My Little Pony, Skinny and Bony

Little Miss has just turned four, and a couple of days before her birthday, she cupped my face in her hands and said ever-so-sweetly, “Are you going to bake me a beautiful cake for my birthday?”

Now, I often buy birthday cakes, but earlier this year I made a proper homemade effort with Miss Chu’s cake which was much admired by the girls, and possibly got their hopes up about what else I could achieve. But – fast forward ten months and well, the circumstances are somewhat different. New home, new kitchen, hot, humid weather, unfamiliar shops (where is Lakeland?!) dairy-free second child… and so, my heart sank a little. “Uh…what would you like sweetheart?” – she blinked adorably – “a My Little Pony cake.”

Hmmm…

Maybe you could make a cake shaped like a My Little Pony!” Miss Chu exclaimed helpfully. I pondered this as I struggled to recall which cardboard box my hand-mixer might be lurking in, and finally decided it was too big an ask for our first week in a new home. “Let’s make a cake together with LOADS of sprinkles!” I suggested brightly, an idea which thankfully went down well. Three year olds are still easily diverted. And my secret plan was to find a couple of My Little Pony figurines to pop on top.

So one evening I nipped out to Hamley’s (yes – we now live near a Hamley’s!) to find the necessary pony. And for the first time, I took a proper look at the latest range of My Little Pony toys on the shelves. I’ll admit – I was kind of surprised. “Is this the normal My Little Pony?” I thought, puzzled. Now, I had a reasonably large collection of these as a child, and remember them fondly. They looked like this:

oldstylemylittlepony

Cotton Candy – one of my favourites! I used to trim the fringes off as they annoyed me.

The newer ponies, I have recently discovered, look like this:

newmylittleponies

My, these are different! They certainly look less gentle and innocent.

These ponies have clearly been dieting since the 80’s. The bodies are much skinnier. Their legs are longer (and rather seductively posed). The ears are pointier and perkier. Their eyes are freakishly large and extra lashes have been added. The muzzle has been transformed into something resembling a dainty duck’s beak and the nostrils have all but disappeared. Their hair is much longer, and has been jazzed up with curls and multicoloured streaks. They have accessories. All of the ponies are now winged and horned and none of them look remotely like horses.

The Barbiefication of My Little Pony pretty much sums up our current cultural ideal of female beauty and it is worrying that even the designers of toy horses are pressured to conform. Even more bizarrely, they have apparently also morphed My Little Ponies into a weird girl-pony hybrid called Equestria Girls – which drew quite a bit of flak.

And little girls can unwittingly absorb the subtleties.

Little Miss already has a strong preference for long hair and swirly skirts. One day she was watching this cute video of a 5-year-old explaining how to draw a person (boy). But she was confused about the eyelashes. “Why did he draw eyelashes on the boy?” wondered Little Miss. At first I didn’t know what she meant, and then I realised that all the animated feminine representations she usually sees have huge lashes – and she must have decided that girls have eyelashes, and boys don’t. I was amused, but also became more attuned to the impact of visual media on my daughters’ perception of cultural standards.

Miss Chu loves drawing, and like many little girls, loves to draw princesses. I noticed from her numerous sketches  that she’s already sussed out how to conform to current standards of cartoon beauty. Her princesses require an oversized head with voluminous, long hair and large, wide-set eyes. The mouth and nose are small (and the nose can be practically omitted, if desired). The body is disproportionately petite with slender limbs.

sofia_the_first

Sofia the First – very popular in our household.

I guess she learnt this from Disney. Amusingly, some people have gone as far as to re-imagine what Disney princesses would look like with more realistic faces and waistlines.

I naively thought that these sort of body image issues were something to be tackled later on, when teenage girls start flicking through those glossies with the super-thin models. I didn’t expect to have to contend with super-thin ponies. And a few minutes of googling brought up a few more of my favourite toys which have been similarly transformed over the years:

rainbowbrite_transformed

I loved my Rainbow Brite! The new version looks a lot less cuddly.

 

hollyhobby_transformed

Had one of these Holly Hobbys too. Would never have recognised that this new jazzed up version was even related.

trolls_transformed

And what have they done to the trolls?!! I have no words for this.

strawberryshortcake_transformed

Even Strawberry Shortcake has not escaped an airbrushed update. Miss Chu said the old version looked too chubby. Yikes.

The girls enjoyed comparing the before and after models and doing a spot the difference! I think Miss Chu noticed the same themes running throughout – the new models are all skinnier, with bigger eyes, redder lips, longer sleeker hair, and a daintier pose.

In a way, it’s good to start a conversation about these things when the kids are really young. As we draw princesses together, I can chat to Miss Chu about the body proportions and what elements might makes a picture seem “cute” or “pretty” –  but then have a laugh about how ridiculous these proportions are compared to real people. If she is fretting about her hair or her clothes, I remind her that “people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7) and she knows she should try and refocus her attention on character. I’m not a feminist, but we don’t have any Barbies and I mostly try to buy toys that encourage creativity and making. (Although we do have a few too many princess dressing-up outfits.) I don’t want to overreact, but I have no doubt that the influence of media will be relentless and powerful, and as a mum of two daughters, I plan to be on guard and on hand to discuss the underlying messages and manipulation.

Oh – and here’s the cake. The girls helped make and decorate it! Not aesthetically perfect, but very yummy and enjoyed down to the last sprinkle. Perhaps we got our priorities right with this one.

ponycake

6 Comments

  1. As always a great read. I absolutely know what you mean about how toys have changed, shopping for my niece has become quite surprising with what has become acceptable for a wee girls body image. Please give Naomi and Natalie big hugs from us 🙂

  2. Brilliant to see Holly hobby and strawberry shortcake again! It all came flooding back ?. Happy birthday to Naomi! X

  3. Great article! I laughed at the trolls!! We used to play with them a lot. Didn’t care at the time about whether they were boys/girls! Have the girls seen Brave? Quite different from the “princess” movies.
    Good effort on the cake 🙂 looks delicious! Missing you lots xx

    • Ooops just found your comment in my spam box. I still can’t quite figure out why some of them end up in there! Girls haven’t actually seen Brave – despite it having a Scottish heroine! I’m sure we’ll get round to that one.

  4. Great cake – a lot of really good points about how incidious the creeping sexualisation of soceity is. I hadn’t realised quite how bad some of the “updates” to old toys were. It’s worrying for everyone but especially when you have young daughters! Loved the articles on the Disney princesses waistlines and faces

    • Thanks! When Little Miss made the cake request I actually recalled your amazing Death Star cake, and thought that you would probably have been able to pull it off a very respectable My Little Pony. But alas, I haven’t yet achieved your levels of baking greatness!

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