Toys Made Over: New, Improved(?), and Sexy

Sexy?! For the life of me, cannot understand why and when it became appropriate for children’s toys to be sexy. From a marketing standpoint I get the historical trajectory, but why did parents allow it? When will we start to fight back? Take a stand for our children?

I hear a lot of parents say, “Well, I played with Barbie and I turned out fine.”  That may be, but the toys our children play with today are not like we nostalgically remember them.

Take a look….Here’s a cross post from Feminist Fatale:

(reprinted with permission)

I’m not ashamed to admit, I have a bit of an obsession with the 80’s.  I grew up in the decade, spent plenty of time listening to the music of the time, and have seen VH1’s entire I Love The 80’s series more times than I can count.  I toted my books to school in my Lisa Frank backpack, wrote on the stationary, used the pens and pencils, all decorated with trippy-neon penguins, polar bears, dolphins.  So last week when I read on Jezebel, that Lisa Frank school products have received an update, I was incredibly disappointed to learn that the brand has traded in fushia and purple unicorns for images that better resemble Bratz dolls.

Unfortunately this is just the newest in a string of recent “makeovers” that 80s toys and cartoons have received:

Polly Pocket’s wardrobe now consists of high heels, miniskirts, midriff tops, and knee-hits, and she’s no longer, uh, pocket sized.

Original Polly Pockets

Polly Pockets today

Care Bears have been given flat bellies and long eyelashes.

Care Bears from the 1980's

Care Bears today

Rainbow Bright was slimmed down and put in a stylish minidress, with long, flowing, model-style hair.

Rainbow Brite circa mid 1980's

Rainbow Brite today

Strawberry Shortcake was slimmed down and made up too.

Strawberry Shortcake, then and now

My Little Pony looks like she just got back from a shopping trip to Sephora.

My Little Pony, 1980's

My Little Pony, today

And of course, the aforementioned Lisa Frank.

Lisa Frank, 1980's

Lisa Frank today

Which, of course raises the question – what messages are these toys and cartoons sending to young girls growing up today?  I didn’t learn to loathe my body until I reached adolescence.  Seventeen would offer diet tips.  YM had a hair and make-up section, I began watching MTV after school.  It was nearly impossible not to be influenced by this barrage of imagery, to not covet having “Cosmo cover hair” or wish for the body of a Calvin Klein model – I was too fat, I needed make-up, and hairpsray, my hair was too flat, I should diet, and exercise, and get trendy clothes.

However, before that time, it was all watching Family Double Dare on Nickelodeon, playing Sonic the Hedgehog, and Highlights subscriptions.  Unfortunately with the “makeovers” these toys have received, girls are receiving these messages at a much earlier age.  I’m not saying Rainbow Bright and Polly Pocket were perfect – I am saying however, that I didn’t feel “eyelash envy” towards the Care Bears.   Girls today are surrounded by images of made-up, manicured, trendy dressing, model like figures – most of whom are sexualized – their school supplies and toys are covered in cartoons of girls in mini-dresses and high heels with giant heads and tiny little bodies; they turn on the TV and see Hannah Montana working a stripper pole during an awards show.  The issue is that the influence is beginning younger than ever.  I played with the aforementioned toys when I was in elementary school; we’re talking 2nd-3rd grade.

So, considering all this – is it really so surprising that 7 year olds today want to gyrate on stage in clothes more revealing than Julia Robert’s get-up in Pretty Woman?  Everyone needs to step it up.  Toy manufacturers – stop sexualizing toys!  Let kids be wholesome for like, 5 minutes before they start feeling shitty about themselves.  Anyone who buys toys for kids (whether it’s for the classroom, for daycare, or for their toy chest at home) – stop buying it.  The less you buy, the less money the manufacturer makes, and if they’re making no profit off of Bratz Babyz, then maybe they’ll stop producing them.

Note: Dora the Explorer’s make-over was not mentioned in the post because she is a 90s doll. But her transformation is note-worthy.


Thank you to Feminist Fatale and author Rachel O. for this cross post.


  1. I feel like all of this makes my job as a parent so much harder. I set limits (absolutely no Bratz) but my daugther sees these toys and she is attracted to them because she is very girly and all of her friends love them too. I don’t think she looks at them now and sees them with perfect figures or as sexy, she just sees them as toys. I wonder when her view will change.

    • Hi Jennifer –
      Your daughter, at her young age, probably doesn’t understand what “sexy” is or that the dolls are sexy, but the imagery of the dolls will lay groundwork that will infect your daughter’s body image and definition of “pretty” and “feminine”. Research tells us that by 5 and 6 years old girls become aware of desirable body types, the “beauty myth”, and a vague concept of “sexiness”. That is the tangible result of sexualization. Of course your daughter will have exposure to unhealthy toys, just like she does unhealthy food. This is where it is our job to teach them critical thinking skills and media literacy.

      I make this comparison in my Redefine Girly Media Literacy workshops: A religious family may begin taking their preschool aged children to Sunday School not because their young children really grasp what religion means at a young age now, but because they want to lay groundwork for a lifetime of thinking and behavior. The kids are surrounded by pictures and stories and songs that reinforce the religious message they will later come to understand…..

      Now switch Jesus for Barbie and say the same thing.

  2. Well, we already had a “No Barbies. No Bratz.” rule in our house, but these toys are horrible too. I’m really glad that my almost-4-year-old isn’t exposed to them, and therefore doesn’t ask for them. I suspect we might have to deal with the Lisa Frank phenomenon at some point. For now, she plays with blocks, cars, markers and crayons, baby dolls, stuffed animals, dress up costumes (doctor, firefighter, animals, etc), her play kitchen, water table, paints, etc.

    I guess I don’t understand why these types of gendered toys are even necessary? Why do parents even buy them? (Aside from the child asking for them.)

    Great book: “Pink Brain/Blue Brain: How small differences grow into troublesome gaps” By Lise Elliot.

  3. As long as we’re lobbing body image cartoon makeovers issues into the mix, here are two reference posts your readers will enjoy (I see you’ve got a few of ’em shown here too, but trust me, there are many, MANY more examples…)

    Manga Makeovers and other cartoon capers: (nip and tuck for ‘toon time, Nancy Drew & more:

    Dora: Discover the World (not the mall)
    (classic makeover moment, covered by petition too)

    Rebranding 80s icons: Facelifts for Kiddie Characters:

    and on and on it goes…le sigh.

    Melissa, I love that I’m deep diving your blog posts to pull links for my Huge update on the ABCFamily series, as I get to read in detail and stop to comment beyond the tweet or two! (long live long form!) 😉

    Great job…

  4. My little pony? really? sexy?

    The ponies in the cartoon you decribe still chase the rainbow, just like in the eighties. they still have castles and animal friends. What I found to be most disturbing about them was their carefree existence, with their biggest problem being losing something, or which hat to wear – they lacked real issues and lessons. I’ve seen parents reviewing old movies of MLP as too scary for their kids. No, they just had real problems, and got through them as a team, by looking into themelves and finding what they had inside. I certainly don’t think the new toys are ‘sexy’, in fact they’ve gone back to the old style. So they don’t have freckles? only few did! Most had gimmicks like super long hair, or a tail that spun, or sparkly symbols, etc. Just like now. The toys are no worse than the 80s toys, thats for sure, and the G3 dvds are easy to avoid. Skip to the next generation, friendship is magic, where the ponies often have bigger problems, as well as the little things. That is a great, balanced cartoon that many parents enjoy as well.

  5. It makes raising wholesome children harder.The funny part of it is that by the time these kids grow up,no onw would buy these toys anymore.


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