Mr. Potato Head Gets Off the Couch. Meet Hasbro’s Slimmer Spud

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The slimmer Mr. Potato Head, left, and his classic counterpart

