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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Have I got a doll for you?

Several years ago someone e-mailed me a link to a web site about an interesting doll.  This doll -, called Feral Cheryl - was nothing like any doll I had ever considered giving my daughter... and I'm pretty sure the person who sent the link meant it as a joke. 

However, after looking around the site (note that I don't claim to have read every word), I realized that there was quite a lot to recommend this doll.

For one thing, Feral Cheryl was designed around realistic body proportions.  If you increased this doll's scale to life-size... she wouldn't be 7 feet tall with a 22" waist!  She would look... well, normal!  The idea being that a pre-teen girl shouldn't look at a doll and think to herself, 'If I starved myself, got implants and took injections of Human Growth Hormone, I'd still never be able to look like that!'   

The doll on the website was dressed in colorful 'hippie-like' apparel... and instead of the requisite poker-straight blond hair found on most dolls, she had kinky brown hair tied back under a bandanna.   Another point in this doll's favor was the fact that it was not made in some Asian sweatshop, but rather is handmade in Australia by socially/environmentally responsible people.   All-in-all a nice, harmless doll.

Being a bit of an impulse shopper, I went ahead and ordered one for Ariella.

What I didn't notice (until the doll was delivered to my office), were a few important details:

1.  Feral Cheryl's hair isn't 'kinky'.  She has dreadlocks .
2.  Feral Cheryl has a pierced nose and a pierced belly button, with very visible rings in both.
3.  Feral Cheryl has a big tribal tattoo on her back.
4.  Feral Cheryl has a 'bindi' between her eyebrows.
5.  Feral Cheryl has way more skin exposed than I I had originally realized.
6.  Feral Cheryl has, um, realistic 'body hair' [no, I am not posting a picture!].

[All images I've used here are © Feral Cheryl 2002]

Now, none of these things by itself would be considered a deal-breaker.  Dreadlocks? No problem, Mon!  A tattoo and a couple of piercings?  A nice lesson in different cultural norms.  A bindi?  Why not?  One of my nieces has a drawer full of them and they look adorable on her!   

OK,  I have to say that when one of my colleagues at work (Hi Megan!) pointed out the, um, realistic body hair, I was a little freaked... but overall, there wasn't any one thing that kept me from giving the doll to Ariella.

Yet here we are, years later and I still haven't given her the doll.  It's worth noting that I haven't thrown it away either! 

Of course my wife would argue that I am incapable of throwing anything away... but that is only one of many reasons I'm posting this while she and the kids are in Eilat with my parents... without Internet access.

Here's the deal.  Ariella is now 11.  Granted she is much less 'worldly' than 11-year-olds  who've grown up watching a lot of TV and generally exposed to other aspects of modern/popular culture... but I honestly think there are more potentially good lessons to be learned from Feral Cheryl than bad ones. 

I would even go so far as to say that the few so-called 'bad lessons' (an admittedly subjective term I'm using here to describe anything that doesn't fit perfectly into our Orthodox Jewish worldview), are really good opportunities to broach the difficult discussion about 'different' not being synonymous with 'bad'.  This is a discussion that (IMHO) far too few parents have with their kids before they start pulling away towards teenage independence and rebellion. Perhaps if they did, fewer kids would feel the need to try and shock their parents by being 'different'.  I also suspect that the whole 'different' is not synonymous with 'bad' thing goes a long way towards teaching tolerance.

So what do you think?  Do I give Ariella the doll when she gets back from Eilat, or toss it out with the rest of the trash from the pre-Passover cleaning? 

Go check out the Feral Cheryl site and tell me what you would do in my place. 

Please show your work.


Posted by David Bogner on April 19, 2005 | Permalink


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This, for me, would be a no-brainer since from my crazy-right-wing world view it has the worst of both worlds: all the body modification and skin exposure of the secular left, with all the pretense of social and environmental responsibility of the secular left.

I bet that Ari already knows that it's OK to be different. I have a very strong suspicion that you and Zahava have already taught her in about a thousand other ways that non-Jews are created in the Divine image every bit as much as she is. Does she really need a doll with arm-pit (and other) hair to help with that point? And I really have to know: is the "other" hair painted on, or is it actual doll hair that is glued in the nether-regions? I, for one, would pave over acres of rain forest to avoid such a thing.

