Chatting with Wendy Tsao, the inspiring artist turning Bratz dolls into famous female role models
When the Bratz dolls first came out in 2001, I remember thinking that they seemed like a weird choice for kids’ toys (what with their heavy makeup and their blatant sexuality). I was far from the only one who questioned their styling and Bratz dolls quickly became a lightening rod for controversy.
But of all the many ways in which people responded to Bratz dolls, Wendy Tsao’s role model re-imagining is our absolute favorite. Tsao takes dolls known for their fairly sexist portrayal of girls, and turns them into iterations of our favorite female icons and role models; Malala Yousafzai, Jane Goodall, Waris Dirie, and even J.K. Rowling.
Tsao began creating these Mighty Dolls, as they’re called, just one month ago and they’ve certainly hit a nerve. The response has been incredible.
“I’ve been caught off-guard by the media interest and amount of positive feedback and support for the dolls,” Tsao told HelloGiggles, “but I’m pleased with how much they are resonating with people, especially women. I’m told by moms that their children are also excited when they see them online.”
Prior to the Mighty Dolls series, Tsao was known for creating custom soft toys (softies) for children, inspired by drawings made by the children themselves. This transition into reimagining the Bratz dolls was a fairly natural — not to mention totally empowering and inspiring — move.
We were lucky enough to ask Tsao a few questions about her Mighty Dolls series. This is what she had to say.
HelloGiggles (HG): What inspired you to start this project?
Wendy Tsao (WT): My Mighty Dolls came about from reading the ongoing disparaging comments about Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls, i.e. do these dolls negatively impact a child’s body image? I don’t know the answer to this question. But it made me consider the alternative or opposite. Could a child learn something positive from their dolls?
That’s when I came up with the idea of making inspiring-women-as-young-children dolls. I wonder if a child plays with this doll, will she have other conversations with her friends or family about this inspiring person, and think about or learn things that she might not have if she played with say, a Bratz or Barbie or Disney character doll? Will she understand while playing with a young version of Jane Goodall, that Jane was a child once — like herself — who grew up to do things that were important to her. Will this have a positive impact on the child’s feelings about what they want to do when they grow up?
HG: How did you choose which women to feature?
WT: These women inspired me. I really admire the women that I featured in my Mighty Dolls, for what they did or achieved and continue to do. And they should be role models instead of, or at least alongside, the products of Disney and Hollywood.
But then, I’m an adult. Perhaps a child can’t relate to these role models, because these women are adults. Maybe we need to show children that these remarkable women were once children, too.
WT: I was inspired by Sonja Singh’s Tree Change Dolls, where she takes used Bratz dolls and gives them a “make-under.” I was fascinated by the transformation of the dolls, from the distinctively heavily-made up Bratz doll face to a more down-to-earth look.
There are many on-line videos available on how to remove make-up. I made the clothing myself.
HG: How can people find more information about purchasing a Mighty Doll?WT: The dolls will be going up for auction within a few weeks. Interested people should subscribe to my website, www.wendytsao.com, to receive updates.
[All images courtesy of Wendy Tsao]