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Modern Dolls

There’s been a significant shift in our culture since I was a child.  I’m not talking about pushing kids too hard (true), over-scheduling (true), or focusing so heavily on the future that we sometimes side step the present (true).  I’m not talking about any of those things.  Today, I’m only talking about toys.

Did you have a favorite toy growing up?  I did.

My best friend and I collected Strawberry Shortcake dolls.  Between us, we had them all.  We had the strawberry carrying cases for storing and transporting, we had the berry café, and we even had some of the hard to find dolls (she had Angel Food Cake, I had Sour Grapes).  We dragged those dolls back and forth between our houses (we lived on the same street) multiple times a week.  It was our activity of choice.

My daughter recently asked about my favorite toys at her age (she’s on a quest to know the real me at every age, it seems).  I told her all about the wonder of Strawberry Shortcake:  The delicious smelling hair, the tiny pies to make at the Berry Café, and the hours of fun spent creating stories and trading dolls back and forth.  She was mesmerized.  “Do you still have them, Mommy?” she asked, with hope in her eyes.  “I’m not sure, sweetheart, we’ll have to ask Mimi.  But we can always get new ones for you.”

Or not.

Have you seen Strawberry Shortcake recently?

Imagine my shock when I found that my favorite childhood doll (my only childhood doll, really, I was a bit of a tomboy) got a “makeover” and now looks more like a pop star than a Strawberry loving friend from Berryland.

The Strawberry Shortcake of my youth was of average build with wavy red (and fragrant) hair, adorable freckles on her cheeks, and wore a dress that spoke to her undying love of the strawberry.  Was she a bit frumpy?  Perhaps, but she was, after all, a doll.

This “modern” adaptation of Strawberry Shortcake (and a few select friends from Berryland) is very thin with long straight (Angelina Jolieish) hair, super long legs, and a dress that barely covers her rear.  Did I mention that super hip (a couple of seasons ago, anyway) hat?  This Strawberry Shortcake has stars in her eyes.  This Strawberry Shortcake doesn’t want to go blueberry picking with Blueberry Pie.  No…this Strawberry Shortcake wants to audition for American Idol or join the pageant circuit.  She even has a poppy new theme song and a sparkly Strawberry guitar.

This Strawberry Shortcake has a different message to send.

This Strawberry Shortcake appears to say that skinny is better, smoothies are healthier, and skimpy dresses are always appropriate.

I don’t like her one bit.

But my daughter does.

My daughter can’t wait to collect all of the available dolls.  She creates camping adventures, makes berry smoothies (evidently the new Berry Café has healthier options than just pies and shortcakes…are we still playing?), has them swim at the beach, and even practices back to school themes with them.

She enjoys the lovely scented hair, which I am happy to report remains unchanged.

What she really loves, it seems, is playing with something that she knows I played with as a kid.

The Women’s Studies graduate in me wants to throw these Strawberry Shortcake dolls overboard.  But the Play Therapist in me is willing to take the good with the bad.  Because play, no matter the props, is good for kids.  It helps them learn, it helps them grow, it helps them work through their fears, and it helps them enjoy each day.

As we played with her dolls a few days ago, our conversation went something like this:

“Mommy, did you make lots of smoothies at the Berry Café when you and Sarah played these dolls?”

“Well, smoothies weren’t really something people made when I was 4, so we made more pies and cakes in the Berry Café.”

“Do you like smoothies better now?”

“Sometimes I like smoothies, but I really do enjoy pies and cakes for special occasions.”

“I think I will rather sell some pies and cakes too.”

She’s trying, through her play, to understand where I came from and how it’s similar to and different from her own little world.  She knows that I grew up far away from Los Angeles, and she wants to bridge our worlds.  Play is helping her make those connections.

As for the new look of my old favorite dolls?  It’s still a little disappointing.

I’ve noticed a big shift in the way toys are made these days.  With the rise of the Disney pop star, all kinds of dolls are being made to look the part.  They wear shorter dresses, pile on the make-up, and look much older than the very kids who fall prey to the marketing of these dolls.  Even the new, older version of Dora appears more teen than tween.  Let’s face it; teens are not buying Dora dolls.

I do worry about the message it sends.  We are a culture focused on outside appearance and future stardom.  Around the world, parents are trying to mold their children into singers, actors, and dancers when they see just a hint of interest and/or talent.  They have their reasons, and I’m not in a position to judge those.