The only important question is: She's 11. Is she still playing with dolls?

My advice (since you had the poor judgment to ask) is this: put on the beekeeping space suit. Take the doll into the back yard in broad daylight, hopefully while your neighbors are outside. Then put the doll into the empty beehive box with great flourish. Seal it there for all eternity or until your neighbors get a court order to reveal the contents of the box.

Trust me on this.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Apr 19, 2005 7:52:54 AM

See, I know Ari, and she is definitely a unique kid, so Feral Cheryl's promise of "helping her sisters disregard the fashion industry's warped images of women..." is not a problem (see your recent Photo Friday where ariela wears pajama pants under her skirt). I'm not sure Feral Cheryl could enhance her life.

However, the following sort of caught my eye:
"Her motto is "Live Simply, Run Wild". Her only accessories: a bag of home grown herbs*, a sense of humour and a social conscience.

* the doll comes with a small stash of dried basil."

Perhaps Ariella could learn something from Feral Cheryl afterall. Or, perhaps you should remove the fake weed before giving it to her. Or put it on some pre-pesach pizza.

Posted by: Noa | Apr 19, 2005 8:07:22 AM

Cheryl sounds like the kind of woman who makes her own sanitary products out of organic hemp. A woman to be avoided at all costs!

Posted by: ball-and-chain | Apr 19, 2005 8:18:30 AM

You know, I think that this is a doll that can be used for a lot of different discussions. I think that it is nice to talk about the differences and the similarities in people. Tolerance is a good thing, but I agree that you'll want to frisk Feral Cheryl prior to passing her on.

One more thing, does she still play with dolls? I have more sisters than you can shake a stick at but cannot remember when they stopped.

And since my daughter is all of 9 months I haven't any other reference points to use.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 19, 2005 9:02:22 AM

You really know how to increase someone's anticipation of being parents some day [I said 'some day'...one has to be so careful with words these days].

The words that caught my eyes were "the anti-Barbie". I always thought that children who don't need a Barbie wouldn't need a substitute of kinds? But this industry implants exactly this idea; so what do they want? To do something good or the money of those who for their lives would never ever give *expensive* Barbie stuff to their children?

I find this doll fairly ridiculous. An Amazone wannabe of sorts. Is that really herbs in her pockets, or......hhhhhh!!! ;) Don't get me wrong, but this concept looks just so overly forced, I can't believe it's not been thrown onto the market as a mere joke.

I was trying to remember when I actually stopped playing with my dolls and Barbies. I think I was around Ariella's age.

I have heard there are some organizations that collect gifts for needy, especially on the holidays. Maybe you could make another child happy - tastes are so different.

If you have to give her a gift these days, I'm sure there are better things.

[p.b. I'm somewhat relieved, though, that you didn't jump on the Bradz wagon.]

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Apr 19, 2005 9:11:12 AM

I played with dolls until I was 13. Then, I must admit, I covertly enjoyed playing with them as part of the engage-and-interact tactics with kids I babysat. I rolled my eyes and complained about it to everyone other than the kids themselves but..well, coordinating those outfits was still fun. I'd give her the doll. It can't do any harm and it might open the door to some discussions she is probably going be ready to start having within the next couple of years. Definitely frisk the doll first though!

Posted by: katie-yael | Apr 19, 2005 9:45:58 AM

Tribal tattoos are OUT! I would pass on the doll! But what do I know? No children yet.

Posted by: harry | Apr 19, 2005 10:43:50 AM

Doctor Bean... The idea of identifying someone's politics by their clothing is a bit more complicated here than in SoCal. There are lots of folks on both the left and right who wear batik & Birkenstocks. Same goes for piercings and dreads. The only real difference seems to be in the amount of exposed skin. :-) As to the body hair... let me state for the record that her underarms have no hair... and the hair that is, um, elsewhere is not painted on. Thanks for the suggestion about the hive, though.

Noa... OMG! I just checked, and sure enough... there is a little stash of 'basil-looking-substance' in her crocheted bag. I am so glad that customs didn't look closely at this thing when we moved here! If I do decide to give her the doll, that 'basil' is definitely going to get burned along with the rest of the Chometz.

