I don’t know if you’ve been following the Ralph Lauren Photoshopping story. It all started when Boing Boing called them out for trying to quash criticism of this preposterous ad image by getting the blog post pulled as a copyright violation. Things worsened (for Ralph, anyway) when it was revealed that the digitally squished model in question, Filippa Hamilton, had been fired by the fashion house for reaching a bovine 120 pounds. (Note: She is 5-feet-10.)
Yesterday, however, Photoshop Disasters, a truly amusing site that tracks these things, found yet another example of heinous manipulation by Ralph Lauren, in which a woman was turned into a “human Bratz doll.” (Original post at Photoshop Disasters.)
I’m baffled by this, because it seems that in all the howling about unrealistic body image and the pressure to be thin — arguments that have been growing hair for years — no one is asking the obvious, i.e., can’t Ralph Lauren afford better Photoshop artists? And if not, why? (Dump your stock!) Look at that latter image and ask yourself why whoever put this girl in a digital vise couldn’t be bothered to also manipulate her right hand, which looks like it was transplanted from a nearby cross-dressing linebacker. Photoshop is a skill, and one of the best articles I’ve read in recent years was the New Yorker piece about the world’s most well-paid Photoshop artist (name lost to the ether, sorry), a man who is kept on retainer by celebrities to handle all the pictures they have control over. (Which is to say, all the ones the paps don’t shoot. Yay paps.) He does the Louis Vuitton ads, which is why you don’t recognize their celebrity model (Madonna). If Ralph Lauren’s company can’t afford at least one of his assistants, they’ve got more trouble than some jeering from the internets.
But since Jezebel brought it up, this seems the time to get something off my chest.
I need to say a few words in defense of Bratz.
All conscientious parents hate Bratz, for lo, the Bratz are eminently hate-able. Conservative parents in particular hate Bratz. James Lileks? Hates ’em. Rod Dreher? Hates ’em. The latter fell victim to the curse of all overscheduled pundits the other day, and linked them to current events (see the link, but if you’re too busy, it starts with P and ends with olanski). It used to be feminists who wrote bilge like this, but I guess it’s spread:
A culture that markets Bratz to little girls, and that at nearly every turn tries to turn them into erotic objects, is not a culture whose fingers pointing at Polanski are entirely clean.
Sigh. I hated Bratz too, once upon a time, the big-eyed, clubfooted dolls dressed like streetwalkers, named like starlets (Jade, Yasmin, Cloe — yes, spelled that way) and interested in one thing only (collecting bling). I called them the Li’l Ho’s, Skankz, everything I could think of. But I came to change my mind, and even though Bratz are in eclipse now, their cultural impact on nervous parents lives on, and I’m here with one word of advice:
I kept my house a Bratz-free zone, but the small temptresses found their way in, just the same. Kate’s friend Sophia would bring them with her when she came to play, and even though this was in Ann Arbor, and every Ann Arbor child eventually becomes familiar with the sort of parent who bans toys on political or philosophical grounds, I decided to hold my fire and just watch them play with Yasmin and Sluté for a while. Guess what Yasmin and Sluté did in their imaginary world? They went to the playground, goofed around, practiced martial-arts kicks (lethal with those giant feet) — in short, they behaved exactly the way the girls holding them did, because that’s what dolls are for children, and always have been, and always will.
I’m glad I did this. I’m glad my neighbor brought Barbie into our house, too, another toy I swore I’d never buy. My experience as a parent with Barbie was exactly the same as with Bratz, and I was forced to admit the truth: A lot of women are walking around with advanced degrees based in part on elaborate theses of the female image in pop culture, theories that turned on the fact Barbie had an impossible waist-to-hip ratio or leg length or something, and these theories were, in a word, bullshit. When you have children you owe it to them to see the world through their eyes, and when they look at Barbie, even when they look at Yasmin, Sluté and the girlz, they don’t see sexy. They see pretty. When we forbid them from having these things, and use loaded, confusing code words like “inappropriate” or “unrealistic,” we’re making them see the world through our eyes, and folks, they shouldn’t have to do that. And when we fear that seeing a doll with plump lips and a short skirt will turn our little girls into prosti-tots, that’s just creepy.
Not long after I made peace with the visiting Bratz, Christmas rolled around. I’ve always believed that Christmas should be a time when you get one thing you didn’t ask for, and one thing you did, and that year, Kate asked for Bratz. I went to Target and considered my choices. Roxxi, Katia, Nevra — there were so many to choose from, each more horrible than the last. I stood there comparing this trashy detail to that trashy detail, until my brain finally short-circuited and I went all in. I chose the trampiest one of the lot, maybe Roxxi, I can’t remember. She wore a micro-mini and a shirt that showed her belly button, but what really sold her was her fun-fur shrug and day-glo hair extensions. She looked exactly like a woman you’d see standing on a street corner near a 24-hour adult bookstore, peering into the windows of passing cars.
Kate was thrilled to find her under the tree on Christmas morning, and she went off to introduce her to Barbie and the rest of the girls. Within three years, all the Bratz, and all the Barbies, lived in a seminude, dismembered tangle in a Rubbermaid box in the basement with all the other outgrown toys. Perhaps they planted the seed of trashy dressing in my darling daughter, but the last time I checked she was so modest she locks the bathroom door to change her clothes and refuses to wear shorts that rise too high above her knee. She’s an anti-Brat, essentially.
(I saw Sophia recently, too. She’s a top student and multi-sport, confident athlete. I don’t think she owns any fishnet hose, and if she did, it would be for a jazz dance class.)
So swallow your distaste, parents. Those handmade, hemp rag dolls you’ve been buying from indigenous artists might make you feel good, but your daughter wants the li’l clubfootz with a passion for fashion. A few years farther down this road, I’m here to tell you it all comes out in the pop-culture wash.