But I do know that I want my daughter to be happy, healthy, and well adjusted.  I want her to laugh when she’s happy and come to me when she’s sad.  I want her to love herself for who she is and feel confident in her choices.  Most of all, I just want her to feel loved.

And if this new skinny, pop starish Strawberry Shortcake is the toy that makes her happy right now?  We can work with that.

It’s my job to teach her about healthy eating and healthy body image.  It’s my job to help build her self-esteem.  It’s my job to help her live within reality.

And there isn’t a doll out there that can take me on.  Bring it, Strawberry Shortcake, I’m ready.

What do you think about the potential messages hidden in these new modern dolls?

Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Consultant in Los Angeles, CA.  She has a four year old daughter, two year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog at can also be found on Twitter.



Saturday 3rd of September 2011

Love this Katie. Unfortunately there is not much we can do about the messages that society keeps cranking out so our only option is to protect our kids and make sure that they are taking away the right message out of it all. Even Dora got a teenage makeover. Ugh.

Deanna T.

Friday 2nd of September 2011

Oh, I know. I was super excited when they re-released Strawberry Shortcake but then I got a good look at her. I too am not super happy with the message these toys appear to be sending. Also, when I was a kid I played with Strawberry Shortcake when I was like 7 an d8 years old. Now it is marketed to 4 year olds. If they are supposed to be playing with Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony when they are 4, then what the heck are they supposed to be doing when they are 8? I wanted to put off introducing toys like these until my daughter asked for them. I figure eventually she is going to visit some other kid, see them and want them. But then one well meaning Aunt and Grandmother decided that her 4th birthday was the right time to introduce My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake. I was frustrated, but couldn't exactly take them back. the genie is out of the bottle. Now having them in my house I have to say, the play value on these toys compared to their original counterparts seems lower to me as well. We have two dolls, Strawberry SC herself and Lemon Meringue. They come with purses and tiny plastic PVC hair barrettes shaped like bugs and butterflies. What the heck happened to the cute little scented animal companions? Now you can play with them by changing what co-coordinating colour of butterfly they have velcroed to their hairband? I don't want to teach my 4 year old the importance of matching purses and shoes. Seriously makes me sad. There are so many better toys out there now, mainly available through non-mainstream channels.

Practical Parenting

Friday 2nd of September 2011

Yes, there are some great toys out there. Unfortunately they see the more mainstream toys around, so it's hard to completely ignore. I think we already lost the purses, so no matching! But I agree, so many negative messages and marketed for a much younger group than before.


Thursday 1st of September 2011

I do have my old Strawberry Shortcake dolls that my kids play with. I also bought a new Ginger Snap and a new Strawberry Shortcake and Apple Dumplin' set 10 years ago or so when they came out with a similar version of dolls (but with really skinny arms for some reason).

Check out e-bay or craigslist and see if you can get some of the classics (or the skinny armed ones from 10 years ago or so which are also cute). Last year they came out with a set of three dolls that were "classic" in honour of Strawberry Shortcake's 30th anniversary.

One thing I noticed about the new dolls is that Orange Blossom's hair is now straight.

Practical Parenting

Thursday 1st of September 2011

I know! They all have straight hair now! Strange. I will look into getting some of the older ones, just to see what she thinks and give her the option. Thanks for your comment.


Thursday 1st of September 2011

Yes, I remember the original Strawberry's stringy hair and plain appearance and she has been glammed up a bit. I wrote on this topic re: Barbies a few months ago, and I do agree that many of the marketing schemes directed towards children, girls in particular, don't allow little girls to just be little girls anymore. Instead, they are supposed to be "sexy" at the age of 8 with a new line of Walmart brand makeup, kiddy thongs, and words splattered across their sweatpant bottoms. It is really sickening. I think on the whole though, Strawberry remains comparatively innocent.

Practical Parenting

Thursday 1st of September 2011

You are right, there are some scary items out there. Not a fan. And Strawberry is innocent when compared to just bothers me that they are really starting to market these dolls to preschoolers now...they just keep going younger and younger with no regard for the messages being sent. Ugh!

Galit Breen

Thursday 1st of September 2011

Really interesting post! Such good points- it would be really interesting to put the dolls that we played with side by side to today's dolls and see what our kids think and choose.

Practical Parenting

Thursday 1st of September 2011

Thanks, Galit :) I'm pretty sure Riley would want to keep them all (more is better when you're 4, right?!!) That would be interesting though...just to see what differences they identify.