We were both knocked out and deeply heartened by eleven-year-old Violette Sera Delfina Hiser Skilling’s letter in a recent New Yorker in response to Jill Lepore’s article about the legal and cultural battles over Barbie and Bratz dolls,

As an eleven-year-old girl, I thought that I would share my perspective. I never wanted a Barbie or a Bratz doll until I discovered doll reconstruction. What you do is erase the features of the doll with nail-polish remover, and then remove the hair and make other body modifications. Then you give the doll a new face, new hair, and new clothing. (My favorite part is ripping out the hair, which is very therapeutic.)

What I like about doll reconstruction is that I am in control. I can make them pretty, or not. The two dolls that I have reconstructed represent two parts of me: one nerdy and very unfashionable, and one strong and cool. I make up their stories, and they represent my passions, my hopes, and my feelings. When I rip out a regular Barbie or Bratz’s hair and wipe off its face, I am changing the stereotypical body type, clothing, and makeup. I give it tiny wire glasses, bright-blue hair, and foam armor—my response to the toys made for my demographic. You should check it out!

—Violette Sera Delfina Hiser Skilling, Honolulu, Hawaii

DollRocket7/Etsy

“Check it out” we did. We looked into “doll reconstruction” to discover that it is a growing, very interesting, development in contemporary feminism. Krstl Tyler’s How To Play With Barbies blog features all manner of “doll care and customization” including Make-Unders, Natty Locs, and Re-Bodying. She writes:

…when the slutty clothes and ridiculous platinum blonde hair is gone, what a feminist mom and her impressionable daughter are left with is whatever they want to be left with. The world of barbies becomes a clean slate again. Empty of values until you introduce your own.

 

DollRocket7/Etsy

Empty of values until you introduce your own.

Yes! The essential affirming premise of hacking, tailoring, reconstructing, re-imagining.

 

Sonia Singh

 

Top two images via DollRocket7 Etsy store.

If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

2 replies on “Improvised Feminism: 11-Year-Old’s Barbie Reconstruction Obliterates Stereotypes

  1. I just finished reading Violette’s delightful letter to the editor and ended up here while checking out doll reconstruction on the internet. What an excellent idea! My childhood Barbie dolls left me cold and sometimes fixated on breasts; I stuck pins into the plastic boobs to simulate nipples. That is as far as I got with my alterations. I wish I had heard of this creative and individually affirming makeover technique.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment which made me laugh out loud. Sticking pins in the boobs to simulate nipples is itself inspired. I agree with you that I wish I’d had the vision or encouragement to seriously hack poor weird Barbie. I remember being quite shocked when I took her ponytail down, thinking to change her hair somehow, only to discover that she was bald except for a crown of hair all the way around her head (no doubt a cost-cutting measure on the part of the manufacturer).

    The doll reconstruction movement not only affirms the kids doing it, but liberates Barbie from her crazy bondage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.