've had plenty of adventures with THIS monster.

While the copious unnecessary branches of Monster High differ, all seem to feature Frankie Stein as the new girl at school. Perhaps this is where the dubious outcast claim is based, because, y'know: she's nervous, insecure and just starting to make friends. She's also fifteen days old.

In fact, there's a lot of weirdness happening when it comes to age. While I get what Mattel was going for (vampires are immortal, blah blah blah) I can't help but cringe when, say, a sixteen-year-old son of Medusa is dating a six-thousand-year-old. Likewise, while I personally like a good faux-goth plaid skirt, sexifying a creature who is basically an infant is well-documented to be a bad idea. Reducing both old and young females to a shallow realm of teenagedom is, um, not ideal.

And what a shallow realm it is. In between proclaiming their passions for "checking out the bro's [sic]," "flirting with the boys!" and "the most creeporific guy" (that last courtesy of young Frankie Stein), the characters' Facebook-esque online profiles further work the emphasis on appearance. Check out these gems, from vampire Draculaura and werewolf Clawdeen respectively:

Freaky Flaw: Since I can't see my reflection in a mirror, I have to leave the house not knowing if my clothes and makeup are just right. Of course after 1,599 years of practice I've gotten pretty good at it.

Freaky Flaw: My hair is worthy of a shampoo commercial and that's just what grows on my legs. Plucking and shaving is definitely a full time job but that's a small price to pay for being scarily fabulous.

Oh, dear. What better way to spend days or years than laboring to cram oneself into the narrow body standard du jour? Lisa Lusero's piece in Revolutionary Voices, in which a little boy asks why she has hair on her legs and she retorts that it grows there, comes to mind. Not that folks of any age should be worrying about their body hair, but pushing big beauty companies' agenda onto (pre-)pre-pubescents is rather awful. There is nothing "freaky" about hairy legs, nor do they nix fabulousness, if that matters to you. So, 6-8 year olds: Have you learned to hate your bodies yet?

No? Don't worry, the Monster High web series has you covered with this charmer:

Warning: Contains body shame and terrible music.

On the less-sucky side, said profiles include a space for "Favorite School Subject," so these high school students actually do occasionally mention, y'know, school. While most of their answers are based in the monster gimmick (eg. Cleo likes geometry because shapes=pyramids=Egypt, geddit?) they are legitimate subjects, so that's something. Then there's the fact that the main players aren't all coded as white, as I feared when I first saw the sherbet-y skin of Draculaura and Lagoona Blue. Both Cleo de Nile and Clawdeen Wolf appear to be women of color.

Unfortunately, the two of them are written as the most vicious in the group. They also hate each other.

So, what's more disheartening: the failure of a pretty good premise or the fact that it's hardly even surprising anymore? After the epic slimming down of Strawberry Shortcake, Angelina Ballerina and, yes, even the Care Bears (don't get me started), absurdly bodied, appearance-obsessed monster offspring are disappointing but almost par for the Toys R Us course. And I don't know about you, but I find that pretty scary.

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Comments

22 comments have been made. Post a comment.

My little sister loves these

My little sister loves these dolls and books, and I can't seem to help her understand why they're awful for her. Anyone got advice on how to tell a fifth grader in a deeply conservative household that these books and dolls and websites are deeply damaging to her psyche?

Best I can offer is to

Best I can offer is to provide an alternative. Just as if I were to tell you that something you think is just super isn't good, telling her "so, kid sister, these dolls are presenting and perpetuating a damaging image" isn't going to have much headway. But finding something that fits in her arena of stuff she might light and introducing that to her might nudge her (even if it's slowly) into better choices.

I wouldn't assume they are

I wouldn't assume they are going to be bad for her in the long run. The countless feminists who grew up playing with Barbies or listening to Britney Spears seems to prove otherwise. While the dolls themselves don't promote a great body image, they're hardly unique in that department; which seems to be the main problem are the horrible values promoted on the website and the videos. If she's not reading or watching those, she's probably fine.

A lot of girls learned creativity by taking dolls and other toys that were marketed to them in negative, sexist ways and, in their games, turning them around and making them less sexist. I know if I had played with those dolls, no matter how much the marketing told me all they should care about was make-up and boys, I would have them doing other things. Or mocking the sexism, as I tended to do with my Barbie dolls.

