Girls' (Toys) Gone Wild!

Nostalgia for the past has been rearing its feathered head in marketing campaigns over the past several years, and it doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Retro styles, re-released music, and 80s cartoons (Transformers, anyone?) are being made over for the new millennium as consumable items for a whole new crop of youngsters with babysitting money burning a whole in their pockets. And while I'm all for nostalgia, something just doesn't seem right about how these products are being revamped. Not only are their makeovers subtly (and not-so-subtly) sexist, they are also poorly designed and downright boring.

As Andi wrote in her blog post last year Strawberry Shortcake has received a "thinner, sexier" makeover that includes a smaller nose, added cosmetics, and the replacement of her cat with a cellphone. (Sorry, Custard, but you didn't come with free texting.) In other weird makeover news, Lauren Faust of Milky Way & The Galaxy Girls blogged about Holly Hobbie's 2006 makeover. Now Holly's iconic bonnet and quilted dress have been replaced by a smaller cap that revealed her pleasant expression and more form-fitting clothes. (You know, because we were all just dying to get a peek under that bonnet.)

Not to be outdone, Rainbow Brite has recently emerged from under the knife with a sexier, thinner, all tween'd up look. Behold, Rainbow Brite Gone Wild:


Like every other "contemporized" revamp, Rainbow Brite's designers carefully selected her looks to fit in the tween checklist (the same one that Strawberry Shortcake and Holly Hobbie were subjected to):

Tighter Clothes? Check.
Thinner / Taller body? Check.
Tween or older? Check.
Make-up? Check.
Vacant half-smile expression? Check.
"Creepily adult" face? Check.

Forget an image that little girls can relate to or expand their imaginations upon. Instead, young girls' entertainment is dictated by unrealistic physical characteristics and watered-down stories about being pleasant, happy, and cute. In short, these new designs are boring. Painfully boring. They lack the originality and charm of their predecessors, and are training girls to be just as boring and cookie cutter as the next new design. If entertainment is a reflection of our culture, why are girls between the ages of 4 and 8 (Yes. 4 to 8 was the official target age list from United Media) being fed this insidious hyper-sexualization? Perhaps if companies stopped thinking with their wallets and started thinking about the purpose of their products, we'd see a broader spectrum of psychologically healthier toys marketed for girls (and boys), and a change in cultural standards as a result. But nah, that costs money. Why spend money and creative energy when these companies can instead save millions by using the same design strategy as a Bratz doll?

Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, Holly Hobbie, and countless other girl icons from the past aren't the only ones getting extreme makeovers: A very popular figure from our own time has also emerged after subjection to the "girl revamp design checklist" companies seem so gung ho to adhere to. She too has stepped out into the cultural spotlight made up, tween'd up, and dressed up. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, even Dora the Explorer cannot escape the manicured hands of mainstream beauty standards. Case in point:


Remember that checklist? Yeah. Looks like Dora does now, too.

The official press release on the Dora redesign stated:

This groundbreaking initiative, featuring fashion dolls and accessories, is a completely new brand extension that empowers girls to influence and change the lives of Dora and her new friends. It's innovative, diverse, wholesome, bi-lingual and entertaining.

But what was wrong with her old image? Wasn't it universally appealing? Boys and girls alike loved Dora the Explorer for her universal appeal, but apparently it just wasn't sexy enough (you know, for four to eight-year olds). One of the only female role models on television with a universal audience has now been replaced by what I can effectively call a Bratz makeover. Ugh.

This is a frightening marketing strategy aimed at girls, especially in the case of Dora the Explorer where the short, charming Latina girl has "grown up" with her audience and exposed them to an image they can no longer relate to (one that's taller, thinner, and sexier, of course). These icons have emerged from under the knife looking like tween cookie cut versions of each other. They have lost their image, distinctions, and charm. And the worst part is, girls are now being encouraged to reconstruct their own bodies, fashions, and personalities to mimic their favorite cartoon role models.

What's next? A smaller-nosed, softer-featured version of Raggedy Ann? Oh wait...

