Girl From Iconic 1981 Lego Ad Is Now a Doctor, Not Impressed With Pink Legos

Rachel Giordano, then and now. Photo: Courtesy Lori DayThe topic of toys is no longer child’s play: Debates over gender stereotyping, “princessification,” and distorted body images, in fact, have made it downright thorny. So it's easy to understand why one vintage Lego ad — the one from 1981, in which a proud little girl in a blue T-shirt is holding up her primary-colored creation (above left) — keeps popping up online as an example of idyllic, pre-boys’-aisle-girls’-aisle nostalgia.

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Feminist website Jezebel, for example, praised it in 2009 for having “No princesses, no pink Legos, no glittery sparkles, just a girl and her toys, having a blast.” And it was everywhere again in 2011, when Lego was criticized after introducing its purple-packaged Friends line, aimed at girls. The ad’s most recent viral moment was in January, when a Huffington Post piece declared that its copy should be “required reading for everyone who makes, buys or sells toys.” And that was what led writer Lori Day to meet the actual girl in the iconic photo — Rachel Giordano, now a 37-year-old naturopathic doctor in Seattle.

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“The small world of Facebook led to a comment thread on my wall where someone, upon seeing the little red-haired girl holding her Legos, wrote, ‘Hey, I know her!’ And now I do too, because that’s the serendipity of social media,” wrote Day in her piece on the website Women You Should Know, titled “The Little Girl From the 1981 Lego Ad Is All Grown Up, and She’s Got Something to Say.” And now that piece, published on Tuesday, is going viral, too.

“It’s kind of the iconic image of how toys used to be, before they got gendered,” Day, an educational psychologist and parenting coach based in Massachusetts, tells Yahoo Shine. “It was just such a creative time and represents this collective memory that many of us as parents have, before everything was princesses and pink. It stands in such contrast to what things are like now.”

After getting in touch with Giordano, Day, whose forthcoming book “Her Next Chapter” is due out in May, got the former child model to agree to pose for a follow-up to the ad; now that photo is the second half of an awesome split-image meme (above). The two women also spoke about toys then and now, and some of the backstory behind the enduring 1981 image. Here are some of the highlights:

• When Giordano posed for the original image, she was a 4-year-old model with the Ford Agency and a regular in both print ads and TV commercials. In the studio that day, she was given a set of Legos and asked to make what she wanted — her creation is what she’s so beautifully proud of in the photo. “And those were her own clothes — the comfy jeans and blue striped T-shirt and sneakers without a hint of pink that she wore in off the street,” Day notes.

• The “What Is Beautiful” ad from 1981 was the brainchild of Judy Lotas — “sort of a female Don Draper," Day tells Yahoo Shine — who was creative director at the now-defunct SSC&B agency. "She had two young daughters at the time,” Day writes, “and gender equality was a big topic."

• For the new photo, Day sent Giordano Lego’s newest Friends product: the Heartlake News Van, from which a lady journalist gets to primp at her vanity and report on a pretty cake, of all things, while getting filmed by a male camera operator. Giordano, who doesn’t have children and hasn’t necessarily been following along, finds the new girl focus “startling,” Day notes. Giordano also says, “In 1981, Legos were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message. In 2014, it’s the reverse: The toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender.”

• Giordano believes that the new message can be detrimental, "because gender segmenting toys interferes with a child’s own creative expression," she tells Day. "I know that how I played as a girl shaped who I am today. It contributed to me becoming a physician and inspired me to want to help others achieve health and wellness. Doctor kits used to be for all children, but now they are on the boys’ aisle. I simply believe that they should be marketed to all children again, and the same with Legos and other toys."

Hear, hear, doctor. (Though you might want to check out the mega-popular Doc McStuffins kit, which, while annoyingly fuchsia and purple, is definitely being aimed at girls. Which, of course, is part of the problem.)

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