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Do These Diapers Make Me Look Fat?

October 23, 2009

strawberry-shortcake

It started the summer of 2008. Everyone’s favorite confectionary inspired character got a makeover. Strawberry Shortcake, the cute plump girl with the tight red curls and big ruffled dress stepped into the 21st century, and boy did she make an entrance. Long gone are the storybook inspired outfit, the outrageous hat, and the cute, childish face. In June of last year, American Greeting Properties unveiled the ‘new and improved’ Strawberry shortcake, with her bright pink flowing hair, lipstick adorned smile, long legs, and a fashionable new wardrobe, complete with a total re-imagining of the iconic strawberry-inspired hat. This new image conscious version seemed hardly unpleasant, until you realize AGProperties target her to the 2-7 year old market. And this was only the beginning.

Dora - Then and now

Dora - Then and now

Up next was Dora the Explorer. In March 2009, Mattel released a teaser silhouette of the updated Dora character. The elusive shape hinted at a tall, lean girl, once again with flowing hair, striking a pose. Dora the Explorer, perhaps one of the most beloved cartoon characters of recent memory, was what most parents would want their children to aspire to. A world traveler and constant thinker, Dora’s adventures took her deep into the jungle and around the world, where the chubby, plain-looking – but still cute – character spoke to children in at least two languages and implored them to engage in their surroundings. Her charm was her accessibility – her awkward haircut, plain features, and belly pudging out of her shirt weren’t off-putting; they were endearing, and only spoke to how successful a character can be based on their actions rather than looks. She was the real-life, working class princess. But that was before March 16, 2009, when Mattel managed to shatter everything Dora stood for with one image. The new Dora, aimed at Tweens, elicits a sort of Strawberry Shortcake déjà-vu. Gone is the backpack, because clearly it would clash with her fashionable dress. Her legs now make up half of her entire length, and Dora has obviously been watching her carbs – she got thin. Snatched out of the jungle, Dora is now an image conscious girl who is more comfortable in high school than in Egyptian tombs. Mattel knows this – Dora is now a ‘big-city girl’. The transformation elicited an online petition by parents – now at over 13,000 signatures – pleading with Mattel to reconsider their decision.

All this backlash hasn’t fazed Hallmark – earlier this month, they released the updated version of Rainbow Brite. Unsurprisingly, she is taller, leaner, and more fashionable. Rainbow Brite and her friends pose in their mini-dresses (conveniently re-designed to show of their cinched waists) and big, beauty-queen hair.

The new and improved (?) Rainbow Brite

The new and improved (?) Rainbow Brite

The New York Times hypothesizes that ‘If the classic characters look less stodgy, the companies hope, they will appeal not only to parents who remember them fondly, but also to children who might automatically be suspicious of toys their parents played with’. Furthermore, the stance most of the companies are taking is that these characters must grow with the times, in fear of becoming out-dated. A fair reasoning, only the execution is so flawed it depletes any of the original motives behind the statement. Updating characters to remain relevant is a practice that’s been around for decades. Barbie has transformed herself over the years, adding slight modifications to remain relevant. My Little Pony recently spiced up the line to keep the dolls fresh, adding eye-catching colors and giving the ponies some more personality. Even Action Man and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles look drastically different than they did at their inception. The key in the success of these modifications, and where Dora, Strawberry Shortcake, and Rainbow Brite have gone wrong, is that they underwent minor modifications that kept the heart of the brand in place. Dora the Explorer went from being a girl-next-door to a bombshell. There is something to be said about exposing children to the transformation she has undergone. Will 4 year olds now think that it is expected of them to grow up like Dora and follow in her footsteps? As they make the transition from ‘Original Dora’ to ‘Tween Dora’, will they feel the pressure to lose weight, become better looking, and focus more time and energy on their image and status rather than adventure, education, and having fun? Will girls feel like they have to become fashionable and abide by what is considered ‘girly’, and will boys feel shame for identifying with a character that is now completely un-relatable? While it can be important to have image conscious, popular characters for children to attach to, there is a time, place and context for everything. Two and three year olds who are being introduced to Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake don’t need brands to ‘grow with the times’ – they need accessible, healthy, and creative characters that can take them on adventures and stir their imagination. Making Shortcake or Brite more ‘real looking’ (that is, if model-esque is what passes as a real-looking three year old) diminishes the very purpose of these cartoons. There is something incredibly toxic about exposing children to a character like the original Dora, who is gender-neutral, accessible, and endearing, only to phase them into the updated, socialized Tween Dora.

