Why I used to love LEGO

Sally Whittle writes… Back when I was a kid LEGO was a big fixture in our family.

I spent many happy days building stripy houses on flat green boards, weird cars that defied the laws of aerodynamics, space rockets and schools.

LEGO was basically about building your own stuff. There was something pleasing about developing your LEGO building expertise so that you just knew which bricks to use to make a sloping house roof, or how long a gap you could leave between the wheels on a bus and still make something that would “go”.

I loved LEGO. Of all the toys I had as a kid, the ones I remember with most affection are my Playmobil, our Star Wars collection and the communal LEGO box.

But, I must confess that as an adult I sometimes get a bit cranky with LEGO.

Leia Lego

Leia: off to get her nails done

I don’t love that so many of its ranges are licensed from films and it’s so hard to find a decent sized box of LEGO that’s not tied to Harry Potter, Star Wars or Toy Story.

I don’t love that buying mostly licensed sets means my daughter tends to focus on building what’s on the box, rather than what’s in her head – for some weird reason my daughter has a strong need to be right. Can’t imagine why. Cough.

I like that LEGO is brilliant quality. I think it encourages dexterity and spatial awareness and is great for both independent and collaborative play. Of course, most of all it’s fun. Despite the odd niggle, we are regular, loyal customers.

But at the moment I’m feeling rather let down by LEGO. In an attempt to market its products to “the other 50% of the world” LEGO has launched a new, pink range aimed at girls, LEGO friends.

Now, I’m not overly keen on this to begin with – the statement is an open assumption that girls aren’t playing with LEGO and LEGO isn’t made for girls. I’ve always been of the view that LEGO is a perfect gender neutral toy.

However, I can understand that many of the licensed sets are very firmly aimed at boys, marketed at boys, and likely to be bought for boys. So I tried to keep an open mind about the new LEGO range, but looking at it on the LEGO website this Christmas was just depressing.

Miniature dolls for your little princesses

The figures for girls aren’t LEGO mini-figures. They’re miniature dolls. Curvy miniature dolls in sleeveless tops with long hair and short skirts. And they come with their own accessories. You know, the sort of essential things that girls should never be without – hairbrush, hairdryer, lipstick.

And what do these girls do? Well, obviously they hang out at the café, and they go to the beauty salon, they feed their horses. Typical girlish activities.

I’m beyond depressed by this. I wish LEGO could just put more female characters and female-accessible stories into the regular LEGO world, rather than creating this twee, limited world where – once again – little girls will get the message that what matters most in life is being pretty, popular and ideally in pastel shades.

I do get that, to an extent, manufacturers make what sells. I’m sure lots of little girls will want these toys. And maybe some of them will progress to more challenging LEGO activities as a result.

But I can’t help but be a little sad. Where are the toys that challenge and inspire our daughters?

What do you reckon? Will you be buying LEGO Friends?

A longer version of this column appeared on Sally Whittle’s blog

You can check out the LEGO Friends website, experience the “beauty of building” and “meet the girls” (if you’ve got a strong constitution).

Or see the whole range of LEGO Friends products on sale at Amazon.

Top Image: Dunchaser

Middle Image: Chris Pirillo

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