I Had No Idea My Beloved Rainbow Bright And Strawberry Shortcake Got So Sexified

shutterstock_87949297I know there was a lot of backlash over the recent sexualization of Merida, the princess in Disney’s Brave.  Parents signed petitions, wrote blog posts, and even got the creator to say how disappointed she was with the changes.  But there’s one thing I need to know:  where were these people to help Rainbow Bright and Strawberry Shortcake?

I also realize what a lame parent I am that I haven’t even considered buying one of these things for my two-year-old daughter, even though I loved Rainbow and Strawberry as a child. That self-criticism aside, I haven’t seen these dolls since I was a young child and when I saw pictures in the Daily Mail I was horrified!  Is this really what these dolls look like now?  Taller, longer, leaner they mimic the changes in a girl’s body after puberty, not toddlers. Their big eyes and excessive make-up make them generally unrecognizable to me as a girl who was in love with these dolls and television shows as a young girl.

And yes, they even did it to My Little Pony.

Even animals don’t escape a sexy make-over. The popular My Little Pony – which back in the Eighties did resemble the figure of a horse – has now been given long, slim legs, huge eyes complete with long false eyelashes and a long, wavy mane to rival the Duchess of Cambridge’s.

Even more subtle than the sexualization of toys for children seen in these dolls, is the way the color pink has invaded toys designated for girls.  Advertisements, as highlighted by a British organization called Let Toys Be Toys, show children’s products in blues, reds and yellows in the 1970′s  compared side by side with the bubble gum pinkified versions of today’s toys aimed at girls.

Research by Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, reveals that gender stereotyping on the shelves of toy stores goes far deeper than pushing pink on our girls.

Writing in the New York Times last year, she said: ‘We’ve made great strides toward gender equity over the past 50 years, but the world of toys looks a lot more like 1952 than 2012.

‘During my research into the role of gender in Sears catalogue toy advertisements over the 20th century, I found that in 1975, very few toys were explicitly marketed according to gender, and nearly 70 percent showed no markings of gender whatsoever.

‘In the 1970s, toy ads often defied gender stereotypes by showing girls building and playing airplane captain, and boys cooking in the kitchen.

‘But by 1995, the gendered advertising of toys had crept back to mid-century levels, and it’s even more extreme today. In fact, finding a toy that is not marketed either explicitly or subtly (through use of colour, for example) by gender has become incredibly difficult.’

I can’t help but wonder what happened to the manufacturing and marketing angles.  It’s curious that toys were gender neutral at a time first world countries were championing and fighting for equality, but as we get closer to closing the gap with men at work and at home, they shift segregate little girls and little boys in the playroom?  It’s a move in the wrong direction.  Let toys be toys, as the British campaign says — keeping them tools of imagination and creativity — not gender stereotype landmines.

(photo: Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock)

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  • jorgiemama

    Oh give me a break. There are no breasts on these new animated versions. There is no cleavage and they are certainly covered up with plenty of clothing. I see nothing ‘sexual’ about them.

    And as for the ponies? The older versions were shaped like bears with their short stumpy legs. Not sure if you’ve ever seen a real horse, but they HAVE long, lean legs and long eyelashes and flowing manes. No, they aren’t necessarily pink or rainbow colours, but that’s certainly not reason to call them sexualized.

    I’m all for halting early sexualization of young girls, but to pick on these particular cartoons is wasting energy. Pick on Barbie or Disney instead.

    • Gina

      First of all, there’s a difference between ponies and horses. Ponies are in fact shorter and more sturdy than horses, so the original depiction was definitely more accurate.

      And yes, those dolls/characters are still covered up, but if you can’t see how they’re now depicted more slender, adult-looking, then you are quite honestly blind.
      I think they have to be picked on just as much as Barbie or Disney (Merida actually being a Disney character)

      So how does the new depiction sexualize these characters? Well, they do look more adult, adults are more sexual than a kid. And the slender physique with longer hair and bigger eyes resembles the ideal of how women should look like to be sexually desirable that is promoted by the media.
      I definitely don’t like the way in which the toy industry is steering with this.

    • http://www.whatwouldshethink.com/ Rachelle

      The makeup, come-hither looks with the tilt of the head, long revealed legs, long flowing hair and slender bodies with fitted clothes; it doesn’t have to be an adult version of sexy for it to qualify as sexy. Through toys, we teach little girls how to look as they grow up. The first generation models of toy dolls were practically asexual in body shape, covered by pouffy dresses – the style of the day. They tried modernizing the toys to reflect today’s design, with some controversy. What came first: sexy toys or sexy role models? When did the adults designing the toys – the adults who played with the short, stubby Strawberry Shortcakes and the boxy Rainbow Brites and the fully-covered and utterly awesome Jem and the Holograms/Misfits dolls – lose their sensibility in design? Should we blame Disney and Miley and Serena? It’s our own generation that somehow thinks “sexy” goes beyond the quest to find a mate and should be applied and attractive to young children.