Tinkerbell in 2009

Tinkerbell in 2009

On the other end of the spectrum, Disney is taking a bold stance against these redesigns with it’s own extreme makeover. Unveiled only last week, Tinkerbell is unrecognizable in her new feature film. Perhaps one of the more iconic characters of the past 50 years, the fairy in her princess up-do, stilettos and tiny green dress has always been a symbol of hyper femininity. In her new movie, Tinkerbell ditches the dress for a full on jungle suit, now androgynous looking and the star of her own movie – Peter Pan is nowhere to be seen while she goes on an adventure of her own. While the new version is so unrecognizable from the original that she can pass off as an entirely new creation, it is refreshing to see a reimagining that challenges modern perceptions of beauty and gender roles.

Of course, Disney does not escape unscathed – they have still managed to overhaul a character so iconic that even the family-friendly new Tinkerbell is getting less-than-stellar reviews. The problem seems to lie not in the perceived increasingly savvy children, but in the men and women who are marketing to them. It seems the generational gap has become so large so quickly that adults are completely out of touch with the children of today, and are possibly over-analyzing the tastes of 3 year olds. If Dora the Explorer could talk, I’m sure she would have something to say about her new outfit. Those flats are sooo not jungle-friendly.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. petitenemesis permalink*
    October 23, 2009 1:23 pm

    it’s interesting that the NYT would assume that the new characters would appeal to parents who remember them fondly. i grew up with every strawberry shortcake book that came out, and i still rock rainbow brite tshirts on any given sunday. i hate to see how they’ve changed. the new looks don’t bring back fond memories as much as they solicit a “who the f* is that?” reaction from me.

  2. sysh permalink*
    October 23, 2009 1:35 pm

    Agreed. I really like the new Tinkerbell though!

  3. cabbageeater permalink
    October 23, 2009 2:16 pm

    Nooooo! Not Rainbow Brite!!! I’m a broken woman.

  4. October 24, 2009 12:11 am

    Agreed, the new Tinkerbell is great. Disney had always been atop of the feminists hitlist for consistently portraying females in a “second-class citizen” way in their movies. Tinkerbell was one of their worst characters, with her classic 1950’s housewife personality.

    Pretty soon, Rainbow Brite and Dora are going to be raving with the Bratz Dolls…gross.
    Hide your whistles and glow sticks from the youngins!

  5. sysh permalink*
    October 24, 2009 6:55 pm

    i wonder though, to turn this somewhat over its head, whether tinkerbell’s makeover was to make her more ‘manly’ because she was to star in her own spinoff? in that sense, isn’t just going back to the style of male (or male-like) characters are the heros. perhaps the old tinkerbell– the over feminised 1950s housewife style– would never be able to ‘carry’ her own movie?

  6. October 24, 2009 11:24 pm

    I guess strong, confident and independent is another description for ‘manly’…NO. It was necessary to strengthen her character mentally and physically in order for her to carry her own movie, and I think the general message it sends to that target demographic is a good one.
    Besides, watching the original and then the new one shows how a lot of women unfortunately mature: starting off by getting suckered by some immature dude, falling head over heels in love and going crazy with jealousy, then realizing he’s just not that into us and watching him walk off with some other girl. It’s a learning experience that most of us have gone through, and from that we become a lot more aware of ourselves and what we really want out of life. Well that’s the plan anyway 😉

  7. November 21, 2009 3:22 pm

    i like te new tinkerbell also that short skirt/ dress wat ever needed to go.. and i liked strawberry..both ways new and old

  8. Spadiva permalink
    December 3, 2009 7:45 am

    I think that they all look great with this new look but the point is what are these new look portraying to our children? That this “Model Look” that our teenagers are already fighting, is now going to be a problem from when they are old enough to realize that they look “perfect”? I have a 4 year old daughter that is really into these characters and she is now realizing that she wants to dress like them in little outfits and she tries to look sexy because that is what she sees in these characters.

