When we decided to have a third child I was all set to be the mum of three boys. I’ve never been much of a girly girl, I didn’t get on well with the girls at school (which at an all girls junior school wasn’t ideal) and I was never particularly into dolls. I had a few but I never really looked after them, I cut their hair, drew on them and bandaged them up. I was more into penknives and bonfires to be honest. My teens saw a very girly phase with excessive make-up, short skirts and skimpy dresses but by the time I was in my early 20’s I’d reverted back to walking boots and den building. So when we found out, mid pregnancy, that we were in fact welcoming a little girl into our family it took me some time to get my head around it.
I set mental rules about the amount of pink allowed in our house and I tried not to think too much about the future with dolls and make-up and pretty dresses that need ironing. I worry about the unhealthy impact images marketed at girls and young women have on their self esteem and mental health, perhaps this is heightened for me by someone close to me being severely affected by a condition called Body Dysmorphic Dysfunction (BDD). It’s hard not to look at “girls toys” and see them only as BDD inducing, self esteem eradicating, equal-rights suppressing junk.
You see dolls do play an important role in children’s lives. They are meant to be identified with. They help children process everyday events through playing with them and engaging them in role play. They learn from them and practice social skills on them, from empathy and caring to skills like dressing and washing.
Anyway, to get down to the point… I recently discovered the movement of up-cycling second hand dolls, started by this wonderful lady in Tasmania. The process involves taking off the heavy manufactured makeup and “sexy” clothes of second hand dolls such as Bratz and redoing their faces, hair and outfits to look like normal people your child can identify with. These dolls make me feel much easier about the whole “having a daughter” thing and it’s also got me thinking about other ways we could alter dolls for children in other specific circumstances.
My cousin’s children are mixed race and she was telling me it’s very hard to get hold of dolls with which they can identify and have similar hair and features. So I’ve bought a couple of mixed race looking dolls with long straight hair, which I’m going to attempt to give afro-hair dos to for her daughter (and son if he wants one!)… I’ll post how to do it once I know for sure it works.
And this led my thoughts to children with disabilities or anything “out of the ordinary”… make a doll or two they can relate to… got a kid with one eye? Make them a doll with one eye! Your kid got a scar or birthmark? Make them a doll with a similar one!
Perhaps in addition to these “normal” looking dolls we should start a movement which includes dolls in wheelchairs, dolls with prosthetic limbs, dolls which have Down’s Syndrome features, dolls who have lost their hair and come with a cannula and drip stand for kids who are going through chemotherapy, dolls with little stoma bags. There will probably never be enough demand for manufactures to produce these unique dolls but there is no reason that we can’t have a go ourselves!
Now just to be clear I am not criticising other parents who buy Bratz, Barbies or any other doll for their kids… What you do and how you raise your kids is your concern. I personally have an issue with the desensitisation of sexy clothes, unrealistic body images and lack of healthy identification. I worry, perhaps unduly, about the impact of presenting heavy makeup and long hair as “ideals” or even just “norms” and frankly I just don’t like them. But perhaps I’m over sensitive due to my knowledge of BDD, or because I’m not into girly stuff myself. Perhaps I have too much time on my hands (LOL!) or could even have the opposite effect by “over protecting” my daughter. My friend raised her daughter vegetarian, her daughter now in her twenties, lives on MacDonald’s! My point is – each to their own – If you like the dolls as they are then great, if you don’t then here is how to re-do them. By me re-doing them I’m not having a go at you, I’m just doing something I enjoy – phew, got that clear!
How to Up-cycle Dolls
Get some dolls
So the first step is to get hold of some second hand dolls. I got some on Ebay for a few quid for a box of 8 dolls. I also have a friend with a teenage daughter who has some she no longer wants and you can check in charity shops and second hand shops for some. It’s handy to have a few – my third was much better than the first!
Gather what you need
Next you need the kit to remake them:
- Acetone based nail polish remover
- Eucalyptus oil (or probably any mild oil would do, it just stops the pain smearing as you take it off)
- Cotton wool or kitchen towel
- Water based acrylic paints
- Decent quality fine paint brushes (I bought some cheap ones on Amazon first but they were pretty rubbish so I got a couple of better ones at a local craft shop for £1.50 each)
- Fabric off cuts to make some clothes or wool to kit them (or a friend who can do such things)
- Can of spray matt varnish (Amazon or craft shop)
- Scissors/bobbles/hair brush, whatever you need to sort the hair out.
Taking the makeup off
Put some oil on one cotton wool pad and nail polish remover on the other, wipe the face first with the oil and then the remover and alternate, you’ll see how the oil lifts the smeared make up. It comes away pretty easily.
If there are patches of glitter over the eyes or on the cheeks this takes longer and is harder to get off. Try not to scratch it or you end up scratching the plastic face (not that it necessarily matters, she could have a scar from where she fell out of a tree?). Just keep rubbing with the cotton wool.
