Tree Change Dolls

A Tasmanian woman named Sonia Singh started recycling and remaking discarded fashion dolls (mainly Bratz dolls) as a hobby after she was laid off from work. Although the dolls were originally intended for artistic value and promotion of upcycling, her project went viral and was widely praised for making the dolls look realistic and not hypersexualized. She has since opened an Etsy store to sell her Tree Change Dolls. (You can see other images of the dolls on Singh’s Tumblr page.) Singh’s husband says that the ‘before’ dolls were “incredibly made up. They look like they’re doing it for everyone else, whereas Sonia’s dolls look like they’re doing it for themselves.” Singh’s work with the dolls relates to Kelly Hager’s essay “Body” in Keywords for Children’s Literature (2011). Hager says “children’s culture reveals an overwhelming interest in describing, depicting, and reproducing images of the body in order to educate, orient, and delight the child consumer” (17). Dolls are one type of children’s media that try to represent the human body, but these depictions have recently come under scrutiny for setting unrealistic standards; Mattel’s Barbie dolls are just one example. The dolls that Singh remade were praised for not following the precedent. Singh’s mother, who makes the clothes for the Tree Change dolls, says “a lot of manufactured dollies don’t look like anybody. The children would like the ones that might look like someone they know.” Children like to see themselves in dolls because it makes scripted play easier to believe. In her essay “Children’s Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race; or the Possibility of Children’s Literature,” author Robin Bernstein defines ‘script’ as “a set of invitations or prompts that by definition remain open to resistance and revision” (165). Dolls script the play of various activities, but they also subconsciously script how a child’s body should look. Dolls that are hypersexualized can be detrimental to a girl’s self-esteem because the standards of beauty are difficult to achieve. Although Singh asserts she never meant to make a statement with her dolls, she adds “if what I’ve done does influence some of the big toy companies out there and make them rethink the kind of dolls they’re putting out on the market, I don’t think that would be a bad thing.”


16 thoughts on “Tree Change Dolls”

  1. These dolls are such a great concept! I love how Sonia makes them look so much more natural and look more like the girls who are playing with them. The more realistic look of her dolls are definitely healthier for young girls to compare themselves with and for their self esteem. The original Bratz dolls gave off the impression to many girls that they had to wear heavy makeup to achieve beauty but these dolls counter that notion. I had never heard about this project before, so I hope the word continues to spread so the big toy companies see this and rethink the types of dolls they produce just like Sonia hopes.

  2. I loved this video! Both of the quotes that you pulled out from it stuck out to me as well, and I find it great that children feel so easily connected to these dolls because they actually look like real people they may know. As a kid, I never played with Bratz dolls because I found the excessive makeup to be somewhat scary, and they reminded me of the makeup of villains in children’s movies. It is incredible to think that this new stripped down version of the doll uses the same features as the Bratz doll but turns it into something much more natural and relatable. I hope that as word continues to spread on Tree Change Dolls, bigger companies will capitalize on the opportunity to sell realistic dolls that children may connect to, opposed to idolize.

  3. These dolls seem so cool and much more natural looking! It kind of reminded me of the Lammily doll, which is like the Barbie doll but more realistic looking with normal proportions. I completely agree when you talk about how dolls script children’s play but can also script an ideal body image that children should strive to achieve. Very cool post!

  4. This was a super interesting article, I have never heard of these dolls, but they sound really cool! Dolls are such a staple of girlhood to this day, and it is so important that they set a positive example for young girls. So many of the dolls on the shelves these days only portray one type of beauty, the skinny, long hair, clear skin type. Most girls do not look like that, and they need to realize that it’s okay, you can still be beautiful even if you do not look like that classic idea of pretty. Those dolls are a very good example of a toy that needs to become main stream. If girls grew up playing with those kinds of dolls, maybe they would realize that no matter what they look like, they are beautiful.

  5. I have never seen these before so I found this very interesting. The dolls girls are used to playing with depict almost unnatural body images, and put the wrong idea into girls of such young ages about how they’re supposed to look in order to be “pretty”. I love this idea for dolls because it would provide young girls with a more realistic and natural look and maybe take the pressure off of them to look a certain way, allowing them to grow up being comfortable and happy with themselves and their image.

  6. I really enjoyed this video and your post. What an interesting find! I think what this woman is doing is very inspirational because her dolls are showing young girls that they don’t need the makeup or the skimpy clothing to be beautiful. The girls playing with these dolls are excited that the dolls look like people they know and the script for the dolls has changed. Rather than scripting play like going out to clubs and concerts with the skimpy Bratz clothing, the Tree Change Dolls are scripting common play like going to a playground and being outdoors. The dolls are realistic and push the girls who play with them to understand that appearances don’t need to be made up and that a natural body is beautiful. These dolls are inspiring to me and are definitely the sort of toys I’d want my children to play with.

  7. I absolutely love this – I salute this woman. Barbie dolls as they’re typically made give young girls the idea that you need to have this certain shape, hair color, eye color, etc. in order to achieve the perfect body. As a result, they could spend their whole childhood and adolescence trying to make themselves look like that. With Singh’s idea of making the dolls look like people that girls are familiar with, it implies that girls, no matter what shape or size they are, are beautiful exactly as they are.