    I just don’t see anything wrong with the old Strawberry shortcake and the old Dora. Why do they need to be made up to look sexy? Long Legs flowing hair short skirts. I just don’t get it.

  9. Tuttifrutti permalink
    December 7, 2009 11:37 pm

    I’m not a parent, so perhaps my opinion can be ignored. Though I can see why parents would be upset about the changes to Dora, I really don’t see all of their updates being a problem. Yes Strawberry Shortcake looked better before (though I think her eyes and hair look better now), and Rainbow Brite looks more like something out of a Lisa Frank sticker book, as far as I’ve heard they still have the same personalities as before (friendly, wanting to hang out with their friends, etc). Also, if I were a parent, I’d be more worried about my child watching stuff like Hannah Montana. ‘Nuff said. Sure, she’s for older kids, but if your child watches the Disney channel, they probably see her on commercials. When I was little, though I was allowed to watch stuff like Sailor Moon, Aladdin, Bugs Bunny, etc…I never dressed like them and if I did, it was obviously for Halloween. I think I always knew that they were fake, and I never wanted to be them. I wanted to be my own person who had similar interests to them, which is why I was attracted to them in the first place. But explaining that to a child might be difficult if he or she is two or three. So if kids are seeing say…the new Dora…why not purchase some old Looney Toons cartoons? They might not be as informative (books…books….BOOKS!), but you won’t have to worry about them “trying to lose weight” because their “idol” did. Also, my two year old cousin used to watch Dora, but she’s moving on to things like Scooby Doo. I really like that, because I can relate more and…well, it goes back to what this whole discussion is about. You want your kids to watch something appropriate? Let them watch the old versions that you loved before watching the new stuff. I think a lot of people would be surprised at which they liked more.

  10. Bart permalink
    December 10, 2009 3:14 pm

    I, too, think the new Tinkerbell is an improvement, and it’s really not that much of a stretch from the original. They’ve basically added accessories. Tinkerbell has changed over time, but is still essentially Tinkerbell. She’s too iconic for them to mess with, much like Mickey Mouse, who also has changed over time, but is still easily recognized.

    My daughter just received a Strawberry Shortcake Berry Cafe for her 4th birthday. Upon opening the present and looking in the packaging, she asked, “Where’s Strawberry?” I pointed her out. My daughter replied, “No, dad. Where’s Strawberry Shortcake?”

    My daughter has never had trouble identifying Tinkerbell in any of her incarnations, and never had trouble identifying Strawberry in any of her previous forms. The lesson is that subtle changes over time are fine, but massive overhauls are generally not received well, by parents or kids.

  11. December 26, 2009 5:08 pm

    How about naming the big-city Dora, “Doreen” and make her Dora’s cousin! That way, my toddler friends have their role model, and the tweens, if they must move on to a different image, have their more grown-up image.
    Letting go of the past and moving on into the future, in expectations, goals and relationships is an important part of life’s journey for all of us.
    Explore the subject in the gentlest way by finding the book, “free to grow”.

    • kittydoggy32 permalink
      March 31, 2016 12:45 am

      That is the best idea ever. I can’t remember growing up w/o dora! now our children can, too!

  12. January 8, 2010 7:19 pm

    The new Strawberry Shortcake looks generic and uninspired, which is pretty bad if you ask me. I wouldn’t have known it was her it wasn’t for the funky striped tights. On the other hand Tinker Bell looks well done, even though she looks like robin hood imo.

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