Take a close look at the 1970s version of Candy Land above. I played with the exact same board as a kid, mostly with babysitters who patiently endured Candy Land marathons on Friday nights while my parents were off at fondue parties. Everything on this board looks rather sweet and benign, well, unless you’re a parent who seriously fears sugary treats. The kids are certainly cute and wholesome looking.
Now check out the newer 1990s board, the second image in the gallery. I picked up this version at San Francisco’s Thrift Town when my daughter was in preschool. Notice some of the new characters who have joined the game such as Queen Frostine and Princess Lolly. Cutesy but still sweet.
The third image shows the newest 2010 version featuring the same Candy Land cast—although with all-new looks and much slimmer figures. It’s hard to make out the characters so look at the fourth image in the gallery of Queen Frostine.
Queen Frostine looks as if she made a trip to Los Angeles to get nipped and tucked before making an appearance on the 2010 board. She certainly dropped some serious cash on a haircut and highlights and picked up some diamonds on Rodeo Drive. And it looks as if she put in her time with a personal trainer—as she’s got a Barbie doll–thin waist.
Yes, Candy Land has gotten what Peggy Orenstein over at TheAtlantic.com describes as a “hot makeover.” Orenstein, who often writes about the sexualization of childhood and authored the book Cinderella Ate my Daughter, put together a blog post showing the evolution of the beloved board game that takes players on an adventure through a land filled with treats. She points out how the characters have been sexed up: The Princess Lolly (above) waist is now super-skinny and Queen Frostine looks like a “Bratz” doll.
But Candy Land isn’t the only classic children’s toy to receive a sexy makeover in the last decade.
The Strawberry Shortcake of my 1970s youth was freckle-faced, rosy-cheeked and slightly plump. She carried around a pink cat named Calico and wore a ruffly dress and brown sensible shoes. She looked about 6 or 7 years old, which seemed appropriate because that was the age of the girls playing with this doll.
Fast-forward 30 years and the little girl with the sweet strawberry scent has lost her freckles, her round cheeks, and a lot of weight. Yes, this might be good for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, but the Strawberry Shortcake of the 21st century looks more like a tween than a kindergartner with slimming clothes and a stylish haircut. Oh, and she lost her cat for a cell phone.
Dora the Explorer, Holly Hobbie, and Rainbow Brite have all gone on diets, visited the beauty salon, and started shopping at Forever 21. They’ve become yet another example of impossibly beautiful females flaunting what Orenstein describes as “unattainable” and “implausible” figures. And this isn’t good for the self image of a girl who plays with these toys. Consider this study that Orenstein describes:
In [a] study, researchers engaged three-to-five-year-old girls in games of, yes, Candy Land as well as Chutes & Ladders, asking them to choose among three game pieces—a thin one, an average-sized one and a fat one—to represent themselves. While in the past children that age showed little ability to distinguish between average and thin weights, today’s wee ones grabbed thin pieces at higher rates not only than fat ones but than those of “normal” weight. When asked by researchers to swap a thin figure for a fat one, the girls not only recoiled but some refused to even touch the chubbier game piece making comments such as, “I hate her, she has a fat stomach,” or “She is fat. I don’t want to be that one.”
It seems reasonable that toy companies would want to update the animated friends of our youth–after all many of the characters have become rather kitschy looking. Even the sweet 1970s Strawberry Shortcake looks a little dowdy. Plus, what kid of today wants to play with the same, exact toys their stodgy parents enjoyed as children?
But there’s an unsettling trend that you’ll notice as you look at the “then” and “now” toy photos above. In most cases, the girl characters have matured many years–they’ve gone from preschoolers to tweens, yet it’s still kids ages 6 and 7 who are enamored with these characters. Does a preschooler really need to play with a doll that looks like a tart?