Ball and Chain... lalalalalalal I can't here you lalalalalalal! You should know better than to discuss such things around men!!!

Jack... Frisked and busted! As to your other point, yes Ariella still enjoys her dolls, but not in the same way that she did when she was 5 or 6. She now likes getting dolls whose ethnicity and background is obvious so she can read about them. My parents and Father-in-Law have started giving her American Girl Dolls for this reason. They must be made of gold or platinum based on the price, but they do come with a wealth of books and background info about the time and place where the doll is supposed to have 'lived'.

mademoiselle a. ... It is the 'anti-Barbie' because it doesn't require a bunch of materialistic accessories and a glitzy lifestyle. In that sense I like the message very much. I'm just worried that it goes too far past the 'simple lifestyle' message and goes right on towards promoting anarchy.

Katie-Yael... As I mentioned before, little Cheryl has some explaining to do about the contents of her purse! :-) Zahava and I really do try to steer the kids away from controversial topics until we think they are ready to learn from them... but there are so many topics contained in this one doll (each of which has its own age-appropriate-ness) that I am really torn.

Harry... OK, just to be clear... being passe is so not part of the criteria for this decision! :-)

Posted by: David | Apr 19, 2005 11:53:53 AM

Noa: what's wrong with organic hemp...

Ok I say why not, as long as Cheryl isn't an animal rights activist. Then you should forget it. Oh and:

"* the doll comes with a small stash of dried basil."

Well in that case! Who could resist!

Posted by: Maria | Apr 19, 2005 1:08:09 PM

You'd better go out into West Turdistan before they get back and make sure that's really dried basil. : )

Yes, many eleven year-olds play with dolls.

I'm not sure why exactly but I'm leaning towards not giving it to her. How do you feel about the tatoos? Aren't Jews not supposed to tatoo themselves? OTH, you could just explain that Jews don't get tatoos, etc. But then you could just explain that Barbie is a fantasy etc., but Barbies make you uncomfortable.

When I first heard the word 'feral' I pictured animals going at it.

Too bad they don't make the Sunshine Family. That was the Barbie alternative that my parents bought me. I still have them in all of their mildly hippy-ish glory and loved them. They had accesories like a beat up pick-up truck, a little farm etc.


(See the Southern Belle dress in the middle? Strangly I had a dream about that dress last night. Geez, pregnant people have weird dreams.)

After all of this debate, if you gave it to her, she'd probably pretend to like it and never play with it.

Posted by: alice | Apr 19, 2005 5:01:58 PM

I don't know your daughter but I have an 11 year old and I think she'd be a bit grossed out by the whole thing. (But I could definitely see her and a bunch of friends running into her room, closing the door, and hearing lots of giggling!) Good luck!

Posted by: einsof | Apr 19, 2005 5:30:27 PM

I think you should first see how much
you can fetch for it on Ebay. If you
can't seem to interest enough people
to pay a fortune for this unique specimen
of a doll, toss a coin.

Posted by: Shloimy | Apr 19, 2005 6:11:17 PM

Besides the obvious question of whether she is still playing with dolls at this age, as a pre-pubescent girl I would probably freak if my *Dad* gave me a doll with pubic hair. (I'm assuming that is what you mean by "realistic.") I know you're not going to just dump it on her without some kind of explanation, but still...are *you* going to feel comfortable with it?

Posted by: jennifer | Apr 19, 2005 7:07:25 PM

David, exactly this is my problem with these marketing guys - who said anti-Barbie had to look like another extreme? Oh, you mean 'anti' signals it? Hm. People are strange; from one extreme to another.

I like the ebay idea - and if it sells off, invest the money in a teenager-friendly sewing machine. Ariella is creative, she will freak out of sheer joy. No? Yes? ;)

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Apr 19, 2005 10:12:13 PM

I haven't read *all* the comments, but here's my take. Yes, it is cool to have dolls of different ethnicities and body types. Eleven is an age when a girl can begin to appreciate a doll not just as a toy but as a kind of folk craft or art. It was about that age I got my own Native American dolls and cornhusk (frontier) dolls. But this particular doll that you have is just silly, I think. Donate it to an organization that gives toys away. Maybe someone else will want it (though maybe not).

