Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)
List item #27 from 53 Things Only 80s Girls Can Understand
The delicious smell of Rose Petal and Strawberry Shortcake dolls.
Pardon the Seinfeldian introduction, but was WAS the deal with smelly toys in the 1980s? Seriously. It was like at some point, some one in the toy world made the god-like decision that ALL toys had to smell like plasticized fruit. It’s no wonder that we became all shitforbrains about gross neon colors and stupidly big hair — we had been raised high on fumes!
The first time I recall seeing anything Strawberry Shortcake was on one of those cute but chintzy valentines cards that we used to dole out to friends in February in grade school. Then, one of my best friends made us all totes jealous by bringing her brand new Strawberry Shortcake doll to school! She was so very adorbs in her wittle pink and red dress and frizzy hair and green-striped tights! And by all and all, did she smell….delightful! Like freshly picked strawberries! Or so my young mind thought in the moment. I was completely enthralled at the notion of a strawberry-themed doll actually smelling like strawberries that I decided I HAD TO HAVE ONE. Sadly, my parents and I weren’t exactly on the same page when it came to toys. So most of my initial exposure to the brand was through my friends’ collection. (The same friend who also became the My Little Pony enthusiast.) That and an accompanying cartoon, because ANY toy worth its salt HAD to have a Saturday morning cartoon. This is a fact that we’ve already established.
By the time my parents caved and got me (and my younger sister) a Strawberry Shortcake playset at Christmas, the fad was in full swing. Upon walking through any toy section of any department store, you’d swear that its walls were made of strawberries. Very fake strawberries. The sweet, sickly smell permeated the air, just as it did in our house at that Christmas. There was no masking that fake smell behind brightly-patterned paper — we knew what we were getting as soon as we bopped down the stairs that morning. The Berry Bake Shoppe (so quaint with its old-timey spelling!) playset reeked to high heaven — almost like Juicy Fruit gum that’d been left out in the sun too long. But it was nothing compared to the dolls. Yes, dolls, plural. My parents made the classic “over-please them” mistake of buying three dolls for us to have fun with — the original Strawberry Shortcake, Blueberry Muffin, and for some dumb reason, the yucky boy doll named Huckleberry Pie. (Okay, maybe I thought he was kinda cute in the cartoon, but I was going to take that secret to my grave!)
Now I knew from being at my friend’s house that it was only a matter of time before you’d be greeted by Strawberry Shortcake’s voluminous odor before seeing her. While the Berry Bake Shoppe was stored on our toy shelves, the dolls always ended up mixed in with everything else in the toy chest. After just a few weeks of commingling, those dolls made the entire chest smell like an explosion of fruity chemicals. If we kept the chest open long enough, the sentient smell crept out into the room and wafted down the stairs. It wasn’t long before you could smell Strawberry Shortcake’s strawberriness upon merely entering our abode. The sugary, fruity smell (now combined with whatever passed for blueberries and huckleberries) impregnated the skin of nearly every single other toy that we had. (To this day, the one stuffed animal that I still have retains a faint, strawberry-like smell.)
That smell was never one that I came to truly despise, but it got bad enough that I didn’t want our room to become a refuge for all Strawberry Shortcake toys ever made. We ended up with one more playset (a giant snail) that pretty much went to my sister, as by then I turned my toy-obsessed attention to small, plastic horses. The strawberryesque smell and interest eventually faded into the general and plastic world of cheap, physical entertainments. I’m fairly sure that the Berry Bake Shoppe, giant snail, Strawberry Shortcake and her friends, and that stale, fruit smell ended up in a yard sale.
Note: The Buzzfeed list item mentiones “Rose Petal” dolls. Having no recollection of them, I had to look them up. Nope, never had them. Can see why they would have been popular, especially if they smelled like “roses.”
Epilogue: While searching for images for this post, I was surprised to read that Strawberry Shortcake still survives in the toy zeitgeist. While her name and image (and smell) might not rile up the worlds of young girls as they might have once done, it’s interesting to see how she has evolved into the twenty-first century. Of course, as with any nostalgic toy from the past, the true claim to famed can be marked with the question: “is it represented in porn?” But seeing as I’m not much in the mood to search for “strawberry shortcake” + “porn,” which I would…never…hmmm…. … … Um, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, yeah, the next best thing to ask is: “is it represented in an adult costume?”
Yep. Nothing says “fuck me gently” like a strawberry-shaped bonnet.