Girls’ favorite cartoon characters get make-overs (not good ones)

Old Strawberry Shortcake cartoon juxtiposed next to new, slim Strawberry Shortcake

Dora the ExplorerNew, slimmed down Dora

Old Rainbow Brite juxtiposed next to new, slim, made-over Rainbow Brite

Please, someone tell me WTF is going on with our favorite cartoon characters?!

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48 Comments

  1. oxfordcomma
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Oh, good, more sexualized children!

  2. vkh
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    NOOOOOOOOOOOO!
    I’m already having to tell 4 year olds why they are more beautiful than barbie. Mainly, because they are real. Ugh.

  3. Liza
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    The Dora one bothers me the least. Maybe it’s because she looks older but not really sexualized. Or maybe it’s because I’m too old to have ever been into her so it doesn’t destroy my childhood.

  4. konkonsn
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I have a four year old female cousin who likes Bratz toys but will not play with Cabbage Patch Kids. She thinks their round faces are “ugly.” They “scare” her.
    Not kidding. I am so sad…

  5. Toongrrl
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Cabbage Patch Kids and Bratz both scare me!!!!! But the makeovers are fucking scary!!!!

  6. Kate
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I agree. Both Strawberry Shortcake and Dora seemed to be aged into the tween years (although I liked them before), but they aren’t really sexualized. But Rainbow Bright, what the hell!

  7. uberhausfrau
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    ive seen the doll in the store. dora and the “explorer girls” are dolls aged 5+ with budding chests and require computer access to continue with the experience where they can “explore” different hair styles, accessories, etc. maybe it’s not explicit sexualisation, but it’s maturing behaviour i dont think is appropriate or healthy for kindergarteners. children as a class need less screen time. they need to be outside, playing, really exploring their world. dress up and imaginary play is great and important for their development and they arent getting that from sitting and staring at the computer.

  8. Jessica1286
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    this.is.so.sad…
    Can somebody please explain WHY this was necessary? I’d really like to hear the board room discussion that took place on this one.

  9. Jessica1286
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I dont know…the strawberry shortcake was my favorite as a child and its a little too coy, flirty, come hither red-head fantasy for me…(not that i dont like redhead fantasies. im a redhead via l’oreal-its just that i dont want that anyyyywhere near my memories of strawberry shortcake)

  10. uberhausfrau
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    im a big fan of:
    becky botsford/wordgirl – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlu77RHNZtg
    kai-lan – from ni hao kai-lan. she likes dinosaurs and being a pirate. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Vz_c_FA8YA
    widget – from wow wow wubbzy.
    tiny from dinosaur train – http://www.pbs.org/parents/dinosaurtrain/abouttheprogram/characters.html extra treat – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW39BWeqCiI

  11. Honeybee
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree with everything they are doing to these characters but I don’t think the inclusion of computerized content is the problem. While sure kids need to go outside and all, don’t discount the imagination and learning and growing that can be done on a computer. Sometimes these tools can be even more engaging and even better for human development then the more traditional go outside and play the imagination game path.
    The computer itself is neutral and can be used for whatever content they want. What we should instead critique is what conent they chose to create.

  12. uberhausfrau
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    i’d like to see your research to back that up. everything ive read regarding the target audience (6 and under) says that screen time – computers and tv – are way more detrimental than positive and should be limited more than encouraged.
    there’s also the class issues of computer based toys. it assumes ready access to a computer and higher speed internet. what 5yo (or parent for that matter) is going to want to wait an hour at the library for 30mins of play time?

  13. Gexx
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    At least Rainbow got to keep her kick-arse boots. I’ve wanted them sine I was 4. Dora got downgraded to ballet flats and Strawberry from her gardening oxfords to something red and I think mary-jane-esque. (not that there’s anything wrong with any, it’s just hard to be a running-jumping-climbing trees kid in un-sensible shoes).

  14. Athenia
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    I don’t mind Dora’s look, but she just doesn’t look like she’s ready to climb some trees or run through puddles.

  15. rebekah
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    My little sister turned five last year. Dora has been on the television for her to watch since she was little. This version of dora cannot explore. She cannot put bridges back together, let alone keep swiper from swiping all of her stuff. Dora was one of the few characters on the tv that my little sister could watch and I could say was a good influence. I can’t see her doing all of the things she used to do in ballet flats and leggings.

  16. zebrafinch.myopenid.com
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    The thing that gets me is the long hair. Two of three of these girls had cute short hair. The problem is that short hair is just cute, while long hair is sexy. Short hair is much more conducive to jumping around and playing, or long hair in a ponytail like Rainbow Brite. Unfortunately long hair in ponytails is also not sexy (by conventional wisdom).
    They’ve taken these active, playful female characters and turned them into girls more likely to pretty up and sit around. Also, all three have lost weight.

