Men-in-Full’s post today of “Fat Boys” in vintage advertisements instantly reminded me of Frisch’s Big Boy, a restaurant chain popular in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Frisch’s uses the same Big Boy character as Bob’s Big Boy, which it secured the rights to in the 1940s, but Frisch’s was the one to begin using a specially formulated tarter sauce on its signature Big Boy burger instead of the thousand island dressing used by the California-based chain. My dad was practically weaned on Frisch’s tarter sauce — seriously, he can tell you what price Big Boys were back in 1977 — so, as kids, Big Boy was as much a part of our lives as was Big Bird. Even now that I’m vegetarian I still eat a veggie version of the Frisch’s Big Boy but without the second decker.
I always wondered if part of the reason my dad loved Frisch’s so much is because he and Big Boy resembled one another — both were chubby with black hair, rounded bellies and double chins. Here’s Big Boy as seen in his first comic produced in 1956.
Big Boy didn’t change much over the next few decades. Here he is in 1968 and 1972:
And again in 1985 and 1990:
But then a curious transformation began to take shape in the early- to mid-1990s. Big Boy became, well, not so big. Here he is in 1999 sans his double chin and Buddha belly:
And an anemic Big Boy today:
Big Boy isn’t the only character to go on a diet. Hasbro introduced a slimmed down version of My Little Pony in 2007, followed a year later by a dumbed-down but svelte Strawberry Shortcake (even her cat is thinner!) and sadly skinny Care Bears — read the outrage here.
Even the Michelin Man, one of the world’s oldest trademarks, didn’t escape unscathed. He lost his spare tire (pun intended) in 2007 when the company reintroduced its lean, mean tire-hawking mascot:
And the Kool Aid Man’s short and squat form, which provided him the perfect center of gravity for smashing down walls, has since been elongated and skinnified:
Winnie the Pooh and Mickey and Minnie Mouse appear to have been slimmed down slightly through the years, but fortunately, it looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Keebler Elves have yet to to go under the knife.
In 2003, a couple of social science researchers examined the portrayals of cartoon characters and the changes they’ve undergone. Why cartoons? Because animated cartoons, they contend, “both reflect and shape social values about body weight, and help to form children’s initial notions of what it means to be thin or heavy.” Their findings indicated:
…a significant increase in the proportion of all cartoons showing characters that are underweight and a simultaneous decrease in the prevalence of characters that are overweight. Many variables were found to differ based on cartoon characters’ body weight, including gender, age, intelligence, physical attractiveness, emotional states experienced, prosocial behaviors, antisocial behaviors, and overall goodness/badness. Whenever differences were found, the overriding tendency was for cartoons to provide positive messages about being thin and negative messages about being overweight.
Say, what’s that again about a normalization of obesity?