Following the controversy surrounding the Hasbro-produced Trolls World Tour Poppy doll, the latest doll to find itself at the center of a viral controversy is the L.O.L. Surprise doll, made by MGA Entertainment. This time, the claim is that scandalous or strange outfits appear on some of the dolls after they are dipped in ice-cold water.
The L.O.L. Surprise dolls are designed to reveal another outfit, changes in color or symbols on the doll’s body when put into water. It is part of the “surprise” that is in the children’s toy’s name. The dolls, designed by the same company that created Bratz, have been controversial in the past for being over-sexualized, like their predecessor, according to The Atlantic.
The latest claim was first pointed out on Reddit a year ago, but it’s recently gone viral after a mother posted a video showing the result on Facebook. In the original post, a Redditor wrote, “My [3-year-old’s] ‘LOL Surprise doll’ she got for Christmas. When you dip her in cold water her ‘secret spy outfit’ shows up. Aka secret lingerie. And for whatever reason the nipples become extremely visible. The leopard print skimpy outfit she came with also makes her look like a hooker.” The user posted a photo of the doll showing the result she described.
The same claim resurfaced on Tuesday when Hilary Williams went live on Facebook to show a demonstration of her daughter’s L.O.L. Surprise dolls being dipped in cold water. Her video, which has since been viewed over 9 million times, is available below.
Update: A spokesperson for MGA Entertainment issued a statement to Fast Company: “L.O.L Surprise! is a fashion-forward doll brand designed to be fun and expressive. We work very hard to be a brand that listens and adapts to our fans’ requests. We acknowledge the recent feedback received and thank you for bringing it to our attention. We have implemented comprehensive corrective measures to our design and approval process while ensuring the essence of the brand is kept intact.”
The company did not specify what corrective measures they would be taking. Heavy reached out to MGA Entertainment for more information but did not immediately hear back.
Her video was captioned with various hashtags, including #SaveTheChildren and #SaveOurChildren, two hashtags that have recently gone viral.
Many people commented on Williams’ video expressing their disbelief and outrage. One person wrote, “Isn’t this just awful. Makes me sick to my stomach for our children.” Another parent wrote, “Whattttt in the actual F did I buy for my kids?! Ehh & they are seriously their fav toys.” One parent added, “Yes! Raunchy little dolls lol my daughter loves them. Tramp stamps and all… a lot of them pee and spit too. Some change in warm water too… very disturbing.”
The fact-checking site Truth or Fiction wrote about the L.O.L. Facebook video, “The user feigned shock, but anyone who has been asked to buy or bought the toys was likely aware their ability to change color (whether clothed or unclothed) is a major selling point. The feature described here involved unclothed dolls, necessitating the ‘surprise’ be confined to something like underwear or a bathing suit. Although some naked LOL dolls genuinely changed color when immersed, framing the heavily-marketed feature as a shock was disingenuous — that trait was emphasized in every description of LOL Surprise! dolls of that subset.”
Other People Have Shared Their Own Videos Testing the Theory of the L.O.L. Surprise Dolls’ Secret Outfits
Calling all B.B.s! Boogie over to the L.O.L. Surprise! LA Pop Up and get ready to enter a world of all things L.O.L. Surprise!
The L.O.L Surprise! LA Pop Up is open starting on December 19, 2019 for a limited time. https://t.co/wkFTpu5JnL
— MGA Entertainment (@MGAEnt) December 12, 2019
In the video, Williams shows a few different dolls that she dips in the water and each of them appears to have some sort of secret outfit. One music station decided to do their own test to confirm the theory and wrote:
Some of the dolls had painted-on clothing, and there was no change to those dolls’ bodies after being submerged in the ice-cold water. Two of the dolls were bare when their doll clothes were removed. Four of the dolls did not change at all. One of the dolls, true to the rumors, had some interesting marks appear on her little doll body after only a few seconds in the cold water.
One of the dolls, pictured in the Fun107 article, received a seashell top after being dipped in the water as well as an anchor tattoo on her thigh. The article points out that the doll in question was produced in 2017. On the Reddit thread, one user said their doll got “heart-shaped pasties over her nipples.”
The L.O.L. dolls are designed so that some change color and outfits in water. It is part of the surprise of unpacking one of the children’s toys and playing with it. According to LottaLOL, a website about the doll brand, some of the dolls change color in hot water and others change color in warm water. The website added:
In the LOL Bigger Surprise, for example, there are 4 different dolls and 1 color changes in warm water.
-Lil sister gets a brown shirt and boots in COLD water.
– Brown haired big sister gets a black tuxedo jacket (she is a spy after all) and purple makeup in COLD water.
– Blond haired big sister gets a white swimsuit in WARM water (her blue outfit should fade).
– Pet gets pink shoes and glasses in COLD WATER.
Someone who only tried cold water would have thought they had a defective blond haired big sister. Be sure to try both cold and warm water for color changing.
“Most people think that LOL dolls have ALL the water surprises listed on the collector’s poster. Each doll actually only definitely has one the surprises listed. You may have had a doll or two that seems to spit and tinkle, but tinkling was probably the only guaranteed water surprise,” the website wrote.
