Marketed as the ‘Girls with a Passion for Fashion’, the Bratz dolls were incredibly popular in the early 2000s. Growing up, I always preferred them to my Barbie collection. Their fashion statements were much bolder, they each had their own individual personalities and no Bratz doll was ever commercialised as the ‘prettiest’ or ‘smartest’. In addition, the Bratz brand cared about diversity and strong female bonds, thereby instilling positive messages into young children. It is time to explore the popularity of Cloe, Jade, Sasha, and Yasmin, as well as why it matters.
The importance of diverse dolls
A quick Google search will present some visible differences between Barbie and the Bratz. Launched in 1959, the Barbie doll is well-known for her modest, traditional fashion sense and part of Barbie’s appeal is her sense of timelessness. However, while her outfits are usually very beautiful and flattering, they rarely break any new ground or push any boundaries.
This lack of diversity in the Barbie brand is exacerbated by how it has always been dominated by a doll with blonde hair and blue eyes. This is not to say that there have been no attempts to be more inclusive. After all, Molly Routh has recently drawn attention to how “Mattel (manufacturer of Barbie) came out with their ‘Fashionistas’ line, including dolls that are wheelchair and prosthetic leg users.” But it's taken Barbie decades to catch up with the times. The Bratz brand, meanwhile, had diversity in mind from its inception.
Cloe was my favourite Bratz doll growing up, but I never considered why until recently. Much like myself, she has blonde hair, blue eyes, and loves playing sports. Since Bratz is concerned with four young women working together to create their own fashion magazine, I could live out this incredible fantasy through a character that looked and acted like me.
And this is why diversity within the Bratz brand is so important: it told young girls that anyone can be successful. An article in The Daily Edge discusses how the doll collection also includes “An African American doll named Sasha, a Latinx doll named Yasmin, and an Asian doll named Jade.” Of course, this is not to say that the brand is perfect in its representation. But it does show that the manufacturers cared about making children from numerous backgrounds feel seen and included.
Bratz fashion and escapist entertainment
Bratz dolls have a much more daring fashion sense than a typical Barbie doll would. They are interested in miniskirts, knee-high socks, and tank tops, a far-cry from Barbie’s swimwear model aesthetic. Inevitably, this led to many parents around the world accusing the Bratz dolls of being overly sexualised and instilling dangerous messages into young girls.
As a child, however, I never saw their fashion sense as anything other than cool, exciting. and fun. Clearly, the issue lied with adults projecting their sexist attitudes onto inanimate objects. Interestingly, and rather brilliantly, anyone who criticised the young women’s outfits in Bratz: Rock Angelz were portrayed as the film’s antagonists. Self-expression matters, and the Bratz were only ever interested in being their authentic selves. They achieved this authenticity, of course, through their fashion choices. And many, including myself, loved them for that.
In 2005, I frequently played the Bratz: Rock Angels videogame on my PS2. The game involved tracking down interesting scoops for fashion articles, as well as dressing Cloe, Jade, Sasha, and Yasmin in clothing items of your choice. It is the only game I have played where I could go roller-skating in a minidress and knee-high socks without any virtual character batting an eyelid at me. Looking back, it was freeing to be able to wear what I wanted through this game.
Considering how much young women are still accused of being provocative and oversexualised, Bratz: Rock Angelz, in both film and video game form, provided some much-needed escapism from that. It may sound childish and indulgently nostalgic, but if I had the opportunity to still play the game today, I probably would. It would be a cathartic break from a world that continues to shame women for what they wear.
Building relationships through fashion
What is so wonderful about the Bratz is that the four young women are presented as equals. None of them are portrayed as the leader of the group, and they each have personality traits that many can relate to. Although I gravitated the most towards Cloe, I adored Sasha's knowledge of music, Yasmin's compassion and sensitivity and Jade's impressive worth ethic. They each had a wide array of interests and personality traits that made them consistently exciting to engage with.
Ultimately, the four young women not only established a strong friendship through their passion for fashion, but also a beautiful working relationship. Children were lucky enough to see their beloved dolls be represented in films and video games, in which they constantly supported and uplifted one another.
The Bratz showed us that fashion is not just about how you express yourself, it is also about how you can use it to connect with others. In a world that is full of conflict and divisions, the Bratz did, and still do, remind us that solidarity is possible.