ALISON STEWART, host:
I have in my hand right now an outfit from the Barbie Let's Shop collection. It says here right on the front - what does that say there, Bill?
It says three plus.
STEWART: Ages three and plus.
STEWART: Okay. This outfit consists of pink fishnets, a strapless lace dress…
STEWART: …and pink sandals with a heel that if it were a real lady size, it would be about a four-inch spike.
WOLFF: Yeah, now.
STEWART: Okay. This is - easy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: This is tamed compared to Barbie's spin-off called My Scene Dolls. Here's a little ad for the My Scene Juicy Bling Doll.
(Soundbite of My Scene Juicy Bling Doll ad)
Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Juicy Bling, It's my scene.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Long blond hair.
Unidentified Woman #2: Easy applicator blings your hair.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Bling you wear.
Unidentified Woman #2: Juicy fashion. Each comes with 20 reusable faux gem so you can wear too. My Scene Juicy Bling Kennedy Doll, other dolls each sold separately.
WOLFF: I don't know if I want one or want to date one.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CAMILLE CHATTERJEE (Toy Editor, Parenting Magazine): See that's the problem right there.
STEWART: That's a little bit of a problem.
WOLFF: What's the problem?
STEWART: The tagline for the site is, quote, "sure to catch all the guys' eyes." You know, this is the part that's going to give you the cringe - it's for little girls four to nine years old.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Yes, ma'am.
STEWART: Yes. Raggedy Ann is out there crying right now or considering a makeover.
Our guest today is Camille Chatterjee, a toy editor for Parenting magazine. So Camille, we shouldn't just beat up on Barbie here.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Right.
STEWART: This industry is full of what's called age compression.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: That's right.
STEWART: First of all, what does that mean?
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Age compression means basically that kids are growing up much faster than they used to. So, whereas kids used to play with toys till age 12, now they're stopping at around age eight. They're becoming adults faster. They want what adults have more quickly. And they want cell phones instead of dolls. They want BlackBerrys and iPods instead of play refrigerators and action sets. And what that also means is that they're becoming sexualized earlier. They're wanting to dress like mommy earlier. They're wanting to dress like their big sisters earlier and that's the big problem that the toy industry is facing.
STEWART: So the toy industry would say we're just reacting to the reality of our consumer base that these crop top Bratz dolls with the big - with the lip gloss, that's what little girls might be aspiring to.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Exactly. The toy industry would say, right, that's what the kids want. We're just delivering what the kids want. And what they're not seeing is that there's also a big industry in manipulating what preschoolers want. What preschoolers want isn't necessarily always what they should have and what's age appropriate, but by focusing on what they like, they make a lot of money. And a lot of moms don't want to say no necessarily to what little Kayla(ph) wants at the toy store. They want to avoid the tantrum, so they're going to buy the scary bunny Bratz doll instead of something that's more age appropriate.
WOLFF: In other words, there's room in the hand basket to hell for dolls.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Oh, there's plenty of room. They're all around the perimeter basically.
STEWART: Now, can we trace this back to a certain era or time? Is there a doll zero a skunk doll zero?
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Well, you know, Barbies were always a hot plane(ph), but as you said, it's not just Barbies anymore. And Barbies were around for a long time before this phenomenon really started happening. A lot of people do trace it to the popularization of tech gadgets. That they're pocketsize, things like the cell phone, you know. A preschooler now can use a pre-schooled aimed computer. You have, you know, little computers for babies, even you have cell phones for babies. And a cell phone looks like a toy; an iPod looks like a toy and once we had gadgets that started looking like toys, little kids wanted those instead of the things that were marketed to them in the toy store.
STEWART: What is the worst toy that you have seen marketed to a kid at this point especially in terms of talking about the sexualization of toys?
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Well, actually, the thing that scared me the most is a toy that didn't happen. Hasbro almost put out last year a Pussycat Dolls line for girls five and up. And you really want…
STEWART: The Pussycat Dolls are a burlesque…
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Yeah.
STEWART: …show coming out of L.A. full of…
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Exactly.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: They have the biggest lounge after hours, you know, and the idea of a five year old wanting to be hot like me kind of scared me. And luckily, it was actually…
(Soundbite of laughter)
WOLFF: Oh, was that - that's their song?
Ms. CHATTERJEE: That's yeah, don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me.
WOLFF: Oh, dear.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: And the idea of these women being marketed to five, six, seven, you know, eight year olds. Luckily, there was actually a grassroots movement to prevent that doll line from happening, so that was nipped in the bud. But, you know, that was probably the scariest. But, you know, Bratz are extremely popular; I hate to just name check those because, you know, there are also the My Scene dolls and others. But Bratz, actually, I think was a big turning point where we went past Barbie…
Ms. CHATTERJEE: …who actually is an adult. I mean, as scary some of her outfits are, she's not portrayed as on preschoolers, but Bratz, they look like little girls but they're little girls who wear eyeliner and mascara and crop tops and hot pants. And I think that's where the line started to blur, you know. And for some parents actually they like the fact that Bratz are supposed to look like little girls. But again, the problem is they're little girls that are three going on 30 and that's problematic.