The Company Has Previously Addressed Its Decision to Give the Dolls ‘Anatomically Correct’ Body Parts
In 2019, the New York Post reported on the outrage that some parents expressed when they found out that the L.O.L. Surprise dolls had anatomically correct body parts. The dolls are marketed as complete surprises, hidden in a sphere with their gender, clothing and accessories a secret until they are completely unboxed.
Many parents were unhappy that their kids made the discovery, with one parent writing: “Attention parents please check your children’s LOL Surprise dolls. The boy dolls are inappropriate and obscene for small children especially girls as they are anatomically correct with no warning on the packaging.” At the time, the CEO and founder of MGA Entertainment told the Post that the design was an intentional decision:
All of our LOL Surprise boy dolls have been (and will continue to be) anatomically correct … We currently have a notification on all packaging, website and product retail pages that states the LOL Surprise! boys are anatomically correct. After all, human beings are naturally and anatomically correct. Do we want to fight the nature and give false impression to kids from early age? Parents can decide this and buy or don’t buy it.
No mention was made of the secret outfits at the time.
The idea for L.O.L. Surprise dolls was to make the entire unwrapping process an experience in itself, and the move paid off. According to an MGA Entertainment press release from 2017, the L.O.L. Surprise dolls became the number one selling doll in the U.S. that year.
According to The Atlantic’s Alena Semuels, the dolls were created with the goal of cashing in on the YouTube unboxing trend:
L.O.L. Surprise! dolls were created by MGA Entertainment, the company behind the oversexualized plastic Bratz Dolls that were a hit in the early 2000s. Isaac Larian, the CEO, told me in an email that L.O.L. dolls were essentially reverse engineered: The company wanted to cash in on the unboxing and collectibles trends, and so it came up with L.O.L. dolls. MGA Entertainment was told, at first, that kids needed to see a product before they would ask for it, Larian said. But L.O.L. dolls proved analysts wrong—kids can apparently want things without even knowing what they are. MGA Entertainment has since branched out into L.O.L. Surprise! pets, L.O.L. Surprise! houses, and larger L.O.L. Surprise! capsules, which contain dozens of dolls and accessories and retail for about 80 bucks.
A New York Times article reported that the company made over $4 billion from sales of the L.O.L. Surprise doll in 2019. That article also mentioned the different surprises incorporated in the doll, including the secret skin designs that are revealed when the doll is placed underwater.
The Outrage Over the L.O.L. & ‘Trolls’ Dolls Began Trending Amid Conspiracy Theories About Child Sex Trafficking
The viral videos featuring L.O.L. and “Trolls” dolls comes amid an increase in the visibility of conspiracy theories related to child sex trafficking and missing children, spurned by the QAnon conspiracy. Followers of QAnon claim an anonymous government agent, nicknamed “Q” because of his top-secret clearance level, has been leaking information about President Donald Trump’s war on a global satanic child sex trafficking ring that is led by the elite, including politicians from D.C. and around the world and Hollywood celebrities
As QAnon has been pushed off of social media platforms, its followers have turned to other ways to spread its message, including through outlandish viral theories, for example that the Wayfair furniture company’s website is being used to sell children, and by co-opting hashtags like #SaveTheChildren and #SaveOurChildren and rallies to raise awareness for missing and trafficked kids.
The New York Times’ Kevin Roose wrote about the trend, “Fans of the pro-Trump conspiracy theory are clogging anti-trafficking hotlines, infiltrating Facebook groups and raising false fears about child exploitation.”
Roose added, “Prominent ‘mommy bloggers’ and Instagram fitness influencers have begun posting anti-trafficking memes to their millions of followers. Even the Trump campaign has begun sharing more anti-trafficking content to its millions of Facebook and Twitter followers.” He wrote that the surge in concern over child exploitation could have negative effects, according to longtime anti-trafficking activists:
Others worry that QAnon will divert valuable resources from legitimate groups trying to stop trafficking. After the Wayfair incident, the Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, issued a news release saying its hotline had been overwhelmed with false reports. It later published a blog post warning that ‘unsubstantiated claims and accusations about child sex trafficking can spin out of control and mislead well-meaning people into doing more harm than good.’
I spoke to a number of longtime anti-trafficking activists who were alarmed by QAnon’s recent incursion onto their turf. They had worked for years to expose facts about child trafficking, only to see them distorted and misused by partisan opportunists. And they worried that in addition to clogging hotlines, QAnon believers could undermine the movement’s bipartisan credibility.
NBC News reported that QAnon groups now have millions of members on Facebook. Joan Donovan, director of the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, told NBC News, “Facebook is definitely the largest piece of the QAnon infrastructure. While people who have bought into these disinformation campaigns are already affected, preventing it from spreading to new groups and new audiences is one intervention, among many, that are needed. Unless there is some kind of coordination between platform companies to get rid of the main QAnon influencers, it will continuously pop back up.”
Truth or Fiction wrote about the latest controversies, “rumors of child trafficking were used to push the #savethechildren and ‘child lives matter’ hashtags in order to stir fears that masks — proven to cut back on transmission of a respiratory virus — were enabling would-be kidnappers to snatch children, with an added bonus of drowning out or distracting from discourse around the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement.”