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Plastic Pouts and Poses - Doll Controversies through the Decades

Dolls have always been a staple of children's childhoods. Yet as the latest Trollz and LOL Surprise doll controversies show, they don't always please parents as much as the children who love to play with them.

Debuting on Youtube in 2016 and becoming an overnight collectable sensation, the appeal of LOL Surprise dolls isn’t simply in their look or accessories, but rather how they are packaged. Each mini doll with an exaggerated head comes in a plastic ball with up to 7 layers of wrapping. Each layer contains a surprise accessory to accompany the doll which is nestled like an egg yolk at the centre of the ball. Building off the popularity of unboxing Youtube videos, unwrapping gifts and party games like pass the parcel, LOL dolls cleverly extend the anticipation of receiving a new toy. They have received notable backlash for the volume of single use plastic that the toys come wrapped in which prompted MGA to promise recyclable alternatives in 2020. However, this is not the most recent controversy that LOL dolls have been embroiled in.

Dolls with Lingerie Reveals

On 13th August a mother posted a video on TikTok which showed that when some of her daughters LOL dolls were submerged in cold water, they revealed more surprises than those which she unwrapped in the packaging. Some of the dolls came out of the water wearing fishnet tights while others sported ‘bikinis’ or ‘lingerie’. The video grabbed a lot of attention prompting more parents to test their children's dolls and post their findings on social media. It’s notable that in these videos some dolls cold water surprises left the dolls more covered up than before - adding t-shirts, socks or shorts. However, several definitely have some interesting design choices for a toy aimed at primary school aged children.

Some of the LOL Surprise doll reveals posted by parents on TikTok

Controversial Dolls through the decades

This follows days after Hasbro have pulled their 'Giggle and Sing Poppy' Troll which had a button in between the doll's legs that, when pushed, made a selection of giggling sounds. These are just the two most recent dolls in a long line of plastic playthings throughout the decades which have been steeped in controversy.

In the early 2000s it was the Bratz dolls (also manufactured by LOL dolls creators MGA) who caused parental concerns. ‘Suggestive clothing’, overly made up pouting faces and platform heels led many to claim that Bratz dolls were hyper sexualised. Some felt the name Bratz itself also promoted negative attitudes and rebellion. In the 1990s Teletubby doll talking Po made headlines as some parents thought that two of the doll’s phrases sounded like ‘bite my bum’ and 'fatty fatty' or alternatively a homophobic slur . Other controversial dolls of the 90s were the Rad repeating Tarzan doll whose arm movements appeared to simulate masturbation and the Marvel shapeshifter Punisher with his missile launching crotch!

Barbie - The Queen of Plastic

No other doll has caused quite as much divided opinion as Barbie. From Slumber Party Barbie in 1965 with her 'don’t eat’ dieting tip to her Teen talk days in 1992* (“Math class is tough” "Let's plan our dream wedding") and Hello Barbie in 2015 which used AI to record and process children’s conversations, the worlds most well known doll has always been able make the headlines. Amid these more specific examples, Barbie has been long criticised for her unrealistic body proportions. In recent years, Mattel has paid a lot of attention to Barbie’s history and legacy and created ranges of Barbies which reflect more realistic body shapes and further diversity while focusing branding on female empowerment.

Dolls Looking to make a Difference

Despite the popularity of toys like Barbie, Bratz, Moxie dolls, Monster High, and LOL Surprise dolls some indie companies are seeking to make their own mark in diversifying the range of dolls in the toy market.

Lottie dolls make dolls which seek to celebrate the playfulness of childhood. They are modelled on the proportions of child bodies and don't wear make up or high heels This decision is in response to the over exaggerated features many dolls possess which embody unrealistic adult body types. They can also stand on their own two feet! Toy Like Me are a not-for-profit organisation sourcing and celebrating toys which include differently abled dolls or play figures. They want to normalise disability through children's play and start conversations about how disability is represented.

Dolls have always been, and will no doubt continue to be, popular with children and adult collectors alike. While LOL Surprise reveal dolls are the latest to divide opinion with parents, this is most likely just a small blip for MGA in terms of their doll's popularity. However, perhaps it will prompt some more lengthy and considered design discussions in the future.


* Footnote on the Barbie Liberation Organisation

Teen talk Barbie sparked New York based artists to dub themselves the 'Barbie Liberation Organisation' and to swap some 300 Teen Talk Barbie voice boxes with Talking GI Joe dolls before returning the toys to the stores. This meant Barbies mottos got replaced with phrases like "Eat lead Cobra!" and "Vengeance is Mine" to comment on gender stereotyping in children's toys.


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