Makeover Madness for Children’s Cartoons? Less belly fat, more muscles, and a cell phone

It appears that our yesterday’s favorite cartoon characters are getting extreme makeovers to cater to the modern tastes of today’s kids. According to the New York Times, these classic characters are being “freshened up” in order to add upward momentum to the rough sloping economy.

Apparently, the YouTube generation is interested in less belly fat and more muscles. Less “cutesy” and more streamline. Fewer calories and more cell phones. Seriously. What ever happened to nostalgia for days when we didn’t need to think about all that stuff?

Impossibly thin waists and the buff bods have been popular among fairy princesses and hulky princes, respectively, but how about the Care-bears and Little Miss Shortcake?

Strawberry Shortcake went under the figurative knife and was revealed this past Tuesday. Labeled a “fruit-forward” makeover, she was stripped of her bloomers, went on a diet (no more sweets, more fruit!), put down her cat, and picked up a cell phone. No more freckles and of course, more pink—now her signature color in place of her customary red. She looks a lot more “little mermaid” than “strawberry sweetie” from yesteryear.

Toys and toons aimed at boys are also getting a little nip-tuck. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are loosing a bit of their ‘tude and gaining more muscles. Think—turtles on steroids.

Other nostalgic characters getting a face—and body-lift? Bugs bunny, Scoobie Doo, and the Care bears, the latter getting a little lipo to loose the belly fat and eyelash extensions to enhance the eyes.

The companies are trying to appeal to the kids without going too far—attempting to stay away from the hypersexualized and increasingly violent media landscape ever-present today. Even Mickey Mouse will be getting into the action.

Companies like Disney are giving nostalgic characters an update in an attempt to appeal to both modern kids and today’s parents–parents who are trying to protect their youngsters from seeing too much, considering the recent Miley Cyrus exposure and other young stars who are becoming less predictable and more out of control. Not to mention other brands that have gone way to far towards sexualizing the most mundane toys to appeal to Paris-Hilton-like children such as the Disney HorsesStrutz (for girls who are on the cutting edge of what’s hot in fashion)

They’re also wary of changing their brand too much or sending out items that parents don’t like as Mattel did in 1993 when they spruced up the classic Ken doll with a poorly chosen purple mesh T-shirt, leather vest, earring, and high-lighted coif. Warner Brothers made a similar marketing mistake when they revamped Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in 2005, full with mohawks and crazy eyes in the series “Lunatics.”

Are cartoon portrayals such a big deal?

According to numerous studies, it may be.

“the depictions about gender roles seen by children could impact and interact with both the expectations they develop about relationships and appropriate behavior, and their future life decisions. It is important to keep in mind, too, that the concern about stereotyping is not less severe because these are cartoons and not “real life.” Although this issue has not been definitely settled by research, several studies have indicated that young children accept fantasy as reality and cannot always distinguish well between the two. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research by Thompson et al.

WEIGH IN

What do you think? Is it a good thing for these toy and cartoon companies to reflect a more streamline, beauty-oriented, techno-culture in our children’s cartoons or should they be leaving things the way they are? Are cartoons getting too sexed up for the kids or are people making too much of a big deal about the whole thing?

Please comment below!

Looking forward to hearing your opinions.

Photo credits: New York Times, Google, Strutz Site, TOFC, themanbehindtheearring.com, wikipedia

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13 Responses

  1. I agree with the premise that cartoons and figures are being sexed up. It’s unfortunate but to be expected, I think. We, as a nation, are obsessed with youth, beauty, power, influence, wealth and popularity. If you look at the Strawberry Shortcake of my youth and the Strawberry Shortcake of my daughter’s which one would you think had more of the qualities I just mentioned?

    It all starts with someone/thing pushing the edge, just a little. Think about Britney Spears in her video where she’s wearing that school uniform in a revealing way. After this initial shock it soon becomes the norm. Then someone/thing else has to go a little bit farther to push the edge. Then comes Bratz dolls, and now Bratz-looking horses?!?! (I can’t really speak to the boys’ side not having any myself.) Kids who watch tv, movies, commercials, etc. believe what they’re being shown is “normal”.

    I think the worst thing about it all is that parents don’t seem to be taking an interest in combatting this hypersexualization. Let’s allow our kids to stay young!

  2. Good point, Vicki. I was just thinking about that video by Britney Spears as well– we don’t want people to look at our daughters in that sexualized way, and yet, we promote it on TV. We want our children to stay young and yet “age-up” the toys and games they play as well as the clothes that they wear. Are we trying to keep up with our modernized children or are children becoming modernized by what they see and hear? Chicken and egg? Or is it obvious?

    Studies have shown that we’ve been dieting so much that dieting behavior has become “normal” and “not dieting” is “abnormal.” My concern is, just like you, the more we push the envelope, the more the initial shocks of Bratz, tiny belly shirts, and naughty school-girls in videos will seem mainstay.