  17. Melimalle
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Surely one of the biggest problem is their downsized figures. All of the original images are of average sized girls which have then been changed into very very slender bodies. Girls at that age can be just as sensitive about their weight (we’ve read the statistics on 8yo’s dieting!) and for their idols to suddenly undergo a body size makeup can’t be good for self esteem.

  18. GuinnessXXStout
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    That’s part of the problem, though. When they decided to age Dora, they made a decision as to what a young, adventurous girl would turn out to be. Instead of a girl in khakis and hiking boots, maybe a safari hat, hair tied back to keep it out of the way–basically your stereotype of an explorer woman–they chose a typical tween look. One way to read this is that the young Dora was going through a ‘tom-boy’ phase and she grew out of it and into a more typical female role.

  19. hardlycore
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Yeah. I can’t stand to see Dora buying into the leggings-as-pants trend.
    /personal pet peeves

  20. William
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I mean, I’m one of the ones more mortified by the new Rainbow Brite than the other two, but it’s definitely because she’s the character I grew up watching out of those three.

  21. ZiaMimi
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Disturbing.
    I noticed the same “changes” while comparing an old Strawberry Shortcake coloring book of mine (circa 1985-ish) to my niece’s new/modern version….
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/46974215@N02/
    Even the word choices and activities represented in the coloring book have changed…not only does she look and dress a certain way, she is suddenly “cool” and involved in only stereotypical feminine activities or, even worse, just standing around, looking “pretty.” Very limiting.
    Very yucky.

  22. bbrutlag
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    I just threw up in my mouth.
    Can someone tell me what is Rainbow Bright going to do with that phallic sceptre? Nevermind she will probably use it to make flowers and not to twart Murky and Lurky.
    If girls didn’t have enough imagery that promoted an unhealthy body image, Now healthy body images of strong female charcters of the 80′s and 90′s are being retconned to fit the current(sub)standard!

  23. bbrutlag
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    What’s next Care bears doing blow?
    A Smurf orgy ?

  24. Rachael
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    Strawberry Shortcake’s outfit looks like it just got a 3rd-millennium update, and Rainbow Brite’s outfit is virtually unchanged from her previous one (unless you count the bare arms).
    Dora’s is the one that bothers me. Those clothes do not invite adventure.

  25. feministinmississippi
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    just like regular music videos are directed by porn directors, making them a repetition of the same themes, it seems like these cartoon characters are being redesigned by the same artists who do male-oriented comic books/video games/hentai.

  26. Chip Bell
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    They all look like frilly Disney princesses. Dora looks bright eyed and can do on the left and frilly and done up in ribbons on the right.
    It’s like they are trying to make young girls into girly girl types or something. Like we need more of those.

  27. Icy Bear
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    The class issue is certainly a problem, but in general I think recent research in the field of children’s media studies supports what Honeybee is arguing. Books by David Buckingham are pretty good (After the Death of Childhood might be a good place to start), if you’re interested in more I’d be happy to send you a longer list.

  28. MiriamCT1
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I’m with you on this one uberhausefrau, screen time is bad for kids because (in part) it deprives them of the opportunity to make up stuff (stories, dialog, images, etc) all on their own. Everything is made up for them, pre-packaged. If they are outside, or at least away from the screen they have to use their own imaginations to make up stories and do problem solving. Anyone who says that computer play is “neutral” doesn’t understand child development at all; there is always adult driven choice architecture involved with computer games or other screen time.
    It really bugs me how so many people are all like “oh it’s harmless” all the screen time children get. It’s like eating junk food for your brain. And mostly it is “buy this characters crap” messages, children’s shows (or at least the most popular ones) exist almost entirely to sell our kids plastic crap. So maybe I’m a wet blanket, but I hate all the above characters away, sexy or not, they suck. And before anyone gets all “oh, but I loved Rainbow Brite as a kid!!” just remember that that vintage of children’s cartoon characters is from the time right after the de-regulation of children’s programming which basically made it OK to have show length cartoon commercials for these character’s plastic crap. I was right there too, my fav was My Little Pony and I had a huge collection of them!

  29. TiernaFeminista
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    The most ironic thing about this is the ad I see right below these “normal” and then “makeover” pictures is before/after weightloss shots.
    Blech.

