Disclaimer: Just so you know, if you order an item through one of our posts, we may get a small share of the sale.
Thanks to Amazon, finding toys is simpler than it’s ever been before. There are literally millions of toys on this global marketplace, and there are options for any budget.
Unfortunately, not every toy you can find on Amazon is a home run. Some unusual and downright controversial items have been met with harsh criticism from reviewers on Amazon, Reddit, and social media. Others are only available as collector’s items thanks to their controversial pasts, which date back as far as the early ’90s. Some have even been discontinued, with just a shell of a listing left behind. Check out these eight controversial toys you can still find Amazon and the newer, less ridiculous versions you can buy instead.
1. A Painful Stereotype From a Girls’ Doll
Back in 1991, Mattel released the Teen Talk Barbie, a talking Barbie programmed to say phrases you might expect from a teenage girl in the ’90s. This Barbie became a huge source of controversy, however, when the American Association of University Women pointed out one problematic phrase—“Math class is tough!”
In 1992, Mattel re-released the controversial toy, minus the low-key sexist phrase, according to an article published in the New York Times.
The 1991 Teen Talk Barbie is still available on Amazon, but only from private sellers. Math isn’t harder for girls, and they certainly shouldn’t be sent that message. As an alternative to a perpetuating this painful stereotype, how about a Barbie that can set a great example for young girls?
The Barbie Careers Scientist Doll, for example, encourages girls to “dream big with Barbie Career Dolls.” She’s dressed in a laboratory coat and accessorized with a microscope and goggles. That’s the kind of fashion decision we can get excited about!
2. A Cleaning Set That Reinforces Stigmatizing Gender Roles
While we’re talking about harmful, and frankly completely outdated, stereotypes being spread by gendered toys, let’s take a look at another controversial toy that is still being sold on Amazon. My Cleaning Trolley by Just Kidz is a cleaning cart outfitted with a broom, mop, and dustpan.
Kids love pretend play, and that often looks like mimicking what they’ve seen their parents doing at home. The unfortunate problem with this specific product is that is only available in pink and purple.
The subtle messages we send to our sons and daughters matter, right down to the toys they play with and how household chores are split in our homes. Skip the purple and pink cleaning toys altogether and opt for a gender-neutral option instead.
For kiddos who love pretend play, the Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House! set is a highly rated option on Amazon. Not only is perfect for both boys and girls, it appears to be higher quality than many alternatives based on customer reviews. With over 2,200 reviews and 4.6 stars, this little cleaning set is a great deal.
3. A Terrifying Nod to a Serious Issue
Let’s move on from bothersome gender stereotypes and on to more disturbing toys. Sound fun? The next ultra-controversial toy that is still available on Amazon is a terrifying nod to a movie that honestly isn’t the least bit kid friendly—Sin City.
This Death Row Marv Deluxe Box Set is just as terrifying as you’re probably imagining. The character’s eyes actually light up when the switch of the electric chair is turned on. Marv also repeats lines from the film including, “That the best you can do, you pansies?”
While some could argue that this toy isn’t really meant for children in the first place, it is still a toy and it does make light of a really serious issue. The loss of a life isn’t fun or funny, no matter what events led up to it.
When it comes to finding a better alternative to this controversial toy, we’re kind of speechless. Where else is there to go but up? How about a character from another comic-book-turned-movie, like Black Panther from the Avengers? This 12-inch action figure is inspired by a classic Marvel hero and has gained much popularity since the release of the Black Panther movie.
4. A Book With a Not-So-Body-Positive Spin
We all know that childhood obesity is a problem in the Western world, but there is very little evidence that supports putting children on diets to remedy the issue. Unfortunately, the author of this book didn’t get that memo.
Maggie Goes on a Diet is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a book about a girl who is overweight and then makes lifestyle changes to lose weight. According to the book’s description, she starts exercising, goes on a diet, and eventually becomes a “normal sized girl.”
We’re not anti-healthy eating, and we’re sure the author meant well, but a book about a child on a diet certainly sends a controversial message we’re not sure we can get behind. Instead of a diet, how about a book that sends the message that all bodies are beautiful, loud and clear?
What I Like About Me! by Allia Zobel Nolan is all about loving yourself exactly as you are. It features fun illustrations of kids of different colors wearing glasses and braces and using a wheelchair. These are the basic messages kids need!