    • Amber

      You need therapy. Pony cartoons are not giving you come-hither looks. That’s all in your head.

    • 3rdgeneration

      You have never seen the brony community, have you? Its apparently not all in her head. I have seen things, horrible things.

      But, I digress.

      I do not think she’s talking about the ponies, but the human dolls. Its pretty obvious in her reply if you ask me.

    • http://www.whatwouldshethink.com/ Rachelle

      I was actually talking about the dolls, first of all, and although I DO have a lot of stuff floating in my head, there are actually myriad papers on this very topic. Google it and enjoy. Then YOU might need therapy.

  • Nkimono

    I honestly think it’s nothing more or less than marketing strategy on the part of manufacturers. If toys are gender neutral, a boy can easily play with his sister’s outgrown toys (and vice versa) as we did. Now, if a family has children of different genders, they buy almost twice as many toys.

  • Cee

    Strawberry Shortcake is bullshit! Her image, along with that of her friends has changed a lot, particulalrly the skin color. Now, i do not know if the original strawberry shortcake had friends, but a while back Strawberry had a friend Orange Blossom who was African American and a friend Ginger Snap who was vaguely Hispanic or Asian. Fast foward to the show on The Hub and now we have an all white cast and ONE ambiguously brown Orange Blossom. Not to mention the dialogue is crap. At least MLP has that.

  • Tea

    The pony designs have way more to do with the creator’s art style (Who is female, a femininist, and AWESOME by the way) than any form of sexualization, and the blog post picked the only super-mega-girly-”sexy”-princess pony in the show. I see nothing wrong with strawberry shortcake’s design, it looks cute. They’re not embodying the 80s aesthetic anymore.

    I’ll concede on, Rainbow Brite looks like she ran off to Japan for the last 20 years and became a Magical Girl.

    • GeekGirl

      I agree with this 100% (and I’m not even a fan of Laura whatsherface creator)

  • GeekGirl

    I think there is a huge overreaction to Strawberry Shortcake. She looks like a typical modern day kid to me: tunic dress, big hat, same striped stockings as her earlier counterpart, and Mary Jane style shoes – just like young girls wear. We never saw her figure because the older version had a big dress; it’s an assumption to say she wasn’t slim. Did you ever played with the old dolls, though? Her big, turnip shaped head on a teeny-tiny impossibly thin and unrealistic body. I’m unsure how the doll is shaped now, but those first generation dolls were alien-like in shape.

    Rainbow Brite, I can half give you because they did age her up but again – it’s an assumption her figure is “slimmer” because we never saw her actual figure; her dress, like Strawberry Shortcake’s, was big, like fashion was in the 80s. Big, Gunne Sax frilly, country-chic (or sci-fi country for Rainbow Brite?) style for little girls. As someone who was in the online Rainbow Brite community at its inception in 1997, I can assure you there was a huge outrage over any changes to Rainbow Brite; we were more concerned with the appropriation of her as a rave/drug culture image at the time. Many people did throw their hands up and walk away from this new reincarnation.

    However much I prefer the G1 my little ponies though, they were the first ones to begin with the make up & slimming, not G3. The slimmer, leaner bodies came into play with Sweetheart Sister Ponies – which were released in 1988. They’re longer, slimmer, with eyeshadow, and even a pierced ear for their single flower earring. They’re meant to be teenagers. The following year, there were “Glittery Sweetheart Sister Ponies” and “Prom Queen Sweet Heart Sister Ponies” and by 1991, they were coming with tubes of lipstick to give “Sweet Kisses”. Heck, they even gave the new set of Princess Ponies of the same year false eyelashes! Gross out.

    I think you’re overall argument is valid – but the some of the examples cited by the Daily Mail article were overextending a bit (Merida is spot-on, though. Yuck). However, I am just as outraged at gender biased toys that draw a ridiculous definition between “girls toys” and “boys toys”. Let’s focus at the root of the problem; the individual toys will fall in to place.