  30. FeministyMama
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Oh god, I’ve been obsessed with this for a couple of years now. They’re sexing up every iconic toy/character that girls regularly play with. They all got skinnier, or highlights,or doe-eyes. Or all three. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
    You should see My-Little-Pony. Ick.
    http://feministymama.blogspot.com/2009/03/dora-explora-whore.html
    http://feministymama.blogspot.com/2009/03/wheres-my-bat.html

  31. 73666673
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    “It really bugs me how so many people are all like “oh it’s harmless” all the screen time children get. It’s like eating junk food for your brain.”
    That’s not true at all. Computers can be a wonderful learning tool and many times they actively encourage imagination and critical thinking. Even something as simple as playing a simple strategy game (like Chess) can stimulate the mind to a much greater extent than going outside and running around or playing on the swing set at a playground.
    “Everything is made up for them, pre-packaged. If they are outside, or at least away from the screen they have to use their own imaginations to make up stories and do problem solving.”
    You can use imagination when using a computer, in fact I would posit that it happens even more so when using a computer. Simplying using a computer requires a certain level of focus.
    And not everything is made up already either. When I was a kid I used to use my family computer’s paint program to draw for hours. How is that any different from using pen and paper? I came up with some good creations, and all the while I was definitely not staring at something prepackaged.
    “Anyone who says that computer play is “neutral” doesn’t understand child development at all; there is always adult driven choice architecture involved with computer games or other screen time.”
    And how is the issue of neutrality different from the outside world? Is it not an adult choice or adult ‘creation’ to have a playground somewhere? Or even to cut the lawn? What about laws and regulations (no loitering, etc.) Computers have many parts of them designed already, but they also offer lots of areas for exploration and creativity. Just like the outside world, you have some areas that restrict creativity, and some areas that actively encourage it.
    Finally, I want to make clear that I don’t advocate children sit on the computer 24/7. Quite the contrary. But what I am getting at is that using a computer is not a vapid experience like watching a TV can be. Computer use can actually be very beneficial for the user, despite it’s potential downfalls.

  32. rhowan
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Check out the difference between the old Rainbow Brite doll with the new Rainbow Brite dolls. It’s just depressing. They’ve gone from a soft squishy-bodied lug around with you toy, to a hard plastic fashion doll.

  33. Icy Bear
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    But ethnographic research on this subject has shown quite clearly that children DO use their imagination to make up new stories and characters based on these shows, often in very creative ways. While it may appear to be pre-packaged, it is certainly not received by children as such – and in the end, that’s all that really matters. Children’s experiences are already too diverse and dependent on specific socio-cultural positions to be dictated by particular media technologies.
    Also, I’m not at all sure that playing outside is the ideal imaginative type of play you are implying it is. I used to play outside all the time when I was little, coming up with elaborate stories all the time. But when I think back on the type of stories I used to make up? All sorts of racist and sexist bullshit about little Indian girls in the vast wilderness or fairy princesses falling in love with fairy princes. Clearly the ideas I was acting on were just as influenced by destructive ideologies in our culture as children’s play influenced by screen technologies today are.
    I think it is rather untrue to suggest that outside play, reading books, or playing with non-technological toys is ultimately any more creative than engaging with screen technologies. In each case, children will use their own experiences and personal creativity in conjunction with the texts they engage with and their own cultural context.

  34. uberhausfrau
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    And before anyone gets all “oh, but I loved Rainbow Brite as a kid!!” just remember that that vintage of children’s cartoon characters is from the time right after the de-regulation of children’s programming which basically made it OK to have show length cartoon commercials for these character’s plastic crap. I was right there too, my fav was My Little Pony and I had a huge collection of them!
    i forgot about that. and it’s not surprising that MLP and transformers got re-released at the same time the original owners would start having kids.
    consuming kids by susan linn goes in to insanely researched detail about this.

  35. uberhausfrau
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    insanely researched detail
    *cringe* sorry about the language.
    extensively researched detail.

  36. uberhausfrau
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    this all may be very true – but not necessarily for the target audience of the above mentioned toys. which can be as young as toddlers. an older child playing chess on the computer when there no one else to play with is different than the games found on webkinz or even pbs’s website.
    also, given the surge of technology that has occurred from the time “we” were children and children of today, we really have no way of know how this will effect today’s children’s development as a whole and for the long term.

  37. ZiaMimi
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Looks like Barbie in a Rainbow Brite costume. Ugh!

  38. FLT
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    There was an in-between Strawberry Shortcake for a while that I loved. She had short, unstyled hair and wore blue jeans.
    Those are the books/dvds I bring home. I hope my daughter doesn’t pick out the new ones when I take her to the library–what am I gonna do? Tear them out of her hands? “You may have gender bias free Strawberry Shortcake, dear, but you may not have Wanna-Date-On-Friday Cake.”

