Over-sexed and over here: The 'tarty' Bratz Doll 18th October 2006 I thought this article was interesting. Ruthless targeting of pre-teens has made these dolls the biggest selling in Britain My opinion is that some grown women dress this way anyway, its only natural for children to want to emulate their parents or older siblings,blaming A doll, I think is wrong. My role model was my Mother. .(just my opinion) Last month my daughter turned four, and requested a Cinderella-themed birthday party. I wondered if I should be encouraging the princess-rescued-by-her-handsome-knight stereotype, but decided I was being neurotic. Two weeks later, a dozen little girls turned up at our house, most dressed in old-fashioned frilly party frocks. But one child arrived wearing a sequinned crop top and a short plaid skirt that would have been inappropriate on a 12-year-old, never mind a little girl of four. When it came to the present-opening, the little girl wriggled excitedly in her seat as my daughter unwrapped her gift. For a moment, I stared at it and wondered if there was a new doll on the block called Hooker Barbie. The doe-eyed, midriff-baring doll was dressed in cheap pink-and-black lingerie and looked as if she should be dancing round a pole. "Its one of the BratzBabyz!" the little girl burst out. "Shes called Sugar and I want to be just like her!" Her mother looked at me and shrugged helplessly. Needless to say, the plastic tart doll went straight in the bin as soon as everyone left. The Bratz, a clique of sultry-eyed trollops with the slogan a passion for fashion, have come from nowhere in just five years to threaten the crown of the Queen Bee, Barbie, the worlds most successful toy. MGA Entertainment, the family-owned California firm that launched the Bratz in June 2001, earns around £1.6bn a year from the dolls and accessories. In the four years since their launch in Britain, the Bratz have grabbed a 40 per cent slice of the £100m-a-year UK doll market, outselling Barbie by an astonishing two to one. Last year more than two million dolls were sold in the UK at an average of £20 each. Nick Austin, Chief Executive of the UK Bratz distributor Vivid Imagination, says - depressingly - that Britain is the most successful Bratz market in the world. "British girls have just taken Bratz to their hearts," he said. "Their edgy, streetwise style appeals to the post-Spice Girl generation." Parents may despair, but theres no denying the extraordinary appeal of the Bratz, with their catwalk chic, huge expressive faces and multi-ethnic skin tones. Dressed in outfits such as black leather jackets teamed with jeans and red crocodile boots, or Rock Angelz T-shirts and pink glitter mini-skirts, the dolls are accessorised with mobile phones, lipsticks and brash jewellery - one blinged up version even comes with a sliver of real diamond which can be worn as a necklace. Little wonder that parents of six-year-old would-be imitators are appalled. A number of websites have sprung up, with concerned parents denouncing the dolls as obscene and tarty. "Where are we as a society when manufacturers and parents think its all right for children to dress like this?" one mother asked. "These dolls send out all the wrong messages. And dont underestimate the impact of these images on young boys." It is indeed a chilling thought that thousands of boys will have their first, simplistic ideas of how women should dress and behave formed by the Bratz. Product designer, American Paula Treantafelles admits to deliberately designing a fashion doll for the seven-to-ten year olds that Mattel - makers of Barbie - was failing to reach. Her language is trite, slick PR-speak - and deeply cynical. "At this age, theyre very different to four-to-six year olds," she says. Bratz "are about self-expression, self-identity. When Barbie was in her prime, girls were taught to be career women, to be mens equals. Today, yes, career and education matter, but its also express yourself, have your own identity, girl power." But just as there is now clear research to demonstrate the toxic impact of alcohol and tobacco advertising on female body image, eating habits and mental health - there is also potential for similar psychological side-effects from the use of sex to sell toys and clothes to children. "Children learn to associate physical appearance and buying the right products not only with being sexy, but also with being successful as a person," says Dr Jean Kilbourne, author of So Sexy, So Soon: The Sexualisation Of Childhood. "These lessons will shape their gender identity, sexual attitudes, values and their capacity for love and connection." The bombardment of sexual images is not designed principally to sell our children on sex, of course. What its really about is selling us on shopping. Learn early about appearance, and it turns you into a good little consumer. Teach a seven-year-old that sex is about accessorising, and youve secured a lifetime of lingerie-buying. Last year, Asda was condemned by child welfare groups for marketing black lacy underwear to nine-year-old girls. In 2003, Bhs was forced to withdraw their Little Miss Naughty range, which was aimed at under-tens and included thongs and padded bras, after campaigners called for a boycott of the store. Opposition Leader David Cameron recently spoke out against the harmful and creepy sexualisation of children, blaming irresponsible business for their aggressive approach. "The marketing and advertising agencies even have a term for it: KGOY Kids Growing Older Younger," he said. "It may be good for business, but its not good for families and its not good for society, and we should say so." When Barbie was introduced in 1959, her target market was six-to-ten year olds. Today, she appeals mostly to ages three-to-six. The company behind Bratz see their decision to bring hooker chic into the bedroom of pre-teens not as premature sexualisation, but simply an untapped commercial opportunity. It is a commerical cynicism which may yet have untold effects on a generation of growing girls - or perhaps we must now call them little women, since that it now what they are relentlessly encouraged to be by one of the most powerful marketing operations in the world. Kay Hymowitz, author of Ready Or Not: What Happens When We Treat Children As Small Adults, accuses the marketing industry of deliberately sexualising girls for profit. "Marketers make it sound like KGOY is just a fact of nature. The truth is, they have played a central role in making it happen," she says. "They want to sell products; they know kids who are independent and empowered are more likely to tell their parents to buy those products and that the way you seize kids attention is to make them feel older, more glamorous and sexier." At the 2003 Kid Power conference for marketeers to children and teens in London, organisers instructed attendees in how to harness the power of word of mouth, how to ensure their products are the talk of the playground, how to get past the gatekeeper (Mum and Dad), and to be aware of the influence of pester power. These marketeers wear the clothes of youth, befriend children as part of their job, and generally get the jump on their competitors by encouraging brand loyalty from as early an age as possible. If it sounds sinister, thats because it is. To sexualise children through clothing and fashion implicitly suggests to adults that children are interested in and ready for sex.