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Barbie vs. Bratz battle rages on to the end

  • Story Highlights
  • Bratz dolls will leave the market at the end of the year, to tweens' dismay
  • Mattel sued Bratz, claiming Bratz dolls' creator came up with concept while at Mattel
  • Some parents prefer Barbies to Bratz because of Barbies' more wholesome image
  • Others feel Barbies present an unhealthy, unrealistic image
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By Debra Alban
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Look at a Bratz doll. What do you see? Ask that of random shoppers and you might hear it's an empowering role model, a degrading caricature or a harmless piece of plastic.

A federal judge ordered that Bratz dolls be taken off store shelves after the holiday season.

Many parents see Bratz dolls, left, as too racy for their children, and Barbie dolls as representing false ideals.

Nine-year-old Ashley Gibbs of Cumming, Georgia, is a fan of the edgy dolls, so it came as an unpleasant surprise that they would soon leave store shelves.

"Ever, ever, ever?" she asked her mother, Kathryn Adams, after Adams said stores weren't going to sell Bratz after the end of this year.

But after a moment of reflection, Ashley seemed relieved. "Good [thing] I have lots."

Ashley didn't know it, but Bratz are the target of allegations that their creator came up with the concept when he was working for Mattel, the maker of Bratz rival Barbie.

Mattel sued Bratz manufacturer MGA Entertainment Inc., and last week a federal judge ordered MGA to cease making the dolls immediately and to stop selling them after the holiday shopping season ends.

MGA said it intends to appeal the judge's order and Mattel said it remains open to "all viable options" as the matter moves through the courts.

The judge's ruling came as a relief to some parents who see the popular dolls' clothes and makeup as too racy for their young daughters. It also eliminates heavy competition against Barbie -- a doll often seen as less provocative, but whose slender body also raises parents' eyebrows.

"I'm happy to not see [Bratz]," said Kristi Cassell of Sandy Springs, Georgia. Her 5-year-old daughter, Emily, has amassed a collection of Barbies. Video Watch mothers and daughters weigh in on the Barbie-Bratz debate »

"Barbies come across more wholesome," Cassell said. Barbie has some "questionable" clothes, "but it seemed like all the Bratz dolls were on a darker side of Barbie," she said.

Six-year-old Sierra Curry-Corcoran of Newport News, Virginia, also has a Barbie collection and no Bratz dolls. But not by choice.

"I like Bratz better. They have more fancy clothes, and they look more cool," Sierra said.

Her mother, Tasha Curry-Corcoran, strongly disagrees. "Bratz are trashy: They wear too much makeup. Their clothing is too short; their boots are too high. They look like prostitutes. That's why we don't have them in our house."

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Parents aren't the only ones who have taken aim at Bratz.

A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls called Bratz dolls' miniskirts, fishnet stockings and feather boas "sexualized" and argued that the dolls' "objectified sexuality ... is limiting for adolescent girls, and even more so for the very young girls who represent the market for these dolls."

Researchers have criticized Barbie, too. The Mattel dolls represent a "distortedly thin body ideal," and girls experienced "heightened body dissatisfaction after exposure to Barbie doll images but not after exposure to ... neutral control images," according to a 2006 study out of the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom.

Cassell acknowledged that Barbie bodies "are a little unrealistic."

"But they've been around for generations. I grew up playing with Barbies, and I don't have any physical issues because I had Barbies. I think the adults make a bigger deal out of it than the kids," she said.

Theresa Hawkesworth of South Africa believes Bratz dolls rather than Barbies are a more positive influence for her 12-year-old daughter, Emma.

"Because their faces and their makeup are so extreme it's almost impossible that a young girl could look like that," Hawkesworth said. "Whereas [with] Barbie dolls, the young girls think that they need that beautiful hair and that beautiful body, and when they don't look like a Barbie they have that poor self-image."

Over the years Emma has accumulated a dozen Bratz dolls, in addition to Bratz shirts, pajamas, posters, computer games and a rolling backpack. "It's too bad for other girls" that they're leaving the marketplace, Emma said.

As a preteen, Emma feels too old for Barbies, although she still appreciates the style of Bratz. But she doesn't want to emulate that style. "It looks nice on the dolls, but I would prefer to just wear my own makeup," she said.

Emma's mother said her daughter's interest in Bratz actually helps the girl maintain her innocence. The branded clothing is "more innocent, feminine and girly than a see-through or immodest top," Hawkesworth said.

Ashley's mother had been hesitant to let Ashley or her other daughter, 6-year-old Kate Gibbs, play with Bratz, but she relented when they received them as gifts.

Adams had been "definitely a little bit more of a Barbie fan," but, "I don't want them to buy into the mentality that they've got to look like a Bratz doll or a Barbie doll," she said.

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Ashley seems to be resisting the influence of the Bratz style. "They have lots of makeup and I don't want that much makeup," she said. "I like casual things, not the big pretty things."

To which Adams later beamed, "Yes! Proud mom!"

CNN's Sean O'Key contributed to this report.

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