My goddaughter loved the

My goddaughter loved the Bratz when she was younger, which creeped me out a bit. I tried to balance it a little by playing with the dolls with her, and coming up with active adventure storylines where the girls would do exciting and active stuff, sometimes "rescuing" the boy characters etc. She loved it.
I think it's also good to have the notion that dressing, ahem, "fashionably" doesn't exclude activeness and wits - clever girls can dress in all sorts of ways.

Shame, it did seem like it

Shame, it did seem like it could have been really cool, maybe if some other company had gotten their hands on it instead of Mattel. The cartoon, in my opinion, is way, way worse than the dolls. That hypersexualized way she's walking? Ugh. (And not to mention the stupid premise--you're made of reanimated flesh of the dead and you're worried about a zit? Seriously? And what did any of that have to do with their being monsters anyway? The same skit could have featured regular human girls and there would have been no difference.) I kind of did like the zombie girl, though, although again, the hypersexualized stance made it weird. I really think this concept could have been great, and been a fun, snarky, imaginative way to explore differences, similarities and even a little bit about classic horror films. But from what I've seen the "monster" angle is only that--a vehicle to make the same old retrogressive crap.

Interestingly, Mattel kind of got it right by making the vampire girl pink. In European lore, they have reddish complexions from all the blood they drink. Though somehow I doubt that was the intended effect. I guess it's balanced by the fact that the werewolf looks like a cat.

Also...

... those Cotton Monster dolls are AWESOME. I would have had hours of fun with those and my Barbies (yes, I played with Barbies) when I was a kid. And probably as an adult as well.

Huge sex eyes, pouty lips,

Huge sex eyes, pouty lips, short skirts, high heels, huge hair, tons of make-up, completely unrealistic proportions..... really? This is what little girls are watching? I don't get it. This is just so wrong and weird. I don't know why any parent would buy this crap for their kid. Barbies were one thing when I was a kid in the 80s, but this takes it to a whole new level.

So I'm reading through all of

So I'm reading through all of the bios and they're even more disturbing. Like with Draculara, she talks about how she's a vegan and "no icky blood for me! so it's fruits, vegetables, and a lot of iron supplements." Um, a vampire who doesn't drink blood? Iron supplements? These dolls are for 8-year-olds? WTF? And Frankie Stein says "My friends say I have the perfect figure for fashion." And the cake: "[on least favorite subject] Swimming. I tend to short out and say silly things when I get wet." Innuendo much?And then there's the whole Clawdeen Wolf's bio about plucking and shaving.....and then Cleo talks about her favorite food being grapes when someone is feeding them to her.

WOW

Seriously? I missed that. That's really creepy. The vampire girl being a vegan makes me think of Bunnicula.

These just seem like a duller

These just seem like a duller and dumbed-down (as such) version of Living Dead Dolls. But except for Cleo enjoying geometry (I guess that's some progress from the days of the "math is hard" Barbie) everything of the storyline is either stupid or offensive (the two WOC characters being the mean ones, for example.)

Awkwaaard...

Given the loaded history of characterizing people of color as "savage," is anyone else uncomfortable with the fact that it's one of the two women of color who gets to be the werewolf...?

Yeah, I noticed that, too.

Yeah, I noticed that, too. Though I'm still unsure as to how to read the characters in terms of ethnicity, since many of them are green.

Wow

I didn't know that Bratz could be turned up a notch. Admittedly, I liked some of the fashion the dolls wore (like Harajuku girls) but this series is directed toward young girls, which makes it extremely disturbing. In the video you linked, the girls were shown alternatively without panties (those skirts are so short!) or with leggings. I really didn't know that girls toys could become even more sexy than they already were. I'm glad my mother stopped pushing me to play with dolls and let me play with gender neutral beanie babies and stuffed animals.

Sheeesh!

I think I'll start with what I don't want my nine year old daughter to be subjected to: the easy access skirts and stripper heels. And yes, when she said she wanted to dress as Lagoona Blue for Halloween, that's exactly what I called the shoes. I'm too young to explain about the skirt.
Should I be grateful that the girl doll's breasts weren't bigger than their heads? Probably, if not for the fact they looked like Jodie Foster's stand in for Taxi Driver.
I wish the companies would stop trying to push subject (like sexuality) on elementary school aged children; they're not ready to handle it yet. And no, I'm not overreacting; when my daughter sees people on t.v. kissing, she runs from the room screaming "Ewwwwwww! It looks like they're eating each other!"
By the way, I'm sending a letter (going old school) to Mattel about the way they dress their "daughters." If anyone wants to join the campaign, here's the address:
Mattel, Inc.
333 Continental Blvd.
El Segundo, CA 90245-5012
Be sure to put what you're concerned about on the envelope and letter.

