It's no secret that Mickey Mouse has evolved in response to consumer pressures. Once a violent river-rat, he became the boy scout of rodents with good looks to match. Steven Jay Gould famously charted Mickey's pedomorphosis over the years.  The mouse reverted to a baby's bigger skull, bigger eyes, and pudgier snout.

As a child of the 80s and 90s, I've noticed the same trend in the toy brands that once littered the floor of my suburban bedroom. Boys toys may be constrained to adult (and therefore masculine) characteristics, but girls' toys are free to fall under the consumer pressures of the Mickey Effect.

The My Little Pony (MLP) reboot exhibits a classic retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood, a process known as neoteny. The eyes are bigger, the face is rounder and flatter, and the body size and leg length are reduced. Compared to the more conventional equine outline of the original series, the new MLP appears based on an infant, even fetal stage of development.

Littlest Pet Shop, a toy series introduced in 1990, is subject to the same selective pressures as MLP. The characters' limbs are dramatically shorter and rounder. Head size has increased relative to body size, and small, close set eyes have morphed into watery saucers well-adapted to low-light conditions.

Girls' toys also exhibit a strong trend towards progenesis- sexual maturity achieved in a juvenile state. Bagworms do it; so do mole salamanders. Normally induced by environmental stressors, progenesis in toys is the result of a cultural imperative for women to embody both the cute and the sexual.

Bratz Dolls, seen here alongside their direct ancestor, are 'tweens.' Compared to the uber-model Barbie, they are less physiologically mature, with gigantic, wide-set eyes and abnormally large craniums. Yet despite their tender age, they exhibit hallmarks of female sexual maturity: a high hip-to-waist ratio and full lips, as well as social markers including skimpy clothing and heavy makeup. Bratz reach sexual maturity as pre-teens; apparently the lingerie-wearing Babyz can accomplish it as infants.

Social selection over the last few decades has heavily constrained the phenotypes of girls' toys.  The cute-ification of these playthings mirrors the evolution of the dog from a rangy wolf to the pocketbook-size 'toy' breeds. What would be lion-fodder in the wild is bred, manufactured, and cherished in Next Nature.

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  • That is very interesting. It is an adaptation for humans to adore something cute. It motivates us to care for our babies, and keep the species going. The contemporary My Little Ponies would be in the fetal stage. I have looked up baby horses on Google Images, and they look a lot more like adults. Thier legs and muzzles are much longer. They need to be able to move well enough to keep up with the heard, even hours after birth. Longs legs help them walk and run fast. Long muzzles help them reach the ground, from the high position of the body. It helps grazing. Toy animals with exaggered cuteness are fine. I really like them. On the other hand I really dislike Bratz dolls, because they seem so ugly. Regular children dress in regular children's cloths are fine, even with exagerated cuteness. Adults dressed in adult clothes are fine. Skimpy cloths on an adult is okay, especialy in pornographic media. Bratz combines skimpy adult clothes on pre-teen people. Blurring the lines like that seems wierd and uncomfortable. If something doesn't look right, it can register as ugly. It just disturbs me to make young girls grow up too soon, by dressing them up in something apropriate for sleezy full-grown women. If I didn't know any better, something like that should be appealing only to pedophiles. I think Barbie was much better looking than Bratz. She can get away with wearing adult clothing, because she retains her mature features.

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  • @ Alison - I'm sorry but I just don't see how an adult can possibly justify dressing up dolls of infants (Bratz Babyz) in g-strings!! How can you say that's not skimpy? I'm not a prude by any means but I find this twisted and disturbing - this is a doll of an infant dressed like a stripper for god's sake!

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  • Actually barbie had nothing to do with bratz coming into form you could say the same thing about my scene too which is really from the barbie company but i've been making dolls almost my whole life and i can not agree with this article. The clothings on those dolls i do not see as skimpy, they all have their own original character to them just like strawberry shortcake i prefer strawberry shortcake now more then i did before when i was a kid. Next you may even say Lincoln logs were the lego's of my time but i don't bash on them just because they are fairly different.

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  • "And here I thought they were just imitating anime, the mainstream popularity of which has tended to coincide with the changes in the toys referenced here." I agree. Anime features big eyes, sexuality in pre-teen/teenage settings, as well as younger people in skimpier clothing while maintaining innocence: "Oh mister, I don't know why you'd want to look up my skirt! Nothing special's there."

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  • I loved this post, it really showed how inequality between sexes is still being transmitted to next generations, tough people today tend to think women's power has been achieved and it's ok to resurrect sexist symbols...IT'S JUST NOT!!!!

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  • ff

    so true!!!!!

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  • Who really makes the decisions to dress dolls of infants in black leather, chains and g-strings as toys for young gilrs? I think we all can see the effect this has on young girls, but where is it coming from? Why do marketers think it will sell? I'd like to see that addressed in a subsequent story. Great intellectual arguement in a short space.

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  • And here I thought they were just imitating anime, the mainstream popularity of which has tended to coincide with the changes in the toys referenced here.

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  • It is amazing to see the differences when you put pictures of the toys next to each other. Wow.

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