  39. Brandi
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    In part for Dora, the idea was to allow Dora to appeal to a broader age of girls. The “old” Dora had a limited appeal. As for RB and SS, I think the idea was just to age them to make them modern for kids 20 years later.
    They would look really out of place compared to newer cartoons. Plus, as the mother of a preschool-aged daughter, I can tell you that the clothes on RB and SS are pretty comparable to much of what’s available in stores.
    I view these makeovers as more effect than cause.

  40. allisonjayne
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Yes! This one, right? http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_-lO6FfjS7FQ/SRHNvsVwe4I/AAAAAAAAAZE/9OMVyhf_W-Y/s400/strawberry-shortcake.gif
    What happened to her? When I first saw her, I though that update made sense – all they really changed was her outfit. Frankly, the pinafore and bloomers outfit was a bit much, even in the 80s. In that version, she looks basically about the same otherwise. Why’d they feel the need to update her again???

  41. FLT
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Yeah! That’s the one! She even skateboarded…

  42. Emily
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe the My Little Pony! I mean, the old ones were feminine enough but to make them skinnier?! At least the old ones where more of a “wholesome” feminine (which might have it’s problems but these are little kids that play with them!).

  43. Liza
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    That made me think of this:
    http://quizilla.teennick.com/quizzes/7182141/

  44. Devonian
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Transformers never really went away. G1, the movie, G2, then Beast Wars/Machines, then RiD, then the Unicron trilogy, then the live-action movies and Animated…

  45. hardindr
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    To be honest, I don’t see what is wrong with the Dora update. I don’t think she is wearing anything particularly girly or sexualized. Would people here rather see her in stilettos and a mini-skirt?
    An interesting take from a woman research scientist http://scienceblogs.com/isisthescientist/2009/03/trampy_toys_and_what_we_tell_o.php .

  46. MiriamCT1
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I loved Susan Linn’s book.
    Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds by Susan Gregory Thomas
    Is another good one that focuses on the marketing towards younger children (including marketing towards babies (!!!). I don’t think that all screen time for kids is totally evil; it’s just that it seems that not enough people think about 1. How much their kids are getting of it, 2. Age appropriateness of the content and 3. What is being sold to the kids in the content. Sure, some computer games are fine, painting programs, chess, etc. but really, is that what most kids are doing on computers most of the time? I doubt it.
    And for the person who said this:
    “Even something as simple as playing a simple strategy game (like Chess) can stimulate the mind to a much greater extent than going outside and running around or playing on the swing set at a playground.”
    Yeah, OK, chess is great, but studies have shown that kids need physical activity and a lot of it in order to learn and process what they learn. No kid is going to be good at chess unless they have running around time outside. That is why it is so awful and counterproductive for school systems to cut recess for kids for more class time to get better test scores, this is ass backwards.
    Little kids really just don’t need any screen time to learn, I think it can be helpful for older children, with the right programs that do foster creatively and strategic / problem solving skills, but that is for older elementary aged children at the least, not like 4 and 5 year olds.

  47. ShapingYouth
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    All…I wrote a multi-part series on this awhile back for Shaping Youth where we cover media & marketing’s impact on kids.
    First piece was on the Sho Murase uber-hip Nancy Drew overhaul & other icons in part one “Manga Makeovers & Other Body Image Cartoon Capers” http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=1760
    Part two was more like the icons you show above: “Facelifts for Kiddie Characters: Rebranding 80s Icons?” http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=1748
    Part three: “Dora the Explorer: Discover the WORLD not the mall” http://www.shapingyouth.org/?p=5314
    All are link laden w/research out the wazoo, from that was then this is now media literacy tidbits (vintage Betty Boop/Jessica Rabbit/Lara Croft and other va-voom body types) to odd tweaked out stuff like Goth Bugs Bunnys and ‘Struts’ plastic toy horses that look like hookers. (e.g. cause-effect, impact/APA harm of sexualization, and both a youth and parent POV)
    Enjoy (tho, um, that’s not exactly the right sentiment, eh?) ;-)
    p.s. If any of you will be at the She’sGeeky.org unconference this weekend flag me down & say hi, okay? I may propose a session on media/mktg./gender stereotypes & could use a hand.

  48. Posted January 28, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Well, according to the telly: when it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange.
    My daughter is five and developmentally delayed. Despite having spent over half her young life in the appropriate therapies, the concepts of identity and make-believe are still too abstract for her to understand. So, yeah, while she’s basically shunned by her peers for chewing on dolls of all shapes and sizes – hey, at least she won’t be stuffing her bra to look like Rainbow Brite. Small comfort, that.

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