Once it’s all off I rinse the face under the tap with a bit of soap to get the oil and remover off.
Re-painting the face
I’m really not an artist and my expectations of my ability with a brush and acrylic paint is already very very low… so I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is!
Print off some close up pictures of other peoples achievements so you can copy them. I also started sketching the eyes and brows with a pencil first to make it easier (partly why doll 3 is much better than doll 1!).
Be realistic about your own abilities and don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t look as professional as others on the World Wide Web! Your daughter really won’t be able to tell or have a comparison and anyway, they aren’t meant to be perfect… they are hand made!
If you don’t like what you’ve done take it back off and try again. Oh and do this when the kids are not around… it takes some concentration and the last thing you want is acrylic paint spread around the house while you’re working on an eyebrow!
Paint on the lips and any other features you want, like freckles, moles, birthmarks etc. In fact, if your kid or a relative has something your want to normalise
Assuming you are reasonably okay at this it doesn’t take very long at all.
Varnish to set
You need to spray on a matt varnish to set the new face. I cut a hole in a piece of kitchen towel, or paper would do, then I put her face through the hole so that I didn’t get varnish on her hair.
It only takes a tiny spray from some distance so don’t overdo it and then leave her to properly dry. Be careful not to get hair stuck in the varnish. It’s shiny to start with but dries matt.
Sorting out the hair
Most of these dolls have a ludicrous amount of hair an some are in bizarre and complicated hair dos! Thankfully giving a doll a haircut is seriously fun… who doesn’t want to eh??Chop away and do what you like with it.
If the hair was in a complicated do that, when you take it out, leaves the hair permanently kinked and messy then pour some boiling water into a bowl, fully submerge the hair into the very hot water for a good 10 seconds at least and then comb through and allow to dry flat. Definitely DO NOT use hair straighteners on it… I haven’t tried it myself because I would imagine that it would melt instantly ruining both the hair and the straighteners and causing an almighty stink, I don’t know that for a fact but I don’t want to try to find out. Hopefully you’re thinking “well duh… I wouldn’t be so stupid” but I’m sure if I didn’t specify then someone certainly would try it!
(If my afro hair works for my cousin’s doll I’ll post on how to do that soon)
Dressing the doll
If I’m not a great painter then I’m even less of a seamstress and I’m an even worse knitter. Therefore to dress the dolls I resorted to two alternative methods.
- I recruited a friend who can sew, she has some bits she’s going to make up for me but I’m not holding my breath that I’ll see them anytime soon.
- I bought some second hand boys Bratz cloths on Ebay
The boys clothes are a bit big around the waist so I may need to add a stitch or two to stop them falling down but otherwise they’re cool and representative of the sort of clothes we wear, jeans and a jumper or tee-shirt – an improvement on the shiny black catsuit one of them came in!
If you’re good at sewing or knitting then you can of course make your own. You can chop up old clothes for fabric or use off cuts.
Feet are an issue
Bratz dolls feet come off, leaving little stubs that you can put different feet and shoes on. The feet are weirdly big, I think so they can stand up. That doesn’t really bother me and I kind of like that the body and feet are all disproportionate – they’re not trying to be achievable and realistic like a Barbie is. The waist on a lot of the dolls are not overly think which I like and it’s not like young girls are going to look at the feet and think “I must strive to have abnormally gigantic feet”.
So far I’ve had enough normal looking feet with trainers, sandals or bare feet come with the dolls. But I’ll have a go at making some welly boots out of Sugru putty and let you know how I get on.
Ta-da, Órlaith loves them!
And although the boys haven’t admitted fully to it yet, they clearly think they’re quite cool too and are showing a lot more interest then before they are re-made.
Interestingly she’s named them after 3 of the women who work at the nursery she attends, Kelly, Nat and Jade, who I think she thinks they look like. She’s never named her dolls or teddies before other than “baby” and “teddy” and I think that’s because she couldn’t relate them to real people.
Have a go!
If you’re feeling nervous or think you wouldn’t be able to do it just go for it. It’s surprisingly easy and doesn’t take a lot of cost investment… I’ve probably spent less than £15 including the varnish, paints, brushes and dolls. I already had the acetone remover and eucalyptus oil but they too are just a couple of quid each. I don’t know how much a new Bratz doll is but I’ve currently got 5 remade ones out of the £15 I’ve spent and apart from fresh dolls and clothes the items I’ve bought will last ages and ages!
I have absolutely zero intention of selling these dolls… I really don’t need another business on top of the three jobs I currently have, plus up close mine really aren’t that good. But if you wanted to then I reckon there is a good market for up-cycled “normal” looking dolls.
I would, however, be up for having a go at some “unique circumstance” dolls, such as a down syndrome one or one with a specific disability so if you have a child who would appreciate a unique to them doll they can relate to get in touch and we’ll have a chat about it.