    • cori

      While I agree that it is an assumption to say Strawberry Shortcake & Rainbow Bright have been slimmed down from previous versions, it’s an assumption that seems pretty accurate to me. While you can’t really make out their torsos, both images show the dolls legs. Rainbow has smaller legs in the new version. Strawberry has very chubby cheeks in the older one, chubby cheeks usually (but not in all cases obvs.) go away as a child gets older and loses their “baby fat”. New S.S. barely has any, but I had assumed she was a few years older now. Yeah, she’s got a dated look and I personally don’t actually have a problem with the new one, she is at least drawn in a way that makes it more obvious that she is skinny and there’s no maybe anymore. I had a chubby S.S. doll growing up and I still have her, but I’ve seen the ones you’re talking about and I thought they were weird looking too. The ponies thing is silly of them to do though, ponies obviously don’t need lipstick and fake eyelashes are just going to cause any pony eye troubles. R.B. was aged up too and the “baby fat” thing could be true for her as well, but she looks so made up to me. I don’t understand why dolls have to wear so much make-up or any really. They already have perfect skin.

  • http://sarahhollowell.com/ Sarah Hollowell

    Nope, that is not Rainbow Brite. I don’t accept it. I am going to go watch the cartoon and just be happy and pretend that Other Rainbow Brite doesn’t exist.

  • CK

    As a child of the 80′s, I completely sympathize. I HATE the current image of the Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Ponies, Thundercats, and everyone else. The original characters were cute, and fun, while I feel the new ones are just modernized for no reason in particular.

    I think there would be huge support for a channel that showed the original cartoons.

  • Amber

    I think there’s something very wrong with anyone who looks at Rainbow Bright, Strawberry Shortcake or My Little Ponies and thinks, “Sexy.”

    This isn’t the artists’ problem, this is a problem of the weirdos who attach some bizarre sexual connotation to these drawings.

    • samuelLsamson

      Amber there is a difference between “sexy” and “sexualised”, and your comments here suggest you haven’t really grasped that difference.

  • samuelLsamson

    Interesting article, I was unaware of the changes to Strawberry Shortcake, and do find them rather depressing.

    As for the gendering of toys issue, it’s an important one. Here’s a good article by Ms. Magazine’s Ponta Abadi, including a link to a petition should any US readers care to add their support.


  • Tusconian

    I think anyone using MLP as an example of “sexified” children’s toys needs to step back and examine what they consider sexified.

    These shows are a lot of things. Modernized? Yes. More homogenized? Yes, all of these “updates” look exactly the same. Aged-up? Probably. These new shows seem to appeal more to an early grade school demographic than a preschool demographic, IMO. More explicitly gendered? Maybe, though I doubt it was any cooler for a 6 year old boy in the 1980s to like rag dolls than it is for a 6 year old boy now to like fashion dolls. Sexualized? Eh, no. And I don’t buy that “more explicitly gendered” and “sexualized” are synonyms. I think that attitude enforces and androcentric attitude, and the idea that girls are inherently dirty if they are explicitly feminine. It’s okay for “boys shows” to depict somewhat realistic boys and men, but it’s inappropriate and sexual to depict a similarly realistic 8 year old girl so she must be replaced with an androgynous rag doll to be positive? In some ways, I think it’s more positive; I’ve seen some of these reboots, and they seem more dynamic. This is probably more due to the fact that they’re aimed at a slightly older audience, but these shows for girls seemed so passive to me. It seems like the old shows are soft and abstract in the same way that shows for babies are. Which is fine for babies, but not fine for older girls. Why they need to re-boot an existing franchise instead of making it “Random Redhead Girl’s Magical Forest Adventure Show” is beyond me, because execs must know that this would encourage a bunch of nostalgia crazed 80s kids to grasp at any reason to hate it for being different.

  • cori

    I don’t mind my daughter playing with more made-up looking dolls, but there’s not really a balance. I wish there were more ordinary girl dolls. I don’t want her to think she needs to wear make-up all the time. Luckily she has me, who sometimes does, but often doesn’t to help her realise this. Plus we talk about how she’s under no obligation to look like someone else’s idea of what she should look like, it’s her face/hair/body after all. This has led to a few disagreements when she decides she doesn’t like my preferences, but long term I think it’s going to be worth it. My son has a deep and abiding love for pink and unicorns. It’s tricky sometimes, I’m proud of him for not letting anyone tell him what he should like, but I’m pretty nervous that he could get picked on for it. He’s 6, so not really an issue yet, but I worry about the first sleepovers he brings his pink & purple unicorn pillow pet to. Hopefully I can figure out how to help him not feel ashamed of the things he loves and understand that some people won’t agree. Although grown-ups seem to care more than other kids right now.

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