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Teen Teams: Should tomboys and varsity letters have a place in the fashion-doll universe?

The other day, I was talking with a friend of mine, who asked quite simply, “Why are there no tomboy dolls?”campussweetshop_new

Tammy-doll_newThat question immediately prompted me to recite a litany of dolls that displayed so-called tomboy traits. “Well, there’s Skooter,” I said, referencing the flaxen-haired, freckle-faced friend of Skipper. “And there’s Midge,” I rattled off, mentioning the red-haired, rosy-cheeked, freckle-faced pal of Barbie. “Why, there’s also Tammy,” I stated, thinking she used to come with a tennis ensemble and a one-piece exercising unitard, “and, of course, there is . . . well, some kind of cowgirl doll from Alexander, I’m sure. You know, a ‘Wendy Loves to Rustle and Rope’—something like that.”

After proving my point—sort of—I began to think about the dolls that I pegged as “tomboys.” Were they tomboys or were they just sidekicks? It seems that in the doll universe, the laws of the “chick flick” clichés rule the roost.

Just as the lead actress in a dopey rom-com—Meg Ryan from the’80s, Sandra Bullock from the ’90s, and Katherine Heigl in the newmegryanandrosieo_new millennium—always has a loyal, less attractive best friend; so, too, do our fashion dolls. It’s the “fashion” to pair the more attractive, more stunning bit of vinyl with a less comely clump of clay! (And freckles seem to be the red flag for supporting-player status.)

Are these dolls—because they are not the major players in their series—tomboys? Is that making an odd assumption about what a tomboy is? And, more to the point, whether or not a “tomboy” will play with dolls at all?

My daughter, Jane, is definitely a tomboy. She’s seven years old, and she delights in tumbling around, improvising karate moves, and fighting warlocks and wizards. (She is a Harry Potter–phile.) When she’s not busy engaging in battle on her own, she acts out deeds of derring-do with her dolls: three pint-sized Alexander dolls, courtesy of a Happy Meal, are D’Artagnan, Milady de Winter, and Constance from “The Three Musketeers.” What can I tell you? She’s old school!

littlewomen_newWhen we settled down to watch “Little Women” together—God bless Turner Classics and TiVo—I explained how the four March sisters were all different but alike in their love for one another. Obviously, she was the most taken with Jo. Who wouldn’t be? Whether she is enacted by Kate Hepburn, June Allyson, or Winona Ryder, the very dramatic and very headstrong Jo is the heart and the soul and the voice of the piece.

Seeing how smitten Jane was with the Civil War chestnut, I told her that I had Little Women dolls tucked away—an entire set of the family done in porcelain, even including the sensible, patient Marmee. Inspired by how Jane was able to sit down and watch the whole movie, I went and dug out my Little Women quintet.

I brought them to her, and she wisely said, “Why is Jo so still?”

“Well, she’s a doll, Jane,” I answered. “She can’t move on her own.”

“I know that,” Jane replied, exasperated that I would be so cuckoo to suggest otherwise. “But why does she look just like all of her other sisters. Why is she so neat and pretty? Why isn’t she like in the movie?”

And then Jane launched into diagramming how she would have sculpted and costumed a Jo doll: embellishing her with untamed tresses, awendylawtonjo1_new long cape, a swooping hat with a wobbling feather. She would have made Jo in the likeness of when she is acting out one of her dreadful, melodramatic plays; or when she has her hair shorn to earn some much-needed money for her beloved mother’s train fare, when their father falls ill.

There are so many flashy scenes that showcase Jo’s larger-than-life personality that Jane was disappointed in how “pretty” and “ordinary” she looked.

And I imagine that is the guiding principle in making dolls for the little-girl market (and occasionally the grown-up one too): keep them pretty and keep them sweet and keep them non-controversial.

Girls who were once pegged as “tomboys,” preferring to toss a ball or scale a wall as compared to hosting tea parties and feeding make-believe babies, are probably so commonplace these days that the nomenclature of “tomboy” will soon be a charming word from the past: like the three s’s—“schoolmarm” and “spinster” and “stenographer.”

