How to Explain Monster High and Other Hyper-Sexualized Dolls to Young Kids

Barbie Fashionista. Box says for ages 3+.

My youngest brother is home for the holidays, and while at Target toy shopping for my kids, he decided to go into the Barbie aisle because over Thanksgiving he had watched the 20/20 piece featuring SPARK Summit dynamo Dana Edell and was stunned at what was going on in girlhood. He couldn’t believe some of what he saw during the interview with Dana wasn’t illegal. He has heard me talk about it for several years, but he wanted to see it for himself. He lives in Costa Rica and doesn’t have kids, so a lot of what Pigtail Pals talks about isn’t on his radar.

He was shopping for Legos for Amelia and Benny, but walked into the Barbie aisle to see what the fuss was about. Over Christmas he asked me, “Why are all of the Barbies dressed like whores?”.  Valid question, pejorative aside. The Barbie to our left has a face loaded with make-up, a skin-tight shirt that reads Miss Sassy, a chain link belt, and a hot pink thong clearly visible under the metallic hot pink micro-miniskirt that barely covers her Barbie bum.

For the record, he got his niece a four foot long stuffed dolphin. Good uncle.

Why do almost all of the plastic dolls we see in the toy aisles look like what we would stereotype as a sex worker? I have yet to understand how companies are passing these off as children’s toys. But parents are accepting it, and buying them, and the cycle continues.

But for parents who aren’t buying it, and who are working hard to keep their young daughters from being sexualized, how in the world does one explain Monster High to a five year old? The thing with Monster High et al is that they are so highly inappropriate, it is kind of inappropriate to discuss with a child why they are inappropriate. Since we can’t really use words like “skid row hooker” with our kindergartners and all…

Last night on our Facebook page I was asked the following:
“How do you explain why the Monster High dolls, and the like, aren’t good to a 5 year old? How do you explain what is wrong with them? I told her once that ‘they’re just not very nice.’ I honestly didn’t know what to tell her!” -Danielle

Mattel's Monster High character Clawdeen Wolf, for ages 6+.

This was my reply when the situation arose for Amelia and I:

What I said to my 5yo was that Monster High dolls were dressed in a way that I felt was inappropriate for children, that their faces looked mean not nice, and that their bodies sent our hearts unhealthy messages. We talked about different colors of hair and skin being really cool, but that these dolls made little girls focus too much on being pretty for other people and being too grown-up and that is not what kids need to do.

A few months down the road when she asked for more info, I told her that Monster High dolls have the kind of bodies that can make girls sick, because a real person could never have a body like that, and that I loved my little girl’s healthy body so much I would never want her to have something that would make her think her body wasn’t amazing.

And when she kept pushing about the clothing, I told her that girls who dress like that often don’t have full and happy hearts, and they use clothing like that to get attention and make themselves feel full. Then I took it a step further, and had her come upstairs to her dress up drawer, and picked out clothing I knew was way too small and tight for her. She put it on, and I told her to go play. Amelia said she couldn’t move because of her clothes. I then asked if she thought Monster High was silly, because how could those girls move and be teenagers who do fun things and play sports. She said she thought maybe they just stood around and looked pretty.

I told her she was absolutely right. And then we talked about other toys she had, how different they looked, and what kinds of things those dolls could do instead. I hope to grow the idea of full and happy hearts as Amelia (and Benny) age, to help her make good and healthy decisions about all kinds of things: healthy eating and exercise, drugs and alcohol, sex and relationships, good behavior in school, etc. If that is our baseline, I think the things that fall so far outside of that, whether it is Monster High or music lyrics or friends who are a bad influence, my kids will see it for what it is and be that much more equipped to make good choices for themselves.

I want to teach them to use their intuition and common sense when it comes to hard decisions. It is what I do when I tell myself there is no way in hell that dolls like Monster High or Bratz or hooker Barbies will end up in my home. I respect my children far too much to feed them a diet of garbage like that.

Then another mom added this:

“My 4 year old asked the same thing. I pointed out the clothing and said that girls her age don’t wear clothes that look like that. She seemed ok with that answer at this point, but I am certain we will need to go more in depth with it soon! We had the same convo over the Bratz dolls and some Barbies too.” -Christi

Mattel says Monster High is for tweens and teens. Which would be true, if teens played with dolls and shopped in the toy aisle and stood three feet tall.