STEWART: It seems like a tremendously slippery slope when you say, okay, well, they kind of look like little girls but they look like trashed up little girls.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Exactly. And it's more, you know, complicated by the fact that actually Bratz are very ethnically diverse. You know, there is a blonde doll; there is an African American doll; there's an Asian doll so some moms also say, okay, there aren't a lot of options there. We'd rather have the Bratz doll that looks a little trampy but, you know, has the same skin tone as my daughter than buy, you know, a more demure doll that doesn't reflect that. So the problem is it kind of depends on your values. It's not a perfect world. You may have to go for what your priorities are.
STEWART: We're talking to Camille Chatterjee, the toy editor of Parenting magazine.
Can you stick around for a minute because…
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Definitely.
STEWART: …I want to continue this conversation over the break because you do have some advice…
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Yes.
STEWART: …for some parents who are headed to the toy store this weekend and also we want to get your take on probably one of the most talked about stories right now involving a teen star who's found herself in a very difficult position. We'll discuss that. Coming up after the break, Camille, sit tight.
(Soundbite of music)
WOLFF: Welcome back to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. We are on digital, FM, satellite and online at npr.org/bryantpark. I am guest substitute sidekick Bill Wolff.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: And I'm Alison Stewart.
We're talking with a toy editor of Parenting magazine, Camille Chatterjee, about sexualized toys as parents are heading to the mall this final weekend before Christmas.
And Bill, you have a very basic question?
WOLFF: Well, having heard about all of these sort of - you'll pardon the term -slutty dolls for little girls, what, short of cutting off your electricity, can you do to try to raise a child in an environment that doesn't lead her to become, you know, an exotic dancer for God's sake?
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Right.
STEWART: Or want a toy of one.
WOLFF: Yeah. Well, honestly.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Luckily, on the toy front, there is good news and a lot of companies have reacted to dolls like Bratz by coming out with dolls that are age appropriate and that do like real girls that are ethnically diverse and do not, you know, have clothing that barely covers them like a band aid and I'll mention a few. Manhattan Toy is a toy line for the past couple of years has put out a line of dolls called Groovy Girls. And they look like real adolescent girls, you know, and they're wearing t-shirts and jeans. They're not wearing, excuse the term - stripper boots - but they don't have make-up on; they don't have big hair. They look like regular girls and they also come, you know, in an array of, you know, different ethnicities. So again there are dolls that your daughters can look to and say okay, these girls look like me; they're not uncool because that's a big problem, you know…
Ms. CHATTERJEE: …for girls now. They don't want to be uncool. You know, three year olds want to be like their 13-year-old sisters.
WOLFF: There is something between uncool and stripper.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Exactly. And, you know, the Groovy Girls definitely have it. There's another line of dolls called the Play Along Club which is a group of friends, again, these are dolls that look like your average junior high students but they're dressed in normal everyday fashions and they each have a book that comes with them telling their story. You know, each has a different hobby or interest and again, there are ways that your daughter can say that it's okay to have hobbies and interests other than climbing a stripper pole or going out and being a rock star.
STEWART: Boys and make-up and the likes.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Exactly, and fashion.
STEWART: You know, while we have you here, I do want to ask you this question. A lot of people have been talking about this celebrity news story about Jamie Lynn Spears who is the star of Nickelodeon "Zoey 101," the little sister of Britney Spears, have announced that she's pregnant. A lot of parents - we have friends who were saying that they're not going to let the show on in their house anymore. How - can you give people one concrete piece of advice how do you talk to your kids about the fact that Zoey is pregnant?
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Right. Talk about little girls growing up too fast. Well, the first thing I would say is do talk to your kids. I think a lot of parents' first instinct is to turn off the set or just avoid the issue. But in this age of Internet entertainment, kids are going to find out about it whether or not you talk to them about it. Whether Zoey is on your television or not, they're going to hear it from their friends.
So use it as a talking point and say, you know, you watch "Zoey 101," have you heard about Jamie Lynn, what do you think about it and see what they think. They might have misconceptions that you could correct. They might not have any idea how this could have happened and that's a great entry for you to talk about your values and how teen pregnancy happens, ways to prevent it. So don't avoid it and actually use this as a chance to teach your kid.
STEWART: Camille Chatterjee is a toy editor from Parenting magazine just a fountain of advice this morning. Thanks for coming to the studio, Camille.
Ms. CHATTERJEE: Thank you.
STEWART: Hey, let's go to Rachel Martin to hear a little bit of news.
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