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 Now Holly's iconic bonnet and quilted dress have been replaced by a smaller cap that revealed her pleasant expression and more form-fitting clothes.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.
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...
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