Posted by: Mirty | Apr 19, 2005 10:58:55 PM

I. Love. Your. Readers!!!!!!

XO, and Chag Sameach to all of you!!!! :-)

Posted by: zahava | Apr 19, 2005 11:24:48 PM

In response to your question I have been back from Iraq since late December, and it is beyond words to describe the wonderfulness of reuniting with my wife and daughter. I don't post as much because you have become so popular you are now more like a super wal-mart then the mom and pop coffee shop. I still enjoy your writing very much even if I have to share it more. No comment on the dread lock, hippie, pierced, tattooed, and liberated Barbie. Ok I can't resist...does it come with toy birth control pills? How about its own tree to hug?

Posted by: jason | Apr 20, 2005 1:47:39 AM

Can I, with appologies for being completely off topic, sincerely thank Jason for his service? Thank you very much.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Apr 20, 2005 3:10:55 AM

I'm inclined to say give her the doll, especially since you've already said she's in interested in dolls for what she can learn about them... except I have to agree with jennifer's take. I don't think this is necessarily a deal breaker, but it could be.

And from her comment, I'm guessing Zahava giving it to her is not an option! :)

Posted by: Kay | Apr 20, 2005 3:54:48 AM

Maria... LALALALAL I still can't hear anyone talking about this subject! lalalalal. As to the little bag of 'basil'. I finally opened it up and guess what it was? Basil! huh?

Alice... She does still play with dolls, but I'm really starting to take all this good advice to heart. And yes, it really was basil. :-)

Einsof... The goal of this exercise is not to elicit giggling. Just one of the reasons I am rethinking the wisdom of giver her this doll.

Shloimy... The doll wasn't that expensive to begin with, and it certainly isn't particularly rare. at this point I guess anyone who would like it can just let me know and I'll send it to them.

Jennifer... The pubic hair is not really this issue that is making me rethink things. It is a combination of issues that a gift shouldn't necessarily raise.

mademoiselle a. ... Zahava has a high-end Bernina sewing machine and has already started teaching Ariella the basics of sewing, so I'm not worried about that part of her education. :-)

MIrty... As I said in my response to Shloimy, I have decided to give it away. However I will give first 'dibs' to my readers. The doll is free to anyone who would like it.

Zahava... When did you get back!? All this was supposed to be 'hush hush'. :-)

Jason... First of all THANK YOU for your service in Iraq, and a belated welcome home. Now about that comment comparing treppenwitz to Wal-Mart... is that a good thing where you come from? :-) Seriously, when I didn't see a comment from you I assumed you'd moved on to different reading. Don't feel obligated to comment, but by the same token, don't be shy. It's always good to hear from you.

Doctor Bean... There is never a wrong time to say thank you to a veteran.

Kay... Would your being from Australia have a teensie bit to do with your view on this issue? :-) I know, that's not fair... just kidding. However, in this case I am going to go with the consensus... not always a given.

Posted by: David | Apr 20, 2005 12:44:52 PM

If you give your daughter that doll, don't be shocked when she shows up one day with a tatoo and a nose ring. And some basil in her purse.

I know, I'm being ridiculous. But kids get confused by the mixed messages we send them. You give her a doll with all these...attributes, and then you tell her those same attributes are unacceptible.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Apr 20, 2005 10:46:22 PM

Why not drop it somewhere outside the house and let your daughter "find" it for herself? Then she will react naturally to the doll, without thinking that it came from you.

Maybe she will be grossed out by the pubic hair, or maybe it will lead to an exploratory conversation that you may need to have with her, given her age.

Maybe she'll think the doll is cool, maybe she will just find it bizarre, or maybe she'll be completely indifferent to it. (Some of your readers seem to think the doll will actually be a bad influence on her. Really, folks, it's just a doll!)

As a father, I would be curious to see how my daughter responded. Maybe you will learn something about her, which would be a very positive development.

Posted by: Q | Apr 21, 2005 10:34:05 PM

I like it, she's kind of funky and cute.
I'd give it to my three year old, she's too young to be embarassed by body hair and way too young to go to a tatoo shop by herself.

I do think that you are all reading way too much into this. At the end of the day, it's just a doll.


