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courtesy of Instagram/@cakefacerj

Unpacking the viral #BratzChallenge

Why are people transforming themselves into naughties dolls?

There’s a new beauty trend reverberating around the internet, one that’s been resurrected straight from the early aughts. Nope, it’s not frosted tips - though watch this space. Instead, beauty junkies are seeking inspiration from an unlikely source: the toy box. The often controversial Barbie rival, Bratz has sparked an internet challenge in which beauty bloggers and enthusiasts recreate the doll’s signature 2000s era make-up: glossy lined lips, shimmer shadows and pencil-thin arches. The results? Make-up ranging from glammed up inspirations to shockingly accurate, almost uncanny recreations. The #BratzChallenge is all over Instagram and Twitter, and videos of people participating on YouTube are racking up views in the hundred thousands, and some in the millions. Even the Bratz official Twitter account is even getting in on it and retweeting the looks.

Debuting in 2001, Jade, Cloe, Sasha and Yasmin, came outfitted in the trendiest of aughts fashion: boot cut jeans, platform shoes, everything bold, bright and shiny, cropped and tight. To put it simply, these girls with a passion for fashion weren’t just wearing outfits they were serving looks. However, they didn’t arrive without controversy; parents criticized Bratz for dressing too sexily, wearing too much make-up and looking too grown up for kids to play with.  On the flip side, the dolls were praised for being refreshingly diverse (especially compared to Barbie’s mostly white, blonde squad), and although they repped beyond unrealistic bodily proportions, they were never meant to mirror real-life women like Barbie’s idealised proportions. Either way, it wasn’t long before Bratz started flying off shelves. Then came the short-lived television show, the 2007 live action film, the Bratz merch, commercials featuring tweens and teens in Bratz-like outfits dancing in their rooms with their dolls and hanging out at the mall. Barbie even launched My Scene dolls to compete with Bratz, with similarly exaggerated features - wider eyes, bigger lips and even bigger heads.

Fast forward to today and the dolls’ presence is echoed all around the internet. Just look at @Monsterlool and @Bratzieb who outfit and photograph Bratz like cool-girl influencers and have racked up followers in the thousands. Many of these recreations circulating on social media are inspired by photographer and make-up artist Martin Cantos, who regularly uses Bratz Dolls in his work, giving them inclusive and contemporary make-overs inspired by internet culture. Cantos happily reacted to the challenge in a YouTube video saying, “I love the fact that the beauty community is being influenced by the doll community and vice versa.”

Juliet, meanwhile, a student and make-up artist whose friends urged her to do the challenge (which was regrammed on the Bratz official Instagram), pulled inspiration from Cantos' account and Bratz fanpage @bratz.galaxy to create four looks inspired by each of the original four Bratz dolls. Juliet explained that while the creative aspect was a major factor, the main draw was in recreating something that was such a big part of her childhood. “Earlier in the year I started doing themed inspired make-up looks: Harry Potter houses, Shark Tale, and I figured why not do all four looks for the dolls as well,” she said of her process. Recreating these looks was especially poignant given the fact that as a kid she was able to see herself in the dolls, compared to Barbies which were much less diverse. “I was originally just going to stick to just doing Sasha because I never thought I’d see a Sasha Doll with an Afro. That was amazing.” Ultimately, she ended up doing all four.

The dolls’ diversity played a major role in a re-creation by Euvanna, another make-up artist who drew inspiration from the @Bratz.Galaxy account. She regularly creates inspired looks on her Instagram account and decided to join in on the fun when she saw it trending in the beauty community. “I grew up playing with Bratz dolls. They were my preference over Barbie dolls because they resembled me.” She said of her connection to the dolls. Though Bratz were criticized as unrealistic she was able to relate to one of their most prominent and attainable attributes, “Being a young black girl with large lips Bratz dolls finally gave me the confidence to embrace my large features.” For her re-creation, Euvanna painted on eyes and embraced her full lips with a bright orange lipstick matching the doll’s.

Though the challenge is rooted in nostalgia, particularly for people who could relate to Bratz in a way they never could to Barbies, it’s hard to ignore how much the dolls mirror our current beauty standards. As Juliet noted, Bratz was kind of the OG in all things glam, and I think (this is maybe a reach) they unconsciously set the tone for the beauty standards we see today. From the beat face to the clothes.” As well as a vehicle for demonstrating exceptional make-up artistry, the Bratz challenge acts as a kind of satirical commentary on our current obsession with plastic perfection. When there’s a real-life trend underway of exaggerated, fake features – whether that’s achieved through filters or fillers – the Bratz challenge pokes fun at these beauty standards saying: this is exaggerated, this is fake, this is doll-like. As make-up artist Cantos noted in his video, they don’t look like real people because, “That’s not what they’re supposed to look like, they’re dolls.”