Dora the ... Gossip Girl?

The popular Nickelodeon character gets a "tweenage" makeover

Published March 5, 2009 6:38PM (EST)

Dora the Explorer has always reminded me of my favorite childhood heroine, Pippi Longstocking: She's a tough, smart tomboy who's always up for a new adventure. It's great that there's a female character who appeals to both little girls and little boys -- not to mention one who isn't a spoiled princess (a la Angelica from "Rugrats") or a boy-crazy Miss Piggy clone. So why are Nickelodeon and Mattel re-branding Dora as a "tweenage" fashion plate?

Don't hyperventilate yet, parents of Dora-addicted preschoolers -- the original Explorer isn't going anywhere. But starting this fall, for the not-terribly-recession-conscious price of $59.99, your five year old will also be able to buy an older, doll version of the character. Though Mattel and Nick are waiting a few months to reveal exactly what she'll look like, a bizarre silhouette accompanying the press release shows that, at the very least, Dora will have long hair and be decked out in a short skirt or dress and a pair of flats. Here's how the companies spin it:

"As tweenage Dora, our heroine has moved to the big city, attends middle school and has a whole new fashionable look. What’s more, she now has a rich online world in which girls can explore, play games, customize, and most importantly solve mysteries with Dora and her new friends."

And, of course, this version of Dora will only be marketed to girls, which means that the PR materials are already littered with claims that the doll will be "empowering."

So wait a second. They're turning plucky, outdoorsy Dora, with her sneakers, shorts and backpack, into a fashionable, city-dwelling skirt-wearer? Basically, she's just going to be a completely different character. Is she also joining the cast of "Gossip Girl"? 

The folks at Feministing link today to a recent online petition started by bloggers at Packaging Girlhood. Me? I'm less incensed than just slightly amused, maybe because I'm not convinced this half-assed makeover experiment will succeed. As one Salon staffer (and mom) cannily notes, girls tend to leave behind the characters they loved as preschoolers as they grow up. You can put a skirt on Dora and cinch her waist, but by the time kids reach kindergarten, they may well think of Dora as "baby stuff."

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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