Friday, 5 June 2015

Unbratting the Bratz: Give a doll a makeunder!

This half-term holiday we did the Funnest. Project. Ever. One of those creative projects you get so absorbed in you find yourself jiggling from foot to foot rather than stopping to go to the loo. 

It was entirely triggered by this charming video we saw about a Tasmanian artist, Sonia Singh. She takes second-hand Bratz dolls and totally transforms them into adorable, natural-looking, outdoorsy dolls, each one unique and unrecognizable from its original self. She calls them Tree Change Dolls because a tree change, apparently, is an Australian term for a move from the city to the country for a more relaxed lifestyle.
I knew we wouldn’t be able to recreate them to anywhere near her standard, but we were both itchy-fingered and excited to have a go.

We were about to set off on a charity shop Bratz hunt, when my daughter remembered she had a whole bunch of the mini ones shoved away in a box under her toy cabinet. I was a bit worried they would be too small and fiddly for us to work with (The Tree Change Doll lady uses the larger ones) but it made sense to try and recycle toys we already had.

So we lined the tangly-haired, missing-footed gang up on the table like some garish Miss World competition, and each selected our favourite to work with.
“I’ll have the brown-haired one,” said my daughter, grabbing and stripping her in seconds. “Because it's the most natural colour”.
I had secretly wanted that one too, but settled for the next least brassy, a ‘natural’ (?) blonde.
My daughter already had a clear vision of the characters she wanted each of them to inherit in their new life, 'post-op’. So much so she wanted to put it down on paper.
 We began by erasing their faces with nail polish remover. 
“What do you think of Bratz dolls' faces?” I probed  in a neutral voice  as we worked. “Their eyes are too big and their mouths are too kissy, like they’ve put lipstick on and gone over the lines," she said. "They look a bit like aliens."

It took fifteen minutes of vigorous scrubbing – and some scratching with a pin – to get every last bit of paint off, but it was strangely satisfying and there were some very funny ‘horror movie’ stages inbetween!
Finally we had a blank canvas, ready for their new face to go on. 
But first, haircuts. My daughter got rid of the little plaits on her doll immediately. Chop, chop, chop. Gone. “Because they’re like hair extensions” she said. 
Then she gave hers an all-round shorter hair cut. “Because who in real life has hair down to their knees?” I did the same and later tied mine up in bunchies.
We used enamel paints to create their new faces. It was incredibly tricky to get the eyes right, but when we messed up, we could simply wipe away mistakes with nail varnish remover and start again. 
We got lost in the details: Mixing the right shade of pink for the lips, trying to do little tufty hair eyebrows, adding a smattering of freckles ... It took a lot of gos and even their final faces were blodgy close-up, but the transformation was still incredible.
The next bit, making the clothes, was the most difficult bit for us by far. And yes, there may have been some swearing. We'd both designed outfits in our heads: She wanted an old-fashioned Dorothy-from-the-Wizard-of-Oz-dress and I wanted tomboyish dungarees. But I can't sew for toffee and my daughter has only the very basic needlework skills she's learnt at school. 
We managed a few wonky stitches between us and then gave up and cheated with a hot glue gun. (The best invention ever! Solves most problems in life, I've found.)
Now, what to do about feet? The Tree Change Doll lady is a scientist by background and mixes up a home-made silicon mixture to mould into non-high-heeled-shaped feet. That was definitely beyond us, so we improvised with some plasticine and made (lumpy) red wellies to put over their stumps.

And TA-DAH!! The finished dolls! Meet Melissa and Flora. 
We were delighte and surprised  with what we'd managed to achieve. The dolls looked happy too, and a lot more comfortable in their own skin now that they didn't have to try so hard to be sexy and pouty and tough. 

My daughter’s only niggle was, “I wish they didn’t have breasts. They’re meant to be little girls.” 

And there was still more fun to be had. A photo shoot! In the garden! We were both brimming with ideas of scenes to create, babbling over the top of each other and snatching the camera back and forth. So in the end I decided to sit on my hands, shut up and enjoy watching my daughter enjoying herself. Here are some of her photos ...

Sitting in a tree ...

Having a picnic ...
Playing on a rope swing (= a twig and string) ... 

Walking in long grass ...
Sliding down a 'slide' (= old garden shovel)
 Chatting on the bench ...
And my absolute favourite: wandering down to the edge of the 'lake' (= small puddle) ... 
Later, we showed my husband the dolls and the photos. He was dead impressed. “You’ve given them back their childhood!” he said. 


You can read The Quirky Parent's personal interview with the 'Tree Change Doll lady' herself here  and get the chance to win a gift from her!


  1. They are brilliant Claire. Super sound on all levels. xxxx

  2. Oooooooh I love them! I've bought 2 to do. I can hardly wait. I wonder if my little girl (24) would join me?

  3. Can't wait to see yours! This project is definitely for big girls too Annie! xxx

  4. That's a fantastic project! When I see the range of dolls on display for young girls, I'm always grateful I have a boy . . . until I see the boys' toys!

    1. Ha! There's a lot of awful toys out there in general!

  5. What an incredible transformation! You always find the most creative projects to work on with your kids, Claire.

  6. Thanks Susan. I'm a magpie, collecting inspiration everywhere I go!

  7. I love these, they are fantastic. Sonia Singh is such a huge inspiration and you have done such a wonderful job. Well done x


    1. She is incredibly inspiring - and comes across as a very lovely person!

  8. Oh wow, that's fantastic! I love the new dolls, so much nicer! The wellies are great and the photos of them having childhood fun is brilliant!
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

    1. Thanks Karen! I think taking the 'childhood' photos in the garden was the bit I enjoyed the most!

    2. Thanks Karen! I think taking the 'childhood' photos in the garden was the bit I enjoyed the most!

  9. Woah! These are brilliant.
    The ones you and your daughter did are so much better than the original ones.
    The words your daughter said was lovely too. It just shows not every child 'follows' these Barbie dolls etc like some do. X

    1. Thanks Bethan. Interestingly, my daughter has never been interested in playing with dolls at all - but she LOVED doing this project!

  10. Their makeover is super. I have always disliked Bratz dolls but the more natural looking version is a million times more appealing #letkidsbekids

    1. I totally agree. I think Bratz dolls are what the company think children want, not what they actually want!

    2. Well no, as a kid I enjoyed Bratz quite often and had no problem with them or dolls with no makeup. I never saw sex or anything negative with them at all. Makeup never screamed sex to me, nor will I ever see it as such.

  11. I love this idea! I would definitely do this! Mine and not my child as I really love drawing faces and maybe this is a new way of drawing girl's faces. Thanks for sharing! We have a store that sells second hand bratz and I will get one tomorrow! #letkidsbekids

    1. It's a completely brilliant project for adults, with or without kids involved! Happy unbratting! I would love to see your results!