5. A Barbie With an Unfortunate Name
In 1997, Mattel made another oversight when releasing a new Barbie doll. In a branded partnership with Oreo, Mattel released the Oreo Barbie. Dressed in cobalt blue clothing littered with images of Oreos, Oreo Barbie also carries an Oreo-shaped purse.
Branded partnerships with toy companies are actually pretty normal. In 1989, Mattel partnered with Pepsi to pull off a similar promotional gimmick. The issue with the Oreo Barbie isn’t in the branding. It’s cultural insensitivity that made this Barbie so controversial.
The original Oreo Barbie was black, making an otherwise harmless nod at the Oreo cookie really pretty offensive. “Oreo” has been a slang term used to insult people of color who “act white,” for quite some time.
The original Oreo Barbie can no longer be found on Amazon, although there are a few of the rereleased Oreo Barbies, who were white instead. If you’re looking for a better option for a more representative Barbie, there are plenty of diverse Barbies available now.
The Fashionistas Collection by Mattel features dolls with their own unique style and looks. The Rainbow Sparkle Doll is one of the members of this collection with dark skin, dark hair, and a fabulous rainbow dress.
6. A Pretend Toy That’s a Little Too Lifelike
Kids love pretend play, but there are certain real-life experiences most people would rather not replicate unnecessarily. Visiting the dentist is nerve-wracking enough for many kids (and their parents) without the added stress of a toy that makes the whole experience seem downright terrifying.
The Play-Doh Doctor Drill ’N Fill is an eerily lifelike Play-Doh set that mimics a visit to the dentist’s office.
Children can form teeth from Play-Doh, brush the teeth, and even use a battery-operated drill to fill in cavities.
What’s so amazing about this admittedly strange toy is that it has great reviews on Amazon. Although the original product has been discontinued, parents who have purchased the retro release have nothing but good to say about this toy. If you think your child might be into a lifelike reenactment of their last dentist’s visit, check out the Play-Doh Drill ’n Fill Retro Pack, which includes modeling clay, a vibrating drill, and a patient’s head where Play-Doh teeth can be placed during play.
7. A Playmobil Toy That Got a Bizarre Amount of Attention
This now-discontinued toy by Playmobil got a ton of attention from online reviewers. In fact, in one New York Times article, the marketing manager of Playmobil said it was the most negative feedback their company had ever received.
What toy was it that got Playmobil fans so riled up? The Playmobil Security Checkpoint, a playset that allows children to relive the misery of going through airport security again and again. Although it is certainly a strange choice for a child’s toy, there is nothing obviously offensive about the toy. Much of the criticism was more like teasing, poking fun at the idea that there is nothing fun about airport security.
The company discontinued the security checkpoint (although you can buy one of the overpriced models that’s still left), but maybe that isn’t a loss for toy shoppers. It doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of fun.
Instead of pat-downs and metal detectors, opt for a plane and pilot if you want to take a travel-themed Playmobil gift to the next birthday party you attend. The Playmobil Private Jet includes a pilot, flight attendant, and passenger, along with briefcases and cups for those fancy private-jet cupholders.
8. Another Gender Stereotype Faux Pas by Mattel
By now, you’d think that Mattel would have figured out how to avoid making majorly offensive generalizations about women, but that that hasn’t been the case. Instead, they have made the same kind of mistakes again and again, even when they’re trying to sell equality.
Another major gender stereotype faux pas made by Mattel is seen in their book Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. It’s hard to imagine how they could wrong with a title like that, but this book stirred up major controversy and was eventually discontinued by its creators.
In the book, Barbie designs a game but says she needs Brian and Steven’s help to do the programming. And, in the process of trying to email her design ideas to the guys, she accidentally infects her computer with a virus. Silly Barbie! How could she have forgotten that women can’t handle computers?
Compare the original version to mine.
Barbie can’t even code, and the book is called “Barbie is a computer engineer” pic.twitter.com/CholDn2oVE
— SwiftOnSecurity (@SwiftOnSecurity) November 18, 2014
If you happen to have a child in your life who is interested in science, there are better ways to encourage their interest.
The bestselling book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World shares the stories of women who have made amazing advances in the world of science, without any annoying references to needing a man to save the day.