It’s the holidays season and I am feeling sentimental. I’ve been seeing all the store windows filled with toys and it’s making me think of my childhood. Let’s have some fun and travel back to the Christmas of 1991.
I am four years old. My grandfather is dressed up as Santa Claus and is giving out presents to our entire family, which means more cousins than I can count with both hands. I go up to Santa. I am terrified by this weird man dressed in red. I am afraid of all fake Santas. There’s a rumour going around the room this Santa is Grandpa, but I don’t know. He doesn’t look like Grandpa. I already refused to sit on the lap of that mall Santa. I cried and Mom had to sit on him and hold me on her lap to get the photo. Sorry, Mom.
“Grandpa” gives me my present. It’s a ski shop/resort for Barbie, complete with skis, sticks, boots, and matching snow outfits; one for Ken and one for Barbie. The snowsuits are coloured a green purple, and yellow for Ken and mainly pink for Barbie. It’s a cool gift. It came in a big box and that’s what matters when you’re four.
Looking back, I wish I had received something more gender neutral and educational. I also doubt that dressing my skinny disproportionate doll with deformed feet helped with my body image. I only played with that ski set a few times. I much preferred spending my playtime in my own imaginary water worlds, like Ariel island (my stomach) in the bathtub. I also had a kid-sized McDonald’s play restaurant, where I could sizzle burgers and serve people in my mini drive-thru (well played McDonald’s). I also hosted my own radio show with my pink and purple recorder.
This memory got me thinking. What did I love as a kid? So I made a list to share with you. Here were some of my ultimate favourite things to do as a kid.
Play with my brother’s Nintendo Entertainment System - I just loved it when Mario wore a frog or bear suit. At first, I was too young to be good at video games. I didn’t have the coordination or the reaction time needed to avoid fireballs and jump over holes. My turn would last about ten seconds before the classic Mario death sound bite was heard in our living room. There was no save button, so if you wanted to beat Bowser, you had to play all the way to the end in one sitting. I supposed that’s why there was a magic flute to skip some of the worlds.
I would wait patiently until my brother was on World 8 to ask to play. My dad would tell him to let me play or he would shut off the Nintendo. My brother would grump while handing me the remote and I would waste a precious life. I like to think I was making the game that much more fun, in an interesting but frustrating way. That’s when my brother decided we needed a Game Genie extension so that we’d have unlimited lives. It wasn’t as fun after that.
My love for video games persisted throughout my life. One Christmas, I got a Nintendo 64 and I was stoked! Banjo Kazooie became my favourite game of all time. Sadly, the objective of the game is to fight a witch who stole Banjo’s sister to suck her youth to become young and beautiful again.
Play with my brother’s race tracks - I would set it up and race my father or make the cars jump across tracks. I always wanted a new race track of my own, but I was told they were for boys. No racetrack appeared under our Christmas Tree. My only deduction: Santa is sexist.
Play with my brother’s marbles - I liked to pretend the marbles were planets because they were painted with speckles in various astral colours. My parents bought me this awesome marble maze. Hours of fun were spent with that colourful maze, and it wasn’t pink!
Play with my brother’s LEGO - I would create the highest tower possible with the number of LEGO at hand. I would then throw our LEGO spacemen inside it. There was always a door at the bottom so I could fetch the spacemen with my tiny fingers and make them fall down the building over and over again. Was this an anger management mechanism? I did later receive a LEGO present of my own. It was a girl with a horse, a stable and a car. It was, of course, pink, but I loved having a girl LEGO. She looked like me.
We do see a trend here, don’t we? I loved toys that were marketed towards boys. I am so happy I had a brother so I could inherit all of his awesome toys. I wouldn’t have had so many of them without him.
I looked up to my elder brother of nine years. He and I would always watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles together. I was in love. Once we were at the store and my aunt told me she would buy me any VHS tape I wanted. I picked a TMNT cassette called The Shredder is Splintered, which I just realized is an amazing pun. My mother asked: “Are you sure you don’t want The Little Mermaid”? I did like Ariel but loved TMNT more. I stuck with my choice and watched it so many times I knew it by heart. In our toy repertoire, we also had a TMNT Pizza Thrower Truck—always great fun, except when someone gets a pizza in the eye.
Source: Crooked Ninja
One year, I received a TMNT tent. I went crazy! I had to sleep in it in the living room that night.
