Many parents were up in arms recently when Nickelodeon announced plans for a new-and-improved Dora the Explorer. Specifically, an older, more sophisticated, 10-year-old Dora for tweens.
"As tweenage Dora, our heroine has moved to the big city, attends middle school and has a whole new fashionable look," the press release stated, showcasing a silhouette of the new Dora that looked to be wearing a micro mini skirt, long hair swinging sexily below her shoulders. The "cornerstone" of the new Dora line would be an interactive doll, made by Mattel, that girls could customize online and update in real life.
With images of Bratz dolls pole-dancing in their heads, many parents took to the internet to protest the change. "What, little girls don't have enough fashion-obsessed trash idols?" one commenter quipped over at CafeMom.com. "The outrage is powered by pent up outrage over the sexualization of our daughters, of their dolls and their clothing," Veronica points out at Viva la Feminista. "So they see another cash cow in Dora," another commenter posted at ParentDish. "Pity, though, that they're sending a message, LOUD AND CLEAR, that in order to be 'popular' and 'in' and whatever, you have to be exactly like everyone else out there."
To quell the outrage, Mattel released an illustration of New Dora yesterday instead of this fall and rushed to soothe parents.
"People care so deeply about this brand and this character," Leigh Anne Brodsky, president of Nickelodeon Viacom Consumer Products, said in a statement. "The Dora that we all know and love is not going away."
"I think there was just a misconception in terms of where we were going with this," Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing at Mattel, added.
I think the new Dora is cute and all, and I understand that there are vast marketing and monetizing issues at play, but seriously, Mattel and Nickelodeon, take a lesson from New Coke here and leave well enough alone.
Why should our children follow Dora to middle school when Dora's ditched her best-friend Boots and the rest of the gang? What does that say about the importance of childhood friendships? Why not develop something around Dora's cousin Alicia, an animal rescuer who helps save penguins and pumas with her brother on the spin-off show Go, Diego, Go!, in order to appeal to older children -- or create a new character entirely?
One of the most important life lessons for young kids is that you get bigger and move on to "big kid" things -- and that it's OK. When I was a child, we "graduated" from Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood to The Electric Company and School House Rock and ZOOM. There's a reason why no one marketed a Sesame Street for older kids: Older kids aren't anxious to hold on to the trappings of toddlerhood, for all that their parents wish they might be.
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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