Young, healthy girls are encouraged now to play sports—more so than to play dolls. Maybe a way to blend the two worlds is to create wholesome, clean-cut, fresh-faced, well-accessorized, realistic tomboy dolls.

CPKolympickid_newThe Cabbage Patch Kids allow little girls to choose dolls that skateboard or ride horses or excel at soccer, but these dolls don’t really attain the “realistic” badge of honor. Are there dolls out there that aren’t Kim Kardashian lite and aren’t CPK comical? A Bratz doll that figure-skates is a nice step forward, but her collagen-inspired lips and butt-length raven hair send a mixed message to young girls. Be active, wear hiking boots, but be booty-licious whilepeppermintpatty_new doing it.

For all the little girls out there who like to expand their imagination and who like to play heroic and sweeping sagas with their dolls, there is a real niche available for a doll who can stand up to their dreams and to their demands.

No sexpot-wannabes or wimpy misses need apply!

What do you think? Are there dolls that embody athletic, active, and real girls out there? Ones that can be handled and played with and fit in a regulation-size doll house? We know they are out there. Channel your inner Peppermint Patty, exercise your thoughts, and windmill-pitch your suggestion for true tomboys!

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I wish to opine about Tomboy dolls.
I am greatly pleased Stephanie Finnegan wrote about the need for Tomboy dolls. For me, dolls are not solely innocent toys and playpals for innocent children. Dolls also create and reflect culture, over time the same for our history. Our girl-child history has been sadly neglected. Stephanie's blog reminded me of my own girl-child days. I would then have loved a Tomboy doll, a Janeyjock doll to name and call my very own. When I was growing up, all too many years ago yet still much like today, dolls for little girls were cutsie and clean, hair Do's neatly combed, long and frizzy, appearing daintily in flaring dresses, little pink panties underneath, white anklets and pat'nleather shoes. Those dolls are dressed for Sunday school and little else and most importantly, define the only acceptable girl-child culture, future aspirations and history. Unfortunately, these singularly masqueraded playpals for girls largely determine identical and predictable behavior in grown women.
Growing up, I hated dolls. I chose for playpals in the daytime to carry about my stuffed orange monkey named Dynamite and my brown and tan panda bear named Poko. At bedtime these became my cuddle buddies. Dolls never reflected or represented me. I had not a speck of dainty about me. I appeared often with scraped and scabbed knees, messed and ruffled gear always ready for game. I grew up a tomboy. No doll, much unlike me, ever had dirty hands, pants pockets bulging with marbles and special stones, a grubby-wrapped,saved for just the right moment one-half stick of spearmint gum. No doll looked like me either as then I wore shorts or long trousers, a shirt, jock jacket, baseball hat and carried around my baseball mitt able to catch and throw a fast pitch with any boy on the block.
Here's my best pitch for the day. Many girl-children today admire and strive to be a Billy Jean King, woman tennis champion or the same for becoming a women professional softball player, as Cat Osterman: or a college and professional basketball player, such as Rebecca Lobo or a professional soccer player like Kristine Lilly, and someday represent the U.S.A. at the Olympics. Yet, no Tomboy doll exists to spur a girl-child on to such heights. She has nothing of the sort to carry underarm and close to heart. She has no cuddle buddy of that sort for bedtime at night and hold in her arms. Gone are her dreams of seeing herself, and her future desires to one day become a champion in her own right, and in the likeness of her playpal.
Hey Santa! Listen up! All she wants for Christmas is a Tomboy doll... a Tomboy doll... her own Janeyjock doll...
TP , December 19, 2011
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Tomboy dolls probably won't be made by big manufacturers because their market research will say "tomboys don't play with dolls." Case closed. It all has to do with focus groups.
Rachel W. , December 16, 2011
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I think you are onto something. Tomboys are going to be a thing of the past, and so are little girly-girls who don't know how to field a ball or score a goal. The barrier between little boys and little girls are blurring. The same way boys like to play with dolls (GI JOE and superheroes) so will these new little girls. They will be playing Lara Croft tomb raider or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any other butt-kicking female. You go, little girls! I wish I could have been raised with your freedom!
Sophie , December 16, 2011

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