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

19 Comments Have Been Posted

I think a big factor on

I think a big factor on these makeovers is the growing popularity of anime in the US. You can clearly see that this, more than anything else, has been the main influence upon which they've based their new designs. Or at least, I think I see the influence within their art style.

Anime is definitely a

Anime is definitely a factor. Financers have noticed that little kids love the Anime, and want to exploit their interests. Japanese cartoon styles have been holding sway over our toon and toy market over the last six years, however there are ways to use it for good sources of inspiration and ways to use it inappropriately.

Take for example the little girls drawn by Miyazaki. Spirited Away and Ponyo both feature little girl characters. However, they are neither slender nor are they hypersexualized. Ponyo is incredibly popular among little girls in Japan right now. Her image sells like hotcakes, and she resembles a squat, fluffy little girl (who happens to be a mermaid). Eat that Ariel.

But where is the American version of Ponyo? It was Dora, but now her management has gone and thrown her unique image out the window.

I've just never seen so many girls toys look so similar to one another in terms of "The Design Checklist". This level of hypersexuality for a such a young target audience is just eerie and, in my opinion, immoral.


It's just so damn counterintuitive. We've already got Barbie - why do we need to make our squat childhood role models thin and sexual?

yeah, but

Raggedy Ann always freaked me out as a kid.

Thank you so much...

...for properly using an apostrophe in the title of this post. Not only is the content on the Bitch blog always worth reading, but you make me happy in format as well.

Oh, really?

Speaking as the parent of an eight-year-old girl I'm really not as horrified as other people regarding this change. My daughter lost interest in Dora ages ago. This new Dora actually looks more like my daughter. She's not interested in Bratz or Barbie, but she might be swayed by a Dora doll that doesn't look so terribly unfashionable. People might be upset about the revamp of characters like Strawberry Shortcake, and I can understand that. Why replace her cat with a cell phone? But, are we really supposed to expect an eight year old to relate to Dora? My daughter and her friends were done with Dora at 4, not beginning to be interested. She's really unapealing to the supposed demographic that she's been aimed at.
Why is it not okay for my child to be interested in clothes? Doesn't that go against the whole feminist idea of being able to make your own decisions? What the Dora character is wearing is not provocative, it's not sexualizing Dora, it simply makes her more appealing to girls who aren't 4. It's, in part, spreading their ability to market to an older audience. One that is lost to shows like Hannah Montanah and The Jonas Brothers. If I had to have my pick I would chose an older Dora over those shows any day.
And who are you to decide what is boring for my child? Are you actually a parent of a child in this demographic? These changes really don't have much impact on my child. Her favorite television show is iCarly, a show about a young woman with her own website/show and I really don't see the issue with that either.
As far as the revamp of Rainbow Brite, what's the real issue? Are we supposed to be so fat positive that it's impossible to imagine a world wherein a young girl isn't chubby? My eight-year-old is tall and thin, maybe even with one of those 'creepily adult" faces. Although, I would like to know how you've come to that conclusion. What makes that face "adult"?
Perhaps you have a child of your own, but I am really getting sick of reading about what my daughter should be seeing on television or with toys. I am perfectly capable of choosing what I allow her to play with and watch without people coming out of the woodwork to police what is okay.
Where is all the critisism regarding toys that are marketed toward young boys?

Moral, Ethics, Toys

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty wrong with toys marketed to young boys. However, the focus of this blog post is not "Bad toys for girls" - these are bad toys for EVERYONE.

There simply are not enough asexual toy/cartoon designs featuring girls. Dora the Explorer is an exception, where she is universally embraced by both young boys and girls (My boy friend's god son can quote it as best as any three year old can). So why change her image? Why does she have to grow up? Why can't she remain for another generation of young kids, and why can't her now older audience embrace another character?

Unfortunately, it is about money. And cheap easy ideas are more comfortable to deal with than risque ones. That's when gender types step in.

