Mr. Potato Head is getting a gender-inclusive rebrand. Experts call the change important.

Elise Solé
·5 min read

Mr. Potato Head, the root vegetable toy that's enthralled children since the 1950s, is getting a present-day makeover: Going forward, Hasbro will rebrand the name and logo for the sake of gender-neutrality.

This fall, Mr. Potato Head will be branded Potato Head "to better reflect the full line," the company said in a Thursday press release. "But rest assured, the iconic Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters aren’t going anywhere and will remain Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head." Hasbro is also launching a "Create your Potato Head Family" toy as "a celebration of the many faces of families" including two large potatoes, one small fry and 42 accessories. In an accompanying video, Hasbro called it "a modern look for modern families"

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After initial reactions, Hasbro clarified their plans for the Potato Head brand. The tweet included a photo of what appears to be redesigned packaging.

While Hasbro did not return Yahoo Life's request for further comment, Kimberly Boyd, senior vice president and general manager of global brands, told Fast Company, “Culture has evolved. Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists — with the 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.' — is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”

She added, "The sweet spot for the toy is two to three years old. Kids like dressing up the toy, then playing out scenarios from their life. This often takes the form of creating little potato families, because they're learning what it means to be in a family."

According to PBS, the idea for Mr. Potato Head came from an inventor named George Lerner, who believed that children would enjoy poking real potatoes with his plastic accessories (hands, feet, eyes), though in 1949, he worried that such play would turn off food-insecure families on the heels of WWII. Lerner then sold his idea to a company later renamed Hasbro, which manufactured the plastic body. Mrs. Potato Head came along in 1953 and the couple had "children."

Today, the Mr. Potato Head line is sold in the likeness of Star Wars's Luke Skywalker (Luke Fry-Walker), Iron Man's Tony Stark, Spider-Man's Peter Parker and even hasselback-style.

The announcement made for Twitter news.

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“Hasbro’s decision to introduce Potato Head as a gender-neutral toy is the latest move in a larger movement towards greater diversity and inclusion in toys and media aimed at kids," Rich Ferraro, the chief communications officer at GLAAD said in a press release sent to Yahoo Life. "By offering a toy that exists outside of the binary of male and female, Hasbro is helping kids to simply see toys as toys, which encourages them to be their authentic selves outside of the pressures of traditional gender norms.”

The toy revamp follows inclusive moves by Mattel, whose American Girl line has expanded to include dolls of different abilities and sexes and Barbie, whose animated Facebook vlog tackles gender stereotypes.

"We're seeing through research that there's more acceptance today — particularly among Gen Z — of the spectrum of gender identities," Christia Brown, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Children Free of Gender Stereotypes, tells Yahoo Life. "We didn't see that 7 or 8 years ago."

In turn, she says, parents are searching for books and toys that represent their children, which signals demand to companies. Diverse toys matter because between the ages of 3 and 6, children understand the world in black-and-white terms. "Kids this young are not cognitively advanced to understand gender variation so they lead with salient characteristics like gender-coded names or [pink and blue] clothing," says Brown. "They also essentialize gender-based stereotypes — for example, if one girl doesn't like playing Legos, all girls don't like them" amid a cultural fixation on boy-girl (think gender reveal parties or baby bows). "Children in this age group pay attention to 'the rules' and that's when we see an uptick in stereotypical behavior," she notes, adding that around 6 and 7, kids become more flexible in their perspective.

That's why Mr. Potato Head's evolution is exciting. "It's important when toy companies make changes like this because toys and play are educational," says Brown. "Representation is a power lesson in the hands of say, a 4-year-old child. Toys companies have been biased for so long and they can really shift the landscape of childhood."

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