At age three, I met a lifesize Leonardo and had my picture taken with him. Santa is scary as fuck, but a large mutant turtle? Count me in! I was so happy. My brother loved Michelangelo, but my favourite was Donatello. When I was four or five, my mother bought me a Donatello costume for Halloween. I had a shell and everything. It’s still in my list of favourite costumes today.
I also happened to like things that didn’t have much to do with my brother. I loved reading, drawing, arts and crafts (paper-maché everything!), pretending I was a witch (thanks to Hocus Pocus), replicating Bill Nye the Science Guy’s experiments, and playing sports.
As I got older, the gifts I received from family members and friends changed. I started receiving makeup, creams and handbags. It would have been great to get books or science kits. You would think things are changing and that toys are not so gendered twenty-five years later, but you would be wrong.
In 2015, my coworker and I raised money by hosting a Chili Cook-off at work. We fed the others in exchange for donations. We used the money to buy Christmas presents for underprivileged kids. We wanted to pick six different gifts that would suit various ages and interests. At the toy store, the layout and categorizations were striking. I couldn’t believe Nerf Guns were coloured according to gender. You’re a girl and you want a bow and arrow? Sure! Here’s a light purple and pink one for you.
This is the toy we saw. Apparently, this bow and arrow was part of the Nerf Rebelle line and it was meant to reflect how girls are today: “active, competitive, fashion conscious and above all socially connected.” View more of the Nerf Guns and sad explanation for colour choices in this ABC News Article: Girls vs. Boys: How Hasbro’s New Nerf Toys Compare.
Back at the store, we picked as many gender-neutral games and toys as we could and got out of there. My favourite was a cuddly rainbow coloured zebra.
At the time of writing, my friend tweeted a picture of a toy called “Boy’s Box”. According to the description, it’s 100% for boys. What does it contain you might ask? With this incredible box, boys can: decode secret codes like a spy, discover the origins of the boomerang, learn to orient yourself thanks to a compass and build galactic paper planes. All those activities are certainly things a girl should not be learning about. What use do women have with directions? They can’t drive properly anyway! Am I right?
To be fair, things seem to be slowly changing. Let’s use Mattel, the company that makes Barbie and Hot Wheels, as an example. They have definitely utilised diversity to sell more toys. Are they trying to change their ways or just following the latest trend?
Earlier this year, Mattel released a Frida Kahlo doll as part of an Inspiring Women Series, along with seventeen others dolls representing women like Amelia Earhart and Katherine Johnson. Unfortunately, Mattel failed to ask for the rights to create a Frida doll (read article) and even made the decision to remove her iconic unibrow. The message sent by removing Frida’s unibrow: it’s not normal, not pretty and doesn’t conform to the beauty norms of our dolls. Who would buy a doll with a unibrow? Gross.
In 2016, Mattel announced the release of Diversity Barbie. They come in various shape, sizes, race, etc. It’s great that Mattel is now trying to represent different women and inspire girls to follow their dreams. I was just on their website and it was indeed more diverse, even featuring Barbie doctors, football players, yogis, engineers, journalists, pilot and astronauts. Most of them aren’t even wearing heels! They aren’t perfect—they are still Barbie—but it certainly is a step forward and we need more of that. I believe companies to should be more forward thinking and start producing toys representing the elderly, disabled and LGBTQAI+ humans out there.
The message we send to our kids when they are young is especially important. We don’t know the extent to which this early segregation is affecting us. So many people, young and old, struggle with finding who they are and where they fit in. It’s not easy to find our place in this world. If we don’t feel like the norm, we make ourselves small or try to change who we are. Not being comfortable in your own skin leads to self-hatred and can cause serious problems. As a child, I don’t remember feeling ashamed of who I was, but when I hit puberty I started making myself small. I started struggling with my appearance at age twelve and am still fighting some of these echoes today. I wonder how much Barbie contributed to that self-disdain for not being thin and pretty enough.
It’s sad that children need to see this segregation from the womb to the toy store, to school activities and onwards. If you’re a parent, explain to your child how media tries to trick us on many levels. Let’s all try to counter this discourse by choosing toys and media that reinforce equality and self-acceptance. Vote with your money.
What were your favourite toys as a kid? I am so curious to read your responses! Tell me and include pictures #Evulving on social media #Evulving and follow @Evulving on Instagram.