  8. I absolutely love this, thank you so much for sharing! My heart melted during the scene of the girls playing with their new dolls and one of them mentions that her doll looks like her friend. I think that is an incredibly powerful moment. The idea of the dolls that these girls are playing with looking like real people that they know and interact with, rather than dolls that really don’t look like anyone is crucial. It reminds me a little bit of the movie 13 Going on 30 in a way when the main character revolutionizes this magazine by featuring real people instead of celebrities. So we see that this is not a new idea, but rather one that continues to grow as people realize the importance of the toys and images that our children are seeing and interacting with so frequently and the influence that it has on their minds and well-being.

  9. Your report on the Tree Change Dolls was very informative. I found it particularly interesting because of the positive message it sends to young girls. The creator of the dolls is a woman named Sonia Singh who is educated to be a scientist. After she was laid off from her job, she made good use of her time by recycling used dolls. Ms. Singh, the creator of the Tree Change Dolls, felt as though she was making the dolls more realistic and less “hyper-sexualized”. She removed the makeup from the dolls and made their faces look more like the children who were playing with the dolls. She swapped out the more provocative doll clothing for clothing that was hand made by her mother. The new clothing and the new doll faces were made to look like someone the children knew instead of a doll with huge lips, overly made up eyes and a fake smile.

  10. I think what you wrote about is absolutely amazing and something that our society needs to really take into consideration. I know growing up I always wanted dolls with brown hair, but most of the dolls that people got me had blonde hair. I knew I couldn’t be like barbie because I wasn’t tall and I didn’t have blonde hair. I think this interesting to consider because I think that the things girls see when they grow up effects how they are going to be when they are older. These dolls seem like a good solution to these problems. Girls need to grow up with a better sense of reality, and realize that everyone is beautiful in their own way. Barbie has recently taken on the task of making dolls are more shapes and sizes and making it so girls can feel like they are special no matter what they look like.

  11. This is such an amazing project! This might be a bit of a stretch, but it reminded me of Beth in Little Women. I feel like if Beth lived today– and she probably would have lived to adulthood– she would have done something like this. She rescued the dolls her sisters discarded, and cared for them with such love and attention. I feel like Beth definitely would have wanted to give Bratz dolls (and children playing with the dolls) a chance to have a childhood free from the pressures to conform to beauty standards associated with womanhood.

  12. These dolls are awesome! I think this is a great concept, and wish it could be seen more in our society. Girls need dolls that are relate able and look more like the women in their lives, instead of fictitious characters. Barbies and Bratz dolls create so many expectations of womanhood in young girls, few of which are actually realistic. I remember asking my parents as a kid “when I could start dressing like a Bratz doll?” (which thankfully never happened), but the sentiment is clear- these dolls create an unattainable image for many girls. I hope to see more of these Tree Change Dolls!

  13. This is a really interesting concept! I agree that the before dolls are certainly too made up and that when she repaints them, they have a much more achievable standard of beauty. Although, in my experience with doll play in my younger years, I was most drawn to the dolls that were made up. I associated their makeup with womanhood, certainly as a child wouldn’t wear that much makeup. I think that in order for the makeup to be noticed as a symbol for womanhood, it had to look overwhelming unnatural. I think they can be seen as models for self expression, but I don’t think it would be harmful to offer dolls with lots of makeup, as well as dolls who look more natural, for young girls to select the doll of their choice.

  14. This is a very interesting and cool idea. I had Bratz dolls as a child and I never really understood how hypersexualized they were and how unrealistic their body proportions truly were.i believe the proportions are definitely problematic. One thing I think is interesting with this is the connection between wearing makeup and having this cast as a sexual thing. I believe there is a fine line and sometimes girls are insulted for wearing makeup because people say they are just trying to attract someone when sometimes they do it for themselves. Does it have to do with age? What is wrong with these dolls wearing makeup? Are we painting an image of what a teenage girl should be like? (I kind of assume Bratz are teenagers and not children) Any responses/comments/ thoughts would be great.

  15. I think if we started at the root of the problem, the doll company, we could change this issue. I feel as though there are many different ways to make a doll appealing to young girls, perhaps with different clothes or accessories. Changing body image and putting excessive amounts of makeup on the doll only leaves unrealistic expectations. Taking a step away from the unrealistic appearance will perhaps teach young girls that in fact looking like one of their dolls is simply not attainable. Starting this change early could have positive effects for young girls later in life and more companies need to change their motto to something similar to Tree Change Dolls.

  16. I’ve never heard of these Tree Change Dolls before and am now glad I have. I can totally see this video as one of the things that goes viral on Facebook, or some other form of social media. As I child I played with Bratz dolls all the time and at the time didn’t think too much into the fact that the dolls were over sexualized, and a poor representation of typical beauty. While I think it important children don’t get wrapped up in false beauty standards, I feel as though children love to play with extravagant, fancy dolls.

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