    Dr. Robyn

  3. Agreed with you both about the hypersexualization of Bratz! That show is much to unreal and shows harmful idealization to the youth.
    However, the converse appears to be occuring with Strawberry Shortcake and correctly so to benefit today’s growing and influential youngset. (They will determine our mutual future much faster than we will ever anticipate… this invioably is the main Flow of Nature… what comes after surpasses what was before…)
    Eating healthier – fruit is always going to insure a healthy child while a pastry with so many wasteful layers of processed (read as ‘zombie’) foodstuff and processed dead sugars directly cause sooo many diseases and problems, looking more like a normal kid that age looks now tends to allow a more direct and identifiable connection to whatever lesson of life is being shared – Youth these days are immmerrrsed in exageration, amplification, and skewing of outer appearances in sooo many ways that they get jaded QUICKLY with something that is to outlandishly cartoony and Alien to what they will experience directly or via net and media. in the 80’s we were so sheltered by our parents and the reality around us… Americans had the Big Red scare and shackle pinned onto the lapels of the world by hard, cold scary men on every side of that overhanging story… We were given media to match our need to distract us form of soft and cuddly, round and fluffy, warm and fantastic – all anditodal antonyms to the world we felt locked into… Nowadays, my brother could be babysitting 5th and 6th graders that regularly webcast classes with cocreative 5th and 6th graders in Japan and India… They very easily learn more each day than the later generations will ever be able to. If we and the media can share relevant stories of how to better life in a frame that they can recognise and identify with as something they really experience, we can make our world a better place through guiding the young to improve themselves and each other rather than being desenstized ala blatant fantasy exageration aka Bratz or through harmful, empty and ignorant gluttony ala 80’s Strawbery Shortcake.
    Youth today want to some time to be real along with all the super-saturational distractions and increasingly cacophanous conditions that they’re much more aware of than is accptable to the current ‘status quo’… Cowardly lot most of them.

  4. Of Tots, Tweens, Tarts & Tummytucks « Choose MOGO, on June 13th, 2008 at 6:08 am Said

    […] Of Tots, Tweens, Tarts & Tummytucks Posted on June 12, 2008 by pdxmogo Ah, childhood. The fun, the games, the high heels, the weight control regimens, the thong underwear, the moms and tots classes for practicing come hither looks. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the products being marketed to our kids have gotten a major facelift (and lipo), and the ‘tudes they’re promoting have become more than a little sexualized. When I saw this article (free registration required) in the NY Times about “beloved” characters being “reimagined” for the 21st century, I was inspired to write about it, but then I saw that Dr. Robyn over at Kiss My Assets beat me to it and wrote a great post analyzing this new trend. […]

  5. Thank-you, Norn. I do like the fruit part much better than downing the pastries. Did you see the Today Show clip yesterday about obesity and children? One of the pieces of information they gave was that fruit is now the most popular snack– beating out cookies, the most popular snack of the past. But what got me so annoyed was that they were saying in the analysis of obesity in California, the richest county had an obesity rate of 10%, well below the average, while the poorest county had a rate of 32%. Now that’s saying something about the availability of fruit (and other quality, nutritious items) to people of all economic backgrounds.

    Anyway, I think you are correct in saying that our children today are moving at the speed of light– learning more than we ever could and in such unique ways. We do need to evolve and make sure pop culture evolves along with them.

    My concern is– what becomes too much? As Vicki was saying, when we continue to push the envelope, when will it go too far– or will it? As parents we will now tolerate so much more that our parents and their parents would have. If we could pop into the future, will Strawberry Shortcake wind up with a horse that looks like the Struts (w)horses? Hmmm.

    For now, there are some positive changes (i.e. fruit. no more yarn hair) but I wonder where it will all go. What’s with the “more muscles” in the TMNT? Necessary? Longer eyelashes and less belly fat in the care bears? I mean, they are just sweat little teddy bears– not work out bears. Who wants to give a squeeze to a hard, boney bear?

    There are positives and negatives to most of these advancements. We’ll just have to see where it goes in the future. Hopefully, the adults will keep their heads and childhood will still reflect some important concepts…innocence and fun.

    Dr. Robyn

  6. No doubt about it, cartoons are certainly being sexed-up, beefed-up and toned-up to
    fit in with popular culture’s ideal of beauty. I remember seeing this trend start
    with Disney’s Pocohantas, who was touted as being the most “beautiful and
    realistically proportined Disney heroine ever… ” (I actually remember that from
    their promotion of the movie!). Forget the fact that the real Pocahontas was a girl
    of 11 or 12, not a voluptuous glamazon in an off-the-shoulder mini-dress.

    Does it have an impact on our kids? BIG TIME. I just had a conversation with a
    co-worker whose perfectly fit and healthy 9-year-old daughter mentioned that she
    would be in the basement “working out her abs.”

    Should toy/cartoon developers move with the times to remain relevant? Certainly..but
    with everyone offering the same, limited ideals (youth, beauty, fame, wealth, and
    “hotness” as king) our kids are getting a raw deal.