Max, my point is that the cartoon/toy industries are not responsibly endorsing ethics, morality, and taste when designing these characters. If the manufacturers' continue to play the money and marketing excuse, these iconic characters will be stripped of their originality, their beauty, and their charm while alienating a young audience. These toys are teaching girls (and boys) the value of makeup, beauty, fashion, and a passive half smile paired with the popularity they(girl characters) possess. Yes, I worry about the gender types and values these companies are endorsing and I will call them on it.

Sometimes I wish more girls' characters took a chapter out of Pleasant T. Rowland's "American Girls" series:
But even then, after the American Girls were turned over to Mattel, the "Just Like You" dolls are playfully teaching girls that makeup and accessories are more important than stories of courage and historical lessons. Minor issues in an otherwise wonderful series. At least the American Girls look like their target audience.

There should be some level of ethical responsibility in designing these characters for a western audience. By not doing so, we are alienating our kids.

I kinda get the appeal of a

I kinda get the appeal of a doll or cartoon character that represents a girl who is a little older than the target audience. As a kid, I remember being into shows with girls who were a little older than me. Now, I watch as my nephew watches older boys on the playground with that same kind of fascination. However, combined with the other characteristics on the checklist, the fact that little kids might look to an older child with fascination gets kind of creepy because I wonder what they are seeing.

I look at this Dora, for example, and I kinda get why making her older makes sense. But, honestly, what kind of exploring can you do in ballerina flats? Wouldn't a ponytail be the most functional exploring hairdo? Can a sister get a gps device? Do little girls want to be like older girls, or just dress like an idealized version of an older girl? Come on marketing people, she's Dora the Explorer not Dora the Vapid JcPenney's Catalouge Model.



What a great reply, that made my day!! Nothing like iron for those undernourished wild toys!

is this seriously even an

is this seriously even an issue? next time you go into a toy store, take a look around at all of the male action figures. they're all big, hulking dudes with pounds upon pounds of rippling muscles and the cartoons are the same way... but you don't hear us guys complaining. there is nothing "sexy" about these toys and cartoon characters. is it all of a sudden wrong to show these characters looking healthy and in shape to show the increasingly unhealthy and over weight kids that they should think about things like nutrition? this is just one more thing that is blown completely out of proportion.

Eight year old little girls

Eight year old little girls do not have an ample bossom, long legs, made up hair / make up, or constantly wear a passive smile.

It is teaching inappropriate values. Furthermore, the re-design of these cartoons / toys are just downright ugly, and it limits options available to little girls.

This isn't a question of "Bad toys for girls!" or "Bad toys for boys!" These are just bad toys, because it is teaching BOTH girls and boys gender typing at a young age - these boy toys are what boys look like when they grow up, these girl toys are what girls look like when they grow up.

Furthermore, boys have a larger pool of different toy designs at their disposal. Transformers vary by degree in design than, say, a superman action figure. However, every time I walk by the girl aisle, every single one of "female specific" toys look like carbon copies of each other. The design is incredibly narrow, and it is unprecedented. The pool of variety was much different in the 80s in terms of body image and facial expression. These days, they all look like Bratz dolls.

doll remakes, etc.

I too was always annoyed that there were fewer butch or nonsexy dolls around. I always wish I had held onto Jane West. She even had weapons!
Where are the tween girl dolls that look like they are ready to go poke around in a swamp, explore abandoned buildings, hunt, build things or kick someone's butt?
I would have commented on this earlier but that bit about iron-rich foods made me remember that it was about time to start dinner. These femme-lets don't look like they could cook either. Femme doesn't have to be the only option, and sexy doesn't belong around kids.

My real problem...

My issue with these evolving characters is not that they're growing up. It's the fact that growing up is automatically equated with becoming feminized in exchange for personality. I don't think that Dora should lock away her map and backpack and go to the mall just because she's getting a little older. I think that we should encourage girls to explore the depths of their interests as they age and not forfeit them in exchange for lip gloss. I feel like this is a pattern I see alot in the development of little girls. When I was a little girl, I really was just a smaller version of myself. As I grew up, I cultivated my personality traits and interests into long term parts of my identity. I think exploration into the whole feminine market is a very important part of that time in a girl's life. At that age, you're exploring the idea of your gender and how it relates to who you are. I think its okay to want to do the things big ladies do. The problem is that the version of femininity that is offered to little girls is very shallow and relies on the stereotype that women love makeup and shopping (a la Sex and the City, makeup advertising, etc.). When little girls see women (other than their mothers and family of course) it is typically in that kind of context. They're seeing pictures of women wearing lipstick, buying clothes, crying over the size of their clothes and they're not seeing women exploring or fighting crime (for the most part).

