New toy trend: Boy toys are going 'girly'

Toy makers tweaking construction sets, warrior toys to appeal to little girls

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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Playthings that have been traditionally considered "boy toys" are now designed for girls who have previously passed up that aisle in the store. Bella Spears, 9, has just as much fun getting dressed up in play clothes as she does with her blaster toy, a Nerf Rebelle Star Shot Targeting Set -- a crossbow complete with suction-cup darts and a target.

"She likes to play both boy toys, girl toys; she likes to be girly, do sports," said Melody Spears, Bella's mom.

And she enjoyed playing with her brother's Lego sets but really likes the newer versions now available on store shelves.

"They're more girlier than boy stuff, and I just like playing with girly stuff instead of boy stuff," Bella said.

A new trend in toys is designed to appeal to girls just like Bella. From reinvented Tinker Toys to GoldieBlox, some "boy toys" are going pink.

"It really is about the message that 'Yes, you can be Belle and you can be Cinderella, but you can also be a strong, empowered female,'" said Laurie Schacht, with Toy Insider Guide. "Girls want to be just like Katniss from 'The Hunger Games.' And why not? She changed an entire society."

The Lego Friends line has been so popular, it's expanding, and Schacht said it's not the only toy line thriving by going "girly."

"Toy companies are realizing that by tweaking these toys, by changing the design a little bit, by changing the color, suddenly it's going to appeal to the other 50 percent of the market that many of these toy companies have missed out on," she said.

Play therapist and professor of counseling psychology Dr. Sharon Lamb said some of these toys could have a positive effect on play, showing girls that being assertive is OK. But she isn't a fan of feminizing them.  

"They're pinkifying it," she said. "And it's as if they're giving a message that, 'Sure you can be empowered, sure you can be strong, but you have to do it daintily and in pink.'"

Lamb feels toys should be tailored to the individual child.

"Somebody shouldn't go into a big box store and say, 'I need a birthday present for a girl, show me what girls like,'" she said. "I think that people should describe the individual kid and then be shown gender-neutral toys."

Although Bella likes her Legos with female figurines, she said she doesn't care what color her bow and arrow is.

"It really doesn't matter to me because I like it just as much," she explained. "I think it's the same exact toy but in different colors."

And it's not just toy makers getting in on the trend.  Schacht says video games like Angry Birds and Skylanders are incorporating more female characters and that those female characters are expected to be featured in bigger roles in the coming months.

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