  7. Yes, I can see what you’re getting at…Pocahontas definately doesn’t appear too young and innocent here.

    Dr. Robyn

  8. …The New York Times reports on the most recent toy makeovers, including Strawberry Shortcake (click for the must-see visual). As described at The F-Word:

    The new, “improved” Strawberry Shortcake’s adorable chubby cheeks have been noticeably thinned out, her pudgy nose realigned into a perky little point, her signature red kinky hair straightened into hot pink silky tresses, and her frilly bloomers replaced with, well, I don’t even want to speculate on what’s beneath that mid-thigh-high dress — even her cat is thinner.

    Good thing that cartoonish body images don’t affect little girls! Oh, wait. Never mind.

    Marketing to kids has become a competitive business. So here’s some great! ideas! on how to capture kids’ attention! But please, if I read one more article on marketing to children with the tagline it isn’t child’s play I’m going to throw up.

  9. #
    Shaping Youth, on June 17th, 2008 at 12:51 am Said:

    Actually, if you look at some of the TV archives, some of the retro cartoons are equally sexed up…Betty Boop and the teeny weeny waisted black and white ad icons of the 50s, and color iconic Jetsons and Wilmas and I Dream of Jeannies of the 60s, etc.—But the difference to me is this:

    Our current media POP CULTURE in general is so overtly hypersexualized that the CONTEXT shifts into toxic terrain…
    What might have once been ‘just a cartoon’ is now an aspirational model of expectation and normative cues with surround sound exposure of shoulds and coulds and ‘oughtas’ which we didn’t have blaring in Dolby back then.

    In fact, when the S.F. Chronicle ran this article re: overhauling the Nancy Drew icon and ’sexed her up’ to maker her relevant for ‘today,’ I wrote this letter to the editor:

    “Nancy Drew needs updated body image” Editor — Kudos to talented artist Sho Murase for the superhero update (”Now 75, sleuth Nancy Drew looks younger, hipper in graphic novels drawn by S.F. artist Sho Murase,” Sept. 2), but why not update body image messaging while we’re at it?

    It saddens me that the worldview for our daughters repeatedly gravitates to the doe-eyed, chest-thrusting, teeny-waisted teen as an “aspirational” illustrative icon.

    Granted, Sho’s new Nancy Drew is at least fully clothed (unlike the cleavage-baring, nearly naked “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider”), but the ample bosom drawn under her tight sweater-hugging style will feed an entirely new generation of angst-ridden girls wondering why they don’t look like that.

    Let’s show some responsibility in our media messaging. I’m not asking for “realism,” but if we’re going to overhaul outdated images and story lines, the least we could do is make the new characters more positive.”

    Oh, yeah, in case you want to see what Miss Nancy looks like in anime now, check her out here:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?f=/c/a/2005/09/02/DDGN5EF0BM79.DTL&o=2

    AMY JUSSEL, Founder, Exec. Director Shaping Youth.org

  10. […] Rule out comparisons with celebrities and models: What you and your family sees on TV or in the magazines is not the “real world” and often is simply…”not real.” To compare your body type and size with Paris Hilton is about as scientific as comparing it with Strawberry Shortcake. […]

  11. i love your movie so much and i cant wait for the 2 one to come out that one is going to be so good your biggest fan savannah p.s that yellow fish is such a scardy cat lol

  12. hi! im connie and im 15 so i have actually played with bratz for a few of my last doll playing years and i really loved them, they were cool! ALL the girls at school had bratz!i also used to love my barbies, and that mean i can see the real differances behind the two.

    no offence to you guys, but your kinda older and all talk about “back when you were little..” which is fine, and yeah you have kids who you can talk too aswell but still, ive been with both : )

    i remember having fairy princess barbie, in her long pink puffy dress, and vet barbie and inflatable blow up chair barbie (yah…it existed) plus there was the pink house and the beach jeep and the farm animal set to go with em all! with bratz i had rockstars, and couture pirates and surfer chiks. in my eyes, bratz were cooler.

    now that i look back on it they are kinda yucky lookin and the clothes are racy, but you dont notice that as a kid much. its just the clothes that are given with the cool new doll, are cool aswell. and i reckon if the makers of bratz marketed NEW clothes, less “racy” ones, girls will still like them. i mean people on tv and in the world wore racy clothing and acted “lewd” sometimes too when you were little right? its just that doll companies didnt have dolls dressed up as topless hippies or something like that.

    oh and id also like to say that strawberry shortcake looks adorable with her makover! so what if she doesant have a cat! is that gonna suddenly make her a bad influence to kids? and cellphones arent bad are they? i mean your duaghters have probs seen you use a mobile yourself tonnes of times. plus arent parants always goin on about their kids eating more fruit anyway!

  13. I know this topic is really old, but that isn’t what strawberry shortcake looks like. And so what if they are dressed like that you old ladies need to keep up with the times. The toy companies are not trying to get your baby girl pregnant at 15 with their scantily clad dolls they are just trying to make a profit. If they were to make a stay-at-home barbie who dresses down to her ankles you would be absolutely offended. There really is no winning with the uptight parents of the world.

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