I feel like these issues over what young girls see are just the miniature of the problems that adult women have being marginalized. I don't really feel as though the characters were very sexualized, maybe just a little stereotypically feminine looking. Dora seems to have the same body, except she's wearing a dress and ballet flats. The character design for Rainbow Brite does irk me a little, being that she looks more like a pre-teen due to her longer limbs and more concentrated expression. Both Rainbow Brite and Holly Hobbie seem to have more emphasis put on the shape of their bodies, which is a little concerning. I feel like seven is a little early to start paying attention to the shape and appearance of one's body. Showing off your body seems is kind of a sexually based thing, and I think it should wait until at least you've hit puberty. Its not that I feel that seven year olds should all wear garbage bags for clothes, but the shape and design emphasizes and draws attention to the line of the body. In that way, I feel like the more boxy character designs are better. Dora isn't a victim of a longer thinner design, though her more feminine clothes do imply the same attention to the body.

The number one issue I have though, is that Dora specifically just dropped her interests in favor for a life at the mall. If we teach girls to just drop what they care about in favor of looks, how will they ever become happy and fulfilled people? Interests should be cultivated, curiosity should be fed.

They're not human girls, but...

If you ask me, the worst of this lot is the new Care Bears. They were recently given a new image in which they are -- wait for it -- SKINNY. They're bears, for goodness sake; they need belly fat, but now their heads are much bigger than their stomachs. Yes, the Care Bears are fantastical, not-so-realistic figures, but the tiny body is jarring. The official reason for the change is that the parent company doesn't want to "encourage obesity," which is so laughable to me. As much as obesity statistics (among adults, might I add) are touted, eating disorders are still a huge problem with young folk. Would they rather show their young children a world in which even non-human characters consider emaciated the norm? Apparently.

the new care bears

Yes! ...and if you look at pictures of the old care bears, they all looked the same apart from their colour and patch; they all had the same "hair". Now the pink and lilac bears have got longer hair and feminine accessories.

girls dont like care bears

girls dont like care bears and crap like that trust me i know, im eleven and about to turn 12 get girls cool and stylish stuff ...

you spelled color wrong

you spelled color wrong

Er, no, she did not.

Don't feed the trolls, I know, but in case you were being serious... "colour" is the original British spelling and still official in (I believe) every English-speaking country besides the USA.

The Bigger Picture

This has to do with the corporate, multi-national toy industry's paranoia over their dwindling profits. Children are playing more with computers, videogames, and hand-held technology (including, yes, texting) than with physical toys. The toy industry is spending million$ on marketing to ensure that ads for these toys are placed prominently on kids' favorite websites, TV shows, DVDs ... not to mention some "unconventional" places like school buses. The "sexualization" of educational cartoon figures and toys being marketed to children must be put to a halt.

<a href="">There is one excellent resource</a> that is tirelessly advocating to place limits on commercialization and marketing to children. They successfully cried foul when school book fairs were selling Bratz Dolls items. Thanks to them and their supporters, Bratz Dolls items are no longer being sold at school book fairs.

<a href="">Here is the direct link</a> to Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood's page on the sexualization of children.

I also highly recommend that everyone reading this <a href="">sign this petition</a> saying "NO" to Dora the Explorer getting a makeover.

Finally, be sure to let <a href="">Viacom</a> (which owns Nickelodeon) know directly how you feel about the matter (Note: The select a show feature on the comment form might not be working properly. A snail-mail address is listed on it). Also let other toy manufacturers know how you feel about toys such as the Care Bares and Strawberry Shortcake becoming glammed-up when it's truly unnecessary (whether you played with them or not).

Add new comment