So, Rainbow Brite, that little girl icon of the 80s, received a makeover. (h/t). While the redesign was revealed a few months back, Hallmark is expected to release the dolls this month, and as the above image shows, they are going to look very different from how they once did. Rainbow Brite is older, she is thinner, and she is more stylish. Like many female characters over the years, there were clearly many fundamental, and very human, aspects of her that were found to be gravely flawed.
There were a couple of years of my own childhood where Rainbow Brite was my life.
I had a Rainbow Brite bedroom, and a collection of all the dolls. I tortured my mother endlessly with a live-action half hour film called Rainbow Brite at the San Diego Zoo, to the point where she can still recite much of it from memory. When choosing clothes, I purposely sought out ones with rainbow patterns and designs, and eagerly requested brightly colored hair ties with dangling stars to pull back my ponytail, so that I could more closely resemble her.
I not only worshiped Rainbow Brite, I also wanted to be just like her. I would wear my rainbow belt and dance around the living room with a little rainbow pouch, and throw around the multi-colored star confetti that my mom had found for me somewhere. I think that somewhere in my very young mind, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could be her.
And it is for all of these reasons that this particular makeover hits me hard.
I could understand perfectly well — be sad and stick my nose up at the redesign still, but understand all the same — if Hallmark decided to simply restyle her outfit and haircut. After all, both of these aspects of the original Rainbow Brite are devastatingly 80s. While I imagine that lots of little girls still like big poofy outfits and bright colors (and a part of the charm of Rainbow Brite’s outfit was that she looked like she probably designed it herself), and while I’m not wild about the new hair and outfit styles they chose for her, her overall look could be a little bit more modern — and when the goal is to sell a product, I can see how that kind of makeover could be seen as a dire necessity.
So no, what upsets me is to not just see my childhood hero look different, but how she looks different.
What they’ve done here is changed a round-faced, pug-nosed little girl with baby fat — the kind of role model girls have less and less these days — into a svelte and fashionable young woman who appears to be wearing makeup. It wasn’t enough for Rainbow Brite to be in charge of all the colors in the entire universe, in spite of being only somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10. Apparently she can only be considered marketable if she is older, acceptably thin, image-conscious, and conventionally pretty. As we know, for women professional success, while still a requirement for any sort of personal worth, is absolutely nothing unless you look hot while having it.
The fact that it’s a part of such a trend, as seen with Dora the Explorer last year (and Strawberry Shortcake the year before), just makes it all the more upsetting. I’m tired of the idea that, as Anna puts it, “there’s something wrong with being a round-faced child that’s all child-shaped.” I’m tired of the fact that girls specifically aren’t allowed to look like kids. I’m tired of the idea that it’s not enough for female heroes to just be badasses, but they also have to be all primped up and mindful of their weight.
I’m also tired of the idea that girls can’t be interested in anything unless it’s all super feminized. Checking out the Rainbow Brite website tells us that the main Color Kids — who previously each represented a color of the rainbow, and were specifically responsible for it — have all been ditched. Gone are Lala Orange and Patty O’Green, and in their place are the previously less-central but more “appropriately” hued characters Tickled Pink and Moonglow (who wears pastel blue and lavender). These two have only their hair and outfits to differentiate them, seemingly having been given the exact same face. And, even worse, while one area where Rainbow Brite certainly could have used a makeover is in the diversity of characters, the one character of color, Indigo, is gone, and the entire new crop of characters appears to be white.
So, to tally up: more makeup, more pink, less spunk, less weight, and even less diversity.
I’m not the little girl that I once was, and so I can’t claim to know with absolute accuracy what she would have thought. But as far as I can guess, the new Rainbow Brite isn’t someone I would have been able to relate to. I believe that a part of the reason why I loved her so dearly is that I could relate to her. And I think that for girls especially, in a world where most child protagonists are still boys, that’s incredibly important.
I’m also aware that Rainbow Brite was not the perfect hero for all. I was, after all, her target market: a white girl whose parents had enough class privilege to be able to afford to buy her all the dolls in the series so that she could proudly display them on her bed. For some girls of color, or girls of lesser class privilege, or girls who weren’t allowed to grow up being acknowledged as girls at all, it may have been harder to see themselves as someone like her. And for wholly different reasons, some just might not have found the idea of a girl who made the world colorful with the help of her horse and short, white, fluffy friend Twink to be all that compelling.
But that’s exactly why we need more, and more diverse, relate-able girl role models. That’s why girls need more options for their interests, and for other girls to look up to and to style themselves after as an inevitable part of growing up. And what we seem to be receiving instead are consistently fewer and fewer.