New examples of the sexualization of girlhood crop up all the time. Of course there are the dolls that look like Sesame Streetwalkers—Monster High, Winx Club, Bratz; the makeup lines for third-graders; the padded bikini tops for seven-year-olds. But a Facebook reader recently pointed out evidence of this phenomenon in the last place I'd expect: Candy Land.
Here is the original Candy Land, circa 1949:
Yum. Here is the game in 1978:
I dreamed of those ice cream floats...
Things begin to change more significantly in the 1980s. That's when Candy Land ditched the Dick-and-Jane outfits for generic his-and-hers overalls:
They also added some friendly candy characters: Plumpy with his plum tree, Mr. Candy Cane, Gramma Nutt, Princess Lolly, Queen Frostine. More on some of them in a moment.
Then we hit 2010. On the upside, Milton Bradley finally recognized, at least in some versions, that there are children who are not white and blonde (nothing against blonde white kids—I was one myself—I'm just saying):
Beyond that, though...Yikes! Check out today's board!
In case you can't see it: here's the new Princess Lolly:
And Queen Frostine turned into a Bratz doll:
Candy Land isn't the only classic that has, without our notice, gotten a hot makeover. (And I'm not the only one who finds this evolution alarming.) The Disney Princesses have grown gradually more skinny and coy over time. And, check out Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, Trolls (now called "Trollz"). Even Care Bears and My Little Pony have been put on a diet.
When our kids play with toys that we played with, we assume that they are the same as they were when we were younger. But they aren't. Not at all. Our girls (and our boys) are now bombarded from the get-go with images of women whose bodies range from unattainable to implausible (Disney Princesses, anyone?).
Toymakers say they are reflecting the changing taste of their demographic. Maybe, but then it's the change that's so disturbing. Consider a recent study on body image among elementary school-aged girls. Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 60 girls ages six to nine recruited largely from public schools. The girls were shown two dolls: One was dressed in tight, revealing "sexy" clothes and the other in a trendy but covered-up loose outfit. Both dolls, as you can see, were skinny and would be considered "pretty" by little girls.
Using a different set of dolls for each question, the researchers then asked each girl to choose the doll that: looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, was the girl she wanted to play with. In every category, the girls most often chose the "sexy" doll.
In another 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."
There's ample evidence that the ever-narrowing standard of beauty creates vulnerability in our girls to low self-esteem, negative body image, eating disorders, poor sexual choices. Not to mention the negative impact fat-shaming has on overweight kids. I think a lot about something that Gary Cross, a historian of childhood, once told me: that toys traditionally have communicated to children our expectations of their adult roles. What are we telling girls we expect of them with this?
This post is adapted from a piece that was originally published on the author's personal website.