I am an eighties child, so my reaction when the box filled with promotional materials for the new Strawberry Shortcake Doll came to the DOLLS magazine office went something like this:”Oh my gosh is that a new Strawberry Shortcake?!” (picture a hyperactive 5-year-old on Christmas morning) “Really? There’s a new Strawberry Shortcake! Oh my gosh! There’s a new Strawberry Shortcake! Can I take her out of the box?”
Carie, the editor of DOLLS and mother of a toddler, replied in a motherly, patient tone, “No those are for giveaways.” I smelled the box. “Oh my gosh Carie! She still smells like strawberries just like the when we were little!” I flash back to my special bottle of Strawberry Shortcake shampoo that I loved because it made me smell like Strawberry Shortcake. “Are you sure I can’t take her out of the box?”
“No, Heidi, you can’t take her out of the box.” “What if I’m really really careful with her?” “No, we’re giving those away for a promotion!” “Well, we have two, why don’t we just give one away.” “Heidi, I don’t think Hasbro would like that very much.” “I mean, we could act like one got lost in the mail…” Carie gives me the exasperated-mom look, “NO!” “Are you sure I can’t take it out of the box? What if I just opened box?” Carie replied in the if-you-keep-pushing-this-I’ll-find-a reason-to-give-you-a-time-out mom tone, “Heidi, I think it’s time to put Strawberry Shortcake away now.” And I went back to my office and re-entered adulthood.
Naturally, I decided that the new Strawberry Shortcake had to be the topic for my next blog. I started googling about the new Strawberry Shortcake, and I was surprised to find out that there are quite a few people out there that are not as thrilled as I am about the updated Strawberry Shortcake. In fact, a lot of people are upset about the redesign, and they are also upset with the redesign of Holly Hobbie in 2006, and the more recent redesign Dora the Explorer. They criticize Strawberry Shortcake’s new cell phone and that the new line is downplaying some of the characters that were not named for fruit-based desserts. And yes, there is some debate over whether Strawberry Shortcake has gotten too slender.
However, when I look at the doll and at its corresponding cartoon character, I don’t agree. Let’s keep in mind that the original Strawberry Shortcake debuted almost 30 years ago, and a lot has changed since then If the original Strawberry Shortcake we remember so fondly from our childhoods would debut today as the same character that debuted 30 years ago, I think that she would meet just as much, and maybe more flack. So what kind of message does the slender, cell-phone-weilding Strawberry sending to the girls of this new generation? Is she still as wholesome as the original? Is she sending the same positive messages to girls?
I remember avidily watching Strawberry Shortcake as a preschooler, but honestly, I don’t remember specific episodes of the cartoon. So, I went on YouTube and watched a quick two-minute clip of a Strawberry Shortcake cartoon. My jaw dropped to the floor! In the opening credits there’s a line that actually says, “She sweeps her floor in a cake made of starwberries.” The opening montage is all about Strawberry Shortcake blissfully going about various domestic duties like baking cakes, tidying up the house, and watering her garden. Remember, an apron was part of her outfit–and she never took it off. As for the shoes, she sported ugly lace-up oxfords that were perfect footwear for her delightfully domestic day. Personally, I like the new hot pink mary janes so much more. The outfit is now sans apron, but, Strawberry Shortcake still likes to bake! However, now instead of only baking for her friends, she’s become an entrepreneur operating Strawberry Shortcake’s Berry Cafe, which serves dessert made with fruit. The playset even includes a tiny smoothie maker!
Has she gotten too slender? I don’t think so. After seeing the doll, I think it represents a healthy figure. If anything, I think the doll promotes a healthy lifesyle. She isn’t sending a message to girls that they are not allowed to have dessert–remember, she’s named after a dessert! But she is, in a way, reminding girls to make good food choices. I think it’s great that kids are getting the message to choose sweets infused with fruit, which are often a healthier option. Thirty years ago, childhood obesity was not the epidemic problem it is today, which is why I think it’s great that those behind the redesign have chosen to downplay the cake and up-play the strawberry in Strawberry Shortcake.
Yes, her outfit is a little more stylish than it used to be, but what’s wrong with that? Why can’t children have a–for lack of a better term–role model who is both domestic (remember, she still likes to bake) and stylish? The more I think about it, the more I realize that a lot of examples we give children either tend to portray women as stylish with no substance or domestic and frumpy. Why can’t we give an example to girls of someone who is both stylish and domestic? And how do we know that Strawberry Shortcake didn’t get her MBA before opening her berry cafe? Or maybe it’s a bohemian-beatnik berry cafe with poetry slams and open mic nights.
As for the cell phone thing–it’s not like Strawberry Shortcake is texting while driving! She has a cell phone, just like all the mommies, daddies, older sibling and babysitters of the preschoolers playing with Strawberry Shortcake. For the children playing with the doll it’s another part of pretending they are grown-up and emulating the adults they see around them. If cell phones would have been around almost 30 years ago, I’m sure the original Strawberry Shortcake would have had one and used it to comment on Rainbow Brite’s most recent Facebook status, text message Holly Hobbie, check what the Carebears were twittering about, and maybe just call up the My Little Ponies, who of course would have had blutooth.