The Evolution of Polly Pocket

This series is seriously wringing some serious handwringing out of me.

To be clear, not once have I created a post by first finding the evidence of evolution and then posting it.

It’s been more like this:

  • “gee, I remember Candy Land looking a lot different…let me get out my old board.”
  • “Oh, hey, Strawberry Shortcake, I love her! Is she still a thing?”
  • “Polly Pocket! Is she still around?”

Indeed, she is, but like the rest of the artifacts in this series (even the ponies, for cryin’ out loud) she has gotten taller, thinner, and sexier.

I had a 1989 Polly Pocket–Polly’s Townhome, I do believe–and I loved it. How fun to have a tiny dollhouse you could bring with you anywhere!

The original (circa 1989) Polly Pocket figures looked like this:

1989 Polly Pocket figures

Let’s just run through the years quickly, shall we?

1990 figures

Note 2 things about these early figures:

1. essentially childlike

2. not sexy

1990 figures with “pocket”

1994; a wee bit taller, maybe?

1995; wee bit sexier.

1998, the pivotal year, methinks

1998, sexier, less childlike–but still not grownup or super-skinny

2001, and it becomes about dressing her up instead of playing dollhouse…

2002, ditto, but sexier

2003, Polly goes on a crash diet.

2004. At least they’re portraying some eating.

2006; Polly and her anorexic friends aboard a floating paradise-of-consumption.

2007. Bare bottomed anorexic Polly!

And the contemporary Pollys:

Cute matching wellie/umbrella dollies

skinny bathing beauty Polly. Note the huge eyes!

Just to compare, these are the figures I played with (around 1989-90)

I’m finding this trend disturbing, to say the least.

How could playing with increasingly Barbiefied dolls NOT exacerbate young girls’ body dissatisfaction? How could the movement of toys toward ever sexier versions of themselves NOT contribute to the premature sexualization of young girls?

Maybe not for every child that plays with them, but certainly for some.

Further, what does it mean that toys (esp. toys that attempt to represent some kind of human figure) are trending toward consumptive activities in the way they’re packaged and presented? In other words, my Polly Pocket lived in a little apartment. She could have friends over and play house, go to work, hang out with her cat. Today’s Polly Pocket can change her clothes, ride on her luxury jet and go on a cruise. There’s something about her (not just her, but many toys) that celebrates consumption in a way that I’m not sure is pretty sure isn’t healthy.

What do you think? Do you find this trend disturbing? Am I being quixotic?

{You may enjoy the other posts in this series: The Evolution of Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Candy Land, Morton Salt & Coca-Cola, and G.I. Joe}

12 thoughts on “The Evolution of Polly Pocket

  1. I had no idea Pollies used to be so childlike! In my kids’ era (oldest is 12), we’ve always had the grown-up looking Pollies focused on clothes and the luxe life. These are another favorite toy in our house. Perhaps I get a little reassurance because my 6-year-old son loves them as much as my 8-year-old daughter, and they also get extremely imaginative in Polly world. But I’m floored at how different the old Pollies were!

    On a related note, had a long talk in the car (they say the car is a great place for good talks, because without eye contact, kids will open up, and it’s true!) about eating disorders with my kids–what they are, how the pressure to be skinny underlies a lot of them, etc. My kids were all disturbed (and grossed out) at my depictions of both anorexia and bulimia. I told my 12-year-old and her friend about our acquaintance their age who is currently hospitalized for anorexia, and they were soberly disturbed by that. It was one of those moments when I wasn’t sure if I was laying it on too thick–Was this information too disturbing, particularly for my younger two? But on the other hand, I want them to understand that starving yourself is a health crisis, not a beauty regimen. For now, they seem to get it. Hope it lasts.

  2. These journeys through pop culture archaeology have been amazing and so revelatory. These toys tell our kids and grandkids the story of who they are supposed to become. Thanks for doing this series, Rachel.

  3. Wow! I had the Polly Pocket in the second picture – the pink flower one. How fascinating that the models have changed so drastically over the years! From the pictures that show the packaging, the recommended age of use is also getting younger even as Polly gets older-looking (4+ in ’95, 3+ in ’04). I wonder if the relative size of Polly’s houses aren’t also telling of some cultural values; like, skinny, doe-eyed young women belong in fabulous (and humongous) jets, boats, dream houses. It’s so funny that the manufacturer got away from the whole “pocket-size” model so fast!

  4. This series is great, Rachel. If you’re tilting at windmills, then hand me a spare lance and I’ll joust at some myself..

    For Polly Pocket, it’s the same toy in name only. Sad, sad.


  5. It proves to me what I have been concerned with in the last few years and thats how little children are not allowed to be little children any more. They start making them into grown ups at a very early age and this new Polly Pocket proves my point. Yes its sad.

  6. Pingback: Why It Matters Whether a Toy is Thin and Sexy (Or Not) « Rachel Marie Stone

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  9. Hi Rachel – I’m just joining this series, having been led to it by an article from, erm, somewhere, and I just can’t get over it. I don’t have kids myself and I don’t actually know any kids at the moment, so I had *no* idea this was happening. I just don’t have any reason to go into toy stores and observe it. Funnily enough, I had seen the new My Little Ponies around, but I just assumed they were some new rip-off, Bratz-esque tarty ponies, not the *real* MLPs. Sigh.

    I never played with Polly Pocket that I can remember, though I do recognize the look of the earliest little houses shown in your post. I’m really, seriously, deeply disturbed by how even tiny Polly has been thin-ified and sexy-ified over the years – this trend in culture is been something that has been bothering me for a while now, though I didn’t know it extended to toys. Mostly I see it in tv and movies (the most massively consumed culture, I suppose) and usually sum up by complaining that everything is so ‘shiny’ right now. The actresses with their perfectly shiny (and absolutely identical) hair, their shiny-shiny skin, the perfectly shiny locations with everything glitzing in the perfect-perfect sunshine. Nothing is remotely real anymore – the way people are portrayed phyiscally, the way they live, the things they are able to have and consume.

    And now even Polly Pocket is too shiny. As you said above, she doesn’t have a sweet, semi-realistic, homey house anymore, she has a shiny, glitzy cruise ship?! When did this happen, that children are taught to want to be perfect, blond, unnaturally skinny, and to have mountains of meaningless, commercial junk? And why aren’t people more angry about it?

    Thank you for this series – bumping into things like this makes me just a tiny bit less crazy for feeling this way.

  10. I really loved playing with the old school Polly Pockets in the early ’90s. What the heck is even going on nowadays? It was bad enough they made her blonde (Polly is a redhead! Come on!), but then they took the whole “pocket” concept out of it. If you want to play dress up, you get a barbie doll. If you want to play with awesome miniature dollhouses you can carry around in your POCKET… well, I guess you go back to the ’90s.

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