NEW YORK – The next time you see little girls playing with dolls, don't expect them to be acting out dream-house fantasies or preparing dinner for Ken.
Instead of those traditional doll pastimes, girls may be helping their miniature friends snowboard off a living-room settee-turned-Andean mountain or scuba-dive in a kitchen sink-turned-hidden Thai lagoon.
These new gal pals are from the Get Real Girl line. The dolls are made to look like real girls, to act like real girls and to let real girls know that there's more to growing up than wearing tight clothes, lounging by the pool and finding a fraternity-bound boyfriend.
"They're about a lot of things, but the important thing is that they're designed for today's girls," said Jana Machin, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based company. "They play sports, they're active, they're interested in travel, they have pets."
There's Skylar the Canadian snowboarder, who is adopted and half-Japanese; Nini, a budding archeologist from Minnesota who wants to hike across every continent; Claire, a scuba diver who takes photographs of sea life; Hawaiian surfer Corey, who goes on a Costa Rican adventure; Nakia, a basketball player from Washington, D.C., who wants to be a sports broadcaster; and Gabi, the part-Brazilian Californian who loves soccer.
Each doll comes with hobby equipment, a postcard, a friendship bracelet and a "passport" recounting the girl's travel adventures.
Machin created the 11.5-inch dolls, each under $25, as an answer to the unrealistic playthings that, like models at a fashion show, clutter the toy market for girls.
The line has won a bevy of awards, including a ranking on Dr. Toy's 100 Best Children's Products, and real-life role models such as Olympic gold-medal winners Brandi Chastain and Marion Jones have put their power behind the toys by being on the company's advisory board.
Instead of teetering on pointed feet, or goose-stepping through life on limbs frozen in poses, the Get Real Girls have articulated limbs that mean they can be posed surfing or administering a karate chop. And unlike one famously wasp-waisted doll, the Get Real Girls have realistic proportions.
"We wanted natural-size proportions and an athletic, heavy body with muscle tone that makes you say, 'Wow, she can really climb mountains,'" Machin said.
Child psychology professor Marc Ackerman, of the Wisconsin School of Psychology, said the dolls offer role-model-seeking girls a much-needed balance to Barbie. "If the dolls have realistic proportions, I think they represent a good model for children," he said.
And the dolls are a hit with buyers, according to Jeanne Meyer, vice president of corporate communications for www.toysrus.com.
"The Skylar doll got a five-star rating — our highest," she said. "[The line] has performed well and we expect it to continue to perform well. One of them, the surfing doll, is so popular that right now there are only two left, though we will be restocking."
Girls can even e-mail the dolls at the company Web site, www.getrealgirl.com, and a woman there answers many of the e-mails in character.
"To them, these [Get Real] girls are almost real," Machin said.
And in the pink-smothered world of dolls, they're refreshing, Ackerman said.
"I rattled off a half a dozen dolls boys were interested in, from WWF to Star Wars, but the only thing I could think of for girls was Barbie dolls," he said.
The company has released a second generation of Girls, and is starting a line of Get Real guys. Originally conceived as platonic companions to the girls, the guys may be a stand-alone line marketed as an alternative to grim-faced soldiers or hulking superheroes for boys.
Machin said she doesn't expect Barbie to take a cue from the Get Real Girls anytime soon, so Skylar, Corey and friends will have to do the work of empowering girls who have outgrown Barbie.
"A lot of women said that when they were girls they never felt like there was a doll that represented who they were," she said. "They look at these dolls and say that this doll is more about me."