Posted by: lisa | Apr 28, 2005 3:58:37 PM

I'm way late on this one, but I just found you today and found this whole post and comments very interesting.

I have a 12 year old who plays with barbies still (but don't tell her friends). She's not really been exposed as most kids are, outside of what she gets at school (rolls eyes- there's nothing I can do there). She's very limited on tv watching also.

But, I know that she would absolutely love a doll like this. Because it's different, because it's unique, because it doesn't LOOK like Barbie. As for the tattoo and piercings, well, we've had that talk, and the body hair talk too.

I guess I just don't quite see where the issue lies. But then, each child is very different and I know mine wouldn't want to go get a tattoo and have dreadlocks and wear skimpy clothes just because the doll does.

Posted by: Crystal | Apr 29, 2005 1:52:46 AM


I realize I'm a couple of years behind on this one, but I don't suppose you'd still have your Feral Cheryl and be willing to part with her?

Production has been suspended and I can't find one anywhere. If you don't mind selling her, I can be reached here: [email protected] .

Take care,

Posted by: Shannon | Nov 22, 2007 5:28:20 AM

Dear David,
I was just surfing for what's new on the feral cheryl front and came across your blog question. I guess you did end up resolving the issue. I have a Feral Cheryl and they stopped making them a bit ago so they are hard to get now --I got mine just before the end of production. I love this doll. She is a great travel doll, because she is small and durable. OK she has pubic hair but how often do you see it? I object more to the dolls that don't have navels, I always find that a bit unreasonable. If you still need to find a home for your Feral, I would be happy to adopt her or swap for her. best regards, Lizzie

Posted by: Elizabeth | Nov 29, 2007 12:34:00 AM

There's nothing wrong with the doll, it won't make your daughter a hippie, and she will just decide if she likes it or not. She might not like it at first (too different, too real, too... hairy!) and she might put it somewhere in a corner out of embarrassment, but one day, she will start liking it because she will realize it's a "cool" doll. And when you give it to her, you should also explain the "concept" of the doll (she makes her own clothes out of recycled fabric, she grows organic veggies, she's working to regenerate the rainforest, etc...) because it is quite interesting and Barbie dolls just don't do these things.

And like Elizabeth mentioned above, they don't make them anymore, so it might become a collector's item! You wouldn't believe how much people pay for collector dolls...

BTW Feral Cheryl looks very Israeli, doesn't she?

Posted by: miss worldwide | Jun 3, 2008 12:36:12 PM

I am from Australia and have been looking for a Feral Cheryl doll to buy - do you still have the doll?

Posted by: michelle | Aug 31, 2008 4:19:13 AM

Just happened on your post after seeing one about Barbie getting a tattoo. I got a FC doll for my Alexandra, but it was for her 16th birthday. (Alex, upon opening it: "I don't know what I was expecting, but this definitely was not it!") I would not have given the doll to any of my daughters when they were 11. I hope you sent it off to the lovely woman from Australia who is looking for one, because production of the dolls has stopped.

I'm very much of the opinion that parents who live their values and who are not afraid to be open with their children about popular culture and the points where it supports or diverges have less to worry about in terms of those children going off the rails than those who stick their heads in the sand and pretend that if it's not in the house, it doesn't exist. (Alex is now almost 26, keeps a kosher home and is in graduate school. Feral Cheryl lives in my attic.)

Posted by: Amy | Oct 16, 2011 9:46:37 PM

Just happened on your post after seeing one about Barbie getting a tattoo. I got a FC doll for my Alexandra, but it was for her 16th birthday. (Alex, upon opening it: "I don't know what I was expecting, but this definitely was not it!") I would not have given the doll to any of my daughters when they were 11. I hope you sent it off to the lovely woman from Australia who is looking for one, because production of the dolls has stopped.

I'm very much of the opinion that parents who live their values and who are not afraid to be open with their children about popular culture and the points where it supports or diverges have less to worry about in terms of those children going off the rails than those who stick their heads in the sand and pretend that if it's not in the house, it doesn't exist. (Alex is now almost 26, keeps a kosher home and is in graduate school. Feral Cheryl lives in my attic.)

Posted by: Amy | Oct 16, 2011 9:46:42 PM

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