Out With Barbie And Bratz, Meet Lottie; The Realistic Doll

We recently came across a review in the Guardian paper about a new line of kids toys called the Lottie doll. The reason it caught our eye was not just about the physical packaging and aesthetic of the toy, but the reason behind it’s creation. So we got in touch with the manufacturing company in the UK, Arklu and asked them a few questions about Lottie. We really excited to share this with you as this company is doing something significant in the lives of children and the choices they make.

Basically, Lottie is a doll created as an antithesis of sorts to Barbie. For many years parents, women, children and organizations have spoken up about how unrealistic Barbie’s physical proportions are. We could even place the blame on the Mattel doll for creating many unhealthy body image and self esteem issues in young women thinking if they just looked like her, they too would have the ‘perfect’ body.

Just how much of an influence do the toys children play with have on their lives going forward? It’s a lot more than we think, hence the need for extensive research. The way young women form their view of themselves starts at a very young age. All we have to do is look back at our own childhood and pick out specific factors that made us think a certain way, whether it be something a person said, something we saw on TV, something we read in a magazine etc.

We spoke to Lucie Follett from Arklu who gave us the lowdown on why Lottie is different and how she came about. She tells us why the Lottie doll will have a great impact on young girls and hopefully set them up with more realistic expectations about body image as they grow up.

How did the idea of Lottie come about and who is she modeled on?

Arklu is a startup business made up of myself and my co-director Ian Harkin. We launched our business in 2012 with a set of best-selling Royal Wedding Dolls. On the back of the global success we achieved, we decided that we wanted to focus our business on the doll market going forward. 
We read some interesting research carried out by British academic, Dr Margaret Ashwell OBE which looked into the impact that more popular fashion dolls have on girls’ perception of body image.

We decided that we could be innovative and address this issue, rather than just accepting the status quo and creating a fashion doll with an adult body, as so many other companies have done before us. We got in touch with Dr Ashwell who in turn put us in contact with Professor David McCarthy (Professor of Nutrition and Health at the Institute for Health Research & Policy, London Metropolitan University) who provided us with the dimensions we needed.

Lottie’s body is ‘childlike’ – as you might expect as she is aged nine; her dimensions (with the exception of her head) are based upon the average proportions for a girl aged nine. Lottie doesn’t wear makeup, jewellery or high heels.

What factors in society and in the toy market influenced Arklu to create Lottie?

We held focus groups with girls and mums, we spoke with collectors and experienced people in the industry and then spoke with experts in child psychology. But the loudest influencing factors were from parents who were concerned that their girls were missing out on their childhood, that they were being prematurely sexualized and had a negative perception of body image.

For our Year 1 range of 6 dolls we have navigated a tight balancing act to achieve our commercial goal which is to get support from retailers, who are extremely cautious about clearing shelf space and taking on a new, untested brand, whilst at the same time staying true to the original ideas that formed Lottie’s development. Our Year 2 range includes some more adventurous doll themes, which would have been impossible for us to do in our first year.

In what ways does the Lottie doll aim to compete with other dolls like Barbie, Monster High, Bratz and how is she different?

Lottie isn’t competing with Barbie, Monster High or Bratz; Lottie is a considered choice. In our research we have identified major concerns of parents but also we have listened to what girls wanted so that we could create something with real play value. 
Lottie is sculpted for the optimal height to be used by the average age of her user, which is aged 6, all other dolls are all based on 11 inches and above, despite the average age dropping from 10+ when dolls were first introduced over 50 years ago (ie the height of the average age of the user has changed but not the height of the doll).

With Lottie being physically different from the unrealistic dimensions of Barbie, what kind of a message does Arklu hope to show parents & young girls?

Lottie is based on a 9 year old; she’s not out shopping, night clubbing or getting her makeup done. Lottie loves the outdoors, she loves exploring and using her imagination when going on her adventures. Lottie can stand on her own two feet, literally as well as psychologically. Most of all, Lottie is a doll and is intended to be fun; but in a way that very firmly and neatly addresses issues we know parents feel uncomfortable about. Lottie is targeted at girls aged 3 to 9; the idea of Lottie is for every girl to see themselves in her.

What are some of the standout responses from parents and children who have the doll?

The overall feel is that she’s good fun and very ‘cute’. We’ve also had some really good feedback about the ‘mini stories’ that appear on the back of each of the doll boxes as these encourage imaginative role-play and creativity. From parents, of course, we have had really good feedback about our emphasis on body image, also the lack of makeup, jewellery and high heels. It is hitting a chord.

We aren’t expecting to be universally liked; we know we are a considered choice, and doubtless there will be some who don’t like Lottie, but for an innovative, startup business composed of just two people – it’s an achievement!

Specifically relating to the USA, we have also reached out to mommy bloggers and reviewers in the USA too and have also got really great reviews.

We have also sought feedback from experts in the USA, notably Dr Jennifer Shewmaker who is one of the leading voices against premature sexualization. We read her blog and learned about her ‘Operation Transformation’, reached out and sent Dr Shewmaker some Lottie dolls for review. Her reaction was very positive and we received a great write-up on her blog.

How will Lottie dolls enable girls aspire to do great things in life with their talents, as opposed to a Barbie doll which makes girls feel insecure because they don’t look like them?

It’s a difficult question to answer because it assumes that Lottie is a role model – and that is a big assumption to make, one that I am not sure is actually correct. The reality is she is ‘just’ a doll, of course and primarily intended to provide play value and fun for girls aged 3-9. That said, in our own small way, as an innovative startup, we have just tried to address some of the issues we know that parents have with some of the current fashion dolls out there on the market at present.

I’d much rather young girls look to real women to inspire them – and there are plenty of real and very inspiring female role models out there. Certainly, in my own case, my own Mother and Grandmother are both examples of very strong, hard-working, switched on women who have inspired me to get out there, be independent, take risks and set up a business. These are exactly the kind of positive messages I would hope to pass on to young girls.

6 Comments

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