The Evolution of G.I. Joe

The Evolution of G.I. Joe April 17, 2012

I had this vague memory of reading something about an academic study of G.I. Joe figures–by researchers from UMass and Harvard Med, by the way–which found that

the figures have grown much more muscular over time, with many contemporary figures far exceeding the muscularity of even the largest male bodybuilders…

our observations appear to represent a “male analog” of earlier studies examining female dolls such as Barbie.

Together, these studies of children’s toys suggest that cultural expectations may contribute to body image disorders in both sexes.

{You can read the full text of the academic paper here.}

I’ve written some about ‘manorexia’ before, but there’s a need for continued awareness. Because while many of us are aware that playing with Barbies can adversely affect girls’ body satisfaction, we’re less aware that

Even boys too young to have seen Schwarzenegger in The Terminator [play] with action figures. G.I. Joe, who had no abdominal muscles when the toy was first manufactured in 1963, first got some definition in 1975. By 1994, he had the muscles of a professional bodybuilder. {Read all of Ava Feuer’s excellent piece here.}

Now for the pictures, gleaned from here and there around the interwebz. Pay attention not just to the figures themselves but also how they’re portrayed on the packaging:

1960s Joe

and his package:

1970s Joe

1990s Joe
1990s Joe
2000s Joe

And just to compare next to each other: 2010 Joe is a freakishly large & muscular bodybuilder; 1960s Joe is, well, an ordinary Joe. Like most of the people serving in the Armed Forces.

1960s Joe
and a composite shot from the study...

My boys have a genetic makeup–including but not limited to a genetic disorder–that guarantees they’ll never, never, not-ever be muscular. It won’t happen, not with weightlifting, creatine, and God-knows-what-else.

But even if they could beef up, I’d hate for them to do it based on these insane cultural pressures.

That some people insanely defend as Christian values, God help us.

Boys deserve better.

{You may also like the other posts in this series-of-sorts: The Evolution of the Morton Salt Girl and The Evolution of Candy Land}

Browse Our Archives