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Will someone please give Big Boy a Big Boy?

11th June 2009

Will someone please give Big Boy a Big Boy?

posted in Personal |

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 comic 1956

Big Boy didn’t change much over the next few decades.  Here he is in 1968 and 1972:

Big Boy Comics 1968 and 1972

And again in 1985 and 1990:

Big Boy 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:

Big Boy comic 1999

And an anemic Big Boy today:

Big Boy

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.

My Little Pony

Strawberry Shortcake

Care Bears

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:

Michelin Man

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:

Kool Aid Man

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?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 11th, 2009 at 2:56 pm and is filed under Personal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 15 responses to “Will someone please give Big Boy a Big Boy?”

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  1. 1 On June 11th, 2009, Lucy said:

    It’s one thing when a human doll or character is gradually made thinner, but that is so ridiculous that even A PONY has to be made thinner. THEY’RE PONIES. I don’t really know what the toy companies are trying to accomplish by changing the characters’ physiques that drastically, but they’re really underestimating children, I think, if they think a little girl is going to base her future weight loss goals on A PONY. (Because there aren’t far darker sources from which to develop an eating disorder, like relentless taunting or sexual abuse or anything like that. It comes from a My Little Pony.)

  2. 2 On June 11th, 2009, Melissa said:

    So I wonder what this really says about society at large-or media marketing.
    Did the images of chubbier figures cause weight gain in society, or is the shrinking of the figures more reflective of an unrealistic body type and the rise of disordered eating?
    Somehow I don’t think having some images being chubbier would make people become fat. I think having a variety of body types would show the truth , that the world is made up of variety.
    However, showing starving emaciated bears and ponies seems kind of strange to me. Reminds me of when the vet tells me to put my healthy cat on a diet.

  3. 3 On June 11th, 2009, Ostara said:

    Ok, those Care Bears are just unacceptable. And you know, that’s something I always wondered about when I started seeing smaller looking Big Boys around OH where I grew up. For a while I just thought it was my eyes or memory or something. But it was something I did wonder about “why’s he the Big Boy? He’s not big!”

    This actually reminds me of a really great article I found on cartoons through the ages. It mostly looked at female characters through the lens of feminism but it too suggested how cartoons could be an accurate portrayal of current culture.

  4. 4 On June 11th, 2009, Anna said:

    Carebears!? REALLY?! BEARS have to be skinny now?!

  5. 5 On June 11th, 2009, Charlotte said:

    They slimmed down the Kool-Aide guy? Seriously? Do advertisers really think kids are going to base thier ideas about weight from a picture of a talking pitcher of juice?

    I miss the big round Kool-Aide guy! And skinny Care Bears? That’s just wrong…

  6. 6 On June 11th, 2009, Bree said:

    When I was young and my family would take our annual summer vacation to Richmond Virginia, we either ate at Bob’s Big Boy or Howard Johnson’s. My grandmother was a connossieur of cheap coffee-house eating.

    I wonder if the slimming down of these toys, as well as giving them more anime-style features, is not a reflection of today’s attitudes about weight, but because the streamlined anime look, with small bodies, big heads, and huge eyes, is what’s in right now, which means more money being spent.

  7. 7 On June 11th, 2009, Piffle said:

    I think the thinner images are being pushed because the artists see them as normal now, images of people in the media are being photoshopped to unreasonable proportions, so even the artists lose their sense of reality.

    On a positive note, I saw UP! last week and the boy hero is really round; but absolutely no comment on his fat is made by anybody, neither positive or negative. He’s a real sweet little fellow too.

  8. 8 On June 11th, 2009, Lisa said:

    Oh my lord. I remember being furious when the My Little Ponies went skinny, but I didn’t know until now that the Care Bears were also victims. Thanks for tackling this one, Rachel.

  9. 9 On June 11th, 2009, Maureen at IslandRoar said:

    I find this shocking. Why does no one talk about this???

  10. 10 On June 12th, 2009, DaniFae said:

    Bree, I do think a lot of it is the Japanese influence. I know a LOT of artists my age and younger who never even bothered to learn realistic drawing, until forced to, in favor of drawing anime. Part of anime’s popularity as a drawing style is because it’s really easy to draw, even someone who isn’t particularly talented can draw it. It’s very similar to how the vast majority of fashion designers draw on thin croquis. It’s just easier.

  11. 11 On June 12th, 2009, Jackie said:

    I agree DaniFae, you also will notice this by seeing how many of the new version cartoons, have the giant Anime eyes on them.

  12. 12 On June 19th, 2009, Melanthios said:

    You know, I’m one of the My Little Pony fans that likes the G2 ponies–the skinny ones that looked like colts?–but even THEY didn’t look SKINNY. They just looked like horses. As I recall from my toys, they even had the round tummies that all herbivores have.

    I’m so sick of skinny people saying that they’re being persecuted, that ‘vanity sizing’ means they’re now unable to find their size because clothing start soooo biiiiig now because of ‘obesity’. Why is it that only the privileged whine about persecution?

  13. 13 On October 21st, 2009, Cat said:

    Actually, what disturbs me as much is why does the KoolAid Guy need shorts? He’s a pitcher.

  14. 14 On December 7th, 2009, Jeff said:

    Have you ever considered the idea that big brother, paid comapnies to slim down Bob’s Big Boy and all the others. It only makes sense to me. That’s your tax dollars at work. I stumbled upon your site because I was looking for the recipe for the Tartar Sauce, it ticks me off Bob’s Big Boy stopped selling it in the stores years ago, it was the best I ever tasted.

  15. 15 On December 7th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @Jeff: You can still buy Frisch’s tarter sauce (which is the same, I think, as Bob’s Big Boy) in stores. I think they also offer it for sale online.

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