I just read a post of one of

I just read a post of one of my friends that included the link to your page. I am happy to see that so many people feel the same. Did you know that Mattel is getting ready to have Monster High join with a kindness campaign for in the school? You can read about it by following the link below. I personally do not agree with the combination but as with everything in life, everyone has their own opinion.

MATTEL : Monster High? and the Kind Campaign Partner to Bring the Power of Kindness to Girls

http://www.4-traders.com/MATTEL-13462/news/MATTEL-Monster-High-and-the-K...

eh!

Not bad, but to be a weirdo, think that yourself is weird and do what you think is weird, there's no such thing as a pseudo weirdo, everyone is a fuck you except for me because only I exist, this computer, my brothers and the products in the world don't exist, not even my clothes, I feel, my mind and its modifications say there's no such thing as a pseudo weirdo, and the reality is all people are the wrongest things in the world except for me: because only a happy person exists (myself). People are just structures, and made up in my head, and if an opinion is disbelieved by me it's not true, only what I believe is true. So many people agree that I tell the truth a hell of a lot, I'm excessively fantastically great, and other people are not. No one can be better than me, and my behaviour can't improve, it's impossible, it's too good.

this is greatly great

I love it, plus it's cool! And it becomes my fanship.

there's nothing wrong with monster high!

wow! some people are truly dicks! ok 1- clawdden shaves her legs coz she's a wolf and hair grows constantly! it's a joke and honestly, i'm in year 7 and i'm the only one who doesn't shave-and i'm the only one that plays with these dolls 2- clae and clawdeen hate each other from cleos nasty break up with clawdeens brother. cleo is a bitch because she is based off the real cleopatra and she was a bitch. but everyone in the show has a freaky flaw-frankie falls apart, deuce turns people to stone without glasses ext. the reason the dolls are so slim is coz they need to go on a stand! how about instead of blaming a doll with messages about being loyal to your friends, overcoming diffrences and being yourself, we take a look at the parents. hugs and stiches to all who agree

MONSTER HIGH RULES BITCHEZ!

OMG, fellow grown-ups, she is

OMG, fellow grown-ups, she is totally right and MATURE. Look how grown up she is. I don't know if anyone could ever, like, recover from that stinging blow delivered by the champion of junior high justice. You go, girl! Pssht.

i agree

People really need to stop looking into stuff! I mean these dolls teach us to respect our selfs and our friends. And fyi before anyone says oh look another junior high girl your wrong i'm a 3rd year in college for veterinary medicine with a 4.0 gpa and straight A's all year and i minor in animal anatomy! So suck it. But seriously clawdeen is a wearwolf so fur grows all the time an chleo is a bitch because shes a freaking princess! She beleives the world revolves around her! Pluse she has the pressure of living up to her sister nerfetera and he fathers expectaions of her. So stop judging a kids show and dolls! I mean if you are gonna judge this then u might as well judge scooby doo and penelopi pit stop tom and jerry the power puff girls! The snorks and the smurfs ruin your own childhood. If you can find the faults in the dolls and shows of now then go and find the faults in the shows you loved and watched as kids. Fyi you jut got owned by a 19 year old girl in advanced placement

I LOVE MONSTER HIGH

I think there is absolutly nothing wrong with monster high! Adults are seriously taking it over board. Their all looking at the wrong things. What if I make a website and pick on all of the cartoons adults used to watch when they were kids? If you don't like monster high then don't watch it and don't talk about it! I AGREE WITH YOU GIRL! MONSTER HIGH RULES!!!!!

As much as I want to side with you...

This entire piece on hypersexualization just seems somehow undermined by the entire banner running down my page advertising the lowest priced female sex toy bundles and boutique for adults. More like a cleverly placed advertisement to conviently show up on the side of a Google search result I had running, simply trying to find the name of one of the newer dolls. What if I was some tween girl? Regardless, the only reason I let my daughter play with those dolls is because I am a horror fan, and was a real big action figure kinda kid . I wish my figures had so much articulation back in the 80's, my thundercats would have been awesome to play with. She knows how we feel about Bratz dolls and the terrible straight to family dollar dvd's that get pumped out every other month in Netflix, so my daughter doesn't really play monster high as much as she just plays with monsters. And that's where the real fun lies, when the skeleton clad lalaloopsy doll and sullie from monsters inc fight off a giant octopus with the help of a monster high doll on top of a plastic kitchen and the couch is home base.