10 famous childhood toys that have stirred controversy

  • New toys are always being released but not all toys are met with positive reviews and reactions.
  • The Magnetix Magnetic building set was recalled after multiple children were seriously injured after swallowing pieces from the kit.
  • Some toys, like the It’s Girl Stuff! Cleaning Set, have been called sexist by critics.

Whether they have been called dangerous or have been deemed inappropriate for a child to own, new toys aren’t always met with positive reactions.

In recent years, some toys have managed to make quite an impression with their questionable designs.

Here are some of the famous childhood toys that have stirred controversy.

Some parents thought a Teletubby doll was saying inappropriate phrases.

Flickr/Museum of HartlepoolA doll of the Teletubby named Po.

In the late ’90s, the short-lived TV series “Teletubbies” launched its own line of talking dolls.

Shortly after the toys’ release, some parents began complaining about the “foul-mouthed” Teletubby doll named Po. Some parents said that the doll sounded like it was saying things like “Bite my butt” as well a gay slur. They also said their children were picking up on the inappropriate new phrases.

The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company that licensed the Teletubbies told the Associated Press that the Po doll is “actually saying the nonsensical words ‘fidit, fidit,’ which the character regularly sings on the television show.”

In response to parents’ complaints, Hasbro, the manufacturer behind the dolls, began including language cards in each doll’s box in order to “familiarise” consumers with the language of the Teletubbies.

The product was not immediately recalled but Associate Press reported that at least one store removed the toys from their shelves in order to avoid potentially offending any customers.

Some people said Earring Magic Ken looked like it was wearing a sex toy as an accessory.

Yvonne Hemsey/GettyMany parents were concerned.

In 1993, Mattel Toys gave Barbie’s counterpart, Ken, a makeover so he could look “a little cooler.” Called “Earring Magic Ken,” the doll wears a purple mesh shirt, a blue leather vest, earrings, and a silver ring on a chain.

Many felt Ken’s overall look fit gay stereotypes of the time and some called special attention to the doll’s necklace. Multiple publications, including Queerty and Pride, said that Ken’s necklace strongly resembles a sex toy that was considered a queer fashion statement in the ’90s.

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Lisa McKendall, former manager of marketing and communications for Mattel Toys, denied the claims that Ken was wearing a sex toy. “It’s a necklace. It holds charms he can share with Barbie,” McKendall told The Chicago Reader in 1993. “C’mon, this is a doll designed for little girls, something like that would be entirely inappropriate.”

According to the HuffPost, this bestselling doll was later discontinued and recalled.

A Spanish company released a baby doll that was meant to imitate breastfeeding and some parents in the US were not pleased.

BerjuanSome parents felt the toy was ‘bizarre.’

In the 2000s, the company Berjuan Toys introduced Bebé Glotón, a toy designed to let children imitate the act of breastfeeding a baby. The toy comes with a child-sized bra with flower-shaped nipples that the doll can “suck” on. The baby doll is also designed to make sucking and burping sounds.

In 2011, after being sold in Europe for a few years, the doll was set to be sold in the US under the name “Breast Milk Baby.”

As ABC’s “Good Morning America” reported, some parents in the US were angry about the doll because they thought it “forced girls to grow up too quickly” and some even felt it could promote young pregnancies. Other parents called the toy “bizarre” and “unnecessary,” according to CBS.

But not all parents thought the doll was an issue – some told ABC that they thought the toy was a great idea and it could help “normalize” and “increase the popularity of” breastfeeding.

One of Teen Talk Barbie’s phrases was removed after many criticised it for being sexist.

Mike Mozart/Flickr/Creative CommonsThe doll says a few select phrases.

In 1992, Teen Talk Barbie was released by Mattel. Each doll contains a voice box that allows the doll to say four random phrases out of 270 possible ones. One of the phrases that garnered the most attention was “Maths class is tough!”

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) criticised the use of that phrase in a report about how schools treat girls unfairly. According to the New York Times, following the report’s publication, Mattel removed the phrase from the toy’s computer chip and offered to exchange any “offending” doll.

“In hindsight, the phrase ‘maths class is tough,’ while correct for many students both male and female, should not have been included,” Jill E. Barad, Mattel’s president at the time, wrote in a letter to Sharon Schuster, president of AAUW. “We didn’t fully consider the potentially negative implications of this phrase, nor were we aware of the findings of your organisation’s report.”

Some shoppers felt the Rad Repeatin’ Tarzan doll could appear like it was masturbating.

Flickr/Mike Mozart/Creative CommonsThe doll makes ‘jungle call’ sounds.

In 1999, Disney released a Tarzan doll. The movie-inspired doll makes a “jungle call” sound and it is also able to move its arm up and down.

The toy’s original packaging allowed shoppers to try out the doll’s features – and consumers noticed that when they moved Tarzan’s arm to a lowered position, the doll looked like it was masturbating.

“I think this is where adults look at things through a different set of eyes,” Mattel spokeswoman Sara Rosales told the Las Vegas Sun in 1999. “Kids have a much more innocent concept.”

Following the consumer feedback, Rosales said Mattel would change the doll’s packaging so that its arm could not “drop below the waist.”

CloudPets was embroiled in scandal because of a reported data breach.

Cloud Pets/Spiral ToysCloudPets allowed users to send messages to a stuffed toy using an app.

When CloudPets came out a few years ago, they were marketed as “a message you can hug.” You can record voice messages on the CloudPets mobile app and send it to a child’s stuffed animal. Then the child can reply by pressing the doll’s paw to record their own message.

Shortly after the toy’s release, a reported data leak involving these internet-connected toys was uncovered.

According to 2017 Forbes report, Troy Hunt, an application security expert, was one of the first individuals to notice that someone had a copy of the CloudPets database that included the information of CloudPets’ users, such as the profile photos of children and their recorded audio files. He said there was no way to know how many people had access to it.

“Parents need to work on the assumption that if they have a CloudPet, multiple unauthorised parties could have accessed their voice recordings,” Hunt told The Huffington Post in an email.

In a statement to NetworkWorld magazine, Mark Myers, chief executive at CloudPets, denied that any voice recordings were stolen. He also called the incident a “very minimal issue.”

Over a year later, retailers including eBay and Amazon stopped selling the toys, according to BBC.

Some felt the It’s Girl Stuff! Cleaning Set promoted a gender stereotype.

KandytoysMany people didn’t like that the toy was specifically marketed toward girls.

In 2014, the It’s Girl Stuff! cleaning toy set went viral. Manufactured by Kandytoys, the set consists of things like a dustpan and a broom that kids can use to pretend to clean. The toy’s purple and pink packaging is covered in flowers and the gender symbol for female.

Some users took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the fact the faux cleaning supplies seemed to be labelled and designed specifically for girls. In a 2014 article for The Huffington Post, one writer called it “most sexist toy in town.”

“When you add it up, it does matter to tell little girls that cleaning is for them and their role or to tell boys that they aren’t allowed to do things in the domestic sphere,” Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, told the Telegraph in 2014. “I just wouldn’t label it girl’s stuff – it’s just so unnecessary and restrictive for both boys and girls.”

American Girl released a doll that was homeless and some felt the concept was “disturbing.”

American GirlGwen Thompson was released a decade ago.

In 2009, American Girl released Gwen Thompson, the company’s first doll that is homeless, according to its backstory. The doll retailed for $US95 and was limited edition.

A representative from the Mattel-owned American Girl company told ABC News that the doll is meant to teach tolerance and promote an anti-bullying message.

Although some praised the doll for showing “awareness of what’s going on in the world,” the doll was also criticised by many parents. Some homeless advocates praised the doll until they realised it was not being used as a “fundraising device” for individuals who are homeless, according to HuffPost.

Cabbage Patch Kids Snacktime Kids dolls were recalled after dozens of reports that kids had gotten their hair or fingers stuck in the dolls’ mouths.

MattelThe dolls are designed to ‘eat’ fake food.

Released in 1996, Cabbage Patch Kids Snacktime Kids dolls have battery-powered, mechanical jaws that move when the doll is fed the plastic toy foods that come with it. But according to a 1997 report from the New York Times, sometimes children’s hair or fingers would also get stuck in the dolls’ motorised mouths.

The publication reported that a 7-year-old girl in Connecticut got her hair stuck in her Snacktime doll’s mouth and she had to be freed from the toy by rescue workers, although she was not injured. According to officials, this was one of the estimated 100 reports of kids getting their fingers or hair caught in the dolls’ mouths.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in 1997, Mattel Inc. (the company behind Cabbage Patch Kids) said they would offer $US40 refunds for the 500,000 dolls they had sold and they would be removing 200,000 dolls from stores.

Millions of Magnetix Magnetic building kits were recalled in 2006 and 2007.

Flickr/Frankie Leon/Creative CommonsMagnetix are small, colourful magnets.

Magnetix Magnetic building kits were released by Rose Art in the early 2000s and they consisted of small, colourful magnets meant to be used for building. The product was soon deemed unsuitable for children as consumers realised how dangerous the small, colourful magnets could be when swallowed.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled millions of Magnetix toys in 2006 after a 20-month-old died after he swallowed the magnets and they “twisted his small intestine and created a blockage.”In 2007, CPSC announced an expanded recall of Magnetix Magnetic building sets after “additional serious injuries” to children occurred, including at least 27 intestinal injuries.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some individuals did not think the building kits were recalled soon enough.

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