Having children makes one thing strikingly clear: time flies. Naturally, then, many parents yearn for their kids to stay kids for longer and, while some believe that their children’s rapid maturity lies in social networking, others think that, for girls especially, toys may have a major influence. One artist is highlighting this latter mode of thought by giving hypersexualized kids’ dolls a stunning make-under.
Sonia Singh grew up in Tasmania, an island state situated off of the south coast of Australia, where natural beauty abounds. Like most girls, she, along with her sisters, played with dolls when they were kids.
And while most children may have hankered for the newest trend and flashiest toys on the market, Singh and her sisters were happy to play with secondhand and homemade toys. A toy is a toy, after all.
As an adult, though, Singh studied to be a scientist and landed a job as a science communicator. However, she was laid off in September 2014 following cuts in government funding, and she was forced to balance looking after her young daughter with looking for a new job. As a result, this creatively minded woman threw herself into a new project.
Inspired by her own childhood playing with secondhand toys, Singh took her daughter to a thrift store to revive the tradition. It was here that she came across some dolls in much need of some TLC.
But Singh could still see the potential in these discarded toys. So she began giving fashion dolls a “make-under,” replacing their brashness with something subtler. The do-over started out as a simple hobby – but it has since become a full-blown business venture.
After all, the process of rehabilitating the rescued dolls is not easy. For instance, Singh sometimes needs to replace missing hands or feet, and she removes all traces of previous make-up using nail polish remover. She even repaints their faces in a more natural style.
However, even though Singh mostly uses Bratz dolls for this process, she has insisted that there is no political message here. Indeed, Singh told SBS2 Australia, “It was never my intention to make a particular statement about these dolls… It’s about giving some old toys a new lease on life.”
Nevertheless, the made-under dolls are completely transformed and dressed in new outfits knitted by Singh’s mom. Gone are the overly made-up faces and glittery glamwear in favor of something far more understated.
But how did this become a business? To begin with, Singh refashioned 12 dolls in total and started to photograph them in her backyard. She positioned them sitting astride tire swings and climbing trees – all the things a normal young girl would do herself.
With the encouragement of her husband, she then posted the images to her own Facebook page, just to see what her friends’ reactions would be. The response she received blew her away.
Originally, both Singh and her partner, John, had humble expectations regarding the response to the modified dolls. Talking to SBS2 Australia, John explained, “I thought she’d get a couple of hundred followers, and she thought she’d set up an Etsy store for a bit of pocket money.”
Yet the attention that Singh and her creations received was overwhelming; when her page was shared on Reddit, the project took on a life of its own. It was then that Tree Change Dolls went viral.
“Treechange” is an Australian term meaning a change in lifestyle from city living to a slower pace of life in the country. It’s a word that couldn’t be more fitting for the change Singh creates to the dolls’ images.
After the Reddit post and the launch of her Tumblr page in January 2015, the worldwide media took notice. And, to date, the Tree Change Dolls Facebook page has nearly half a million likes, while a news video featuring the dolls has had more than 20 million views on YouTube.
Plus, despite Singh not intending to make a statement by giving Bratz dolls a makeover, the dolls did spark a debate surrounding the overt sexualization of some girls’ toys. And the response from consumers was overwhelmingly positive.
In SBS2 Australia’s video, one girl said that the dark make-up sported by other dolls “was crazy.” By stripping off these layers, then, Singh has given girls a doll that they find far more relatable, more like themselves.
Singh told SBS2 Australia, “I’ve had a lot of comments from people saying, ‘These are the kind of dolls I want my children to play with.’” The interest that likeminded parents have shown in the Tree Change Dolls has encouraged her to continue making them.
Indeed, enthusiasm for Singh’s dolls was so high that, when two were put up for auction online, they both commanded phenomenal bids, with one selling for approximately $220 and the other fetching around $150. Some of the profits were donated to the International Women’s Development Agency.
Singh has apparently kept most of her original dolls for sentimental reasons, but she has so far sold more than 300 of the dolls, and there are more on the way. When asked about the impact of the Tree Change Dolls, Singh said, “If what I’ve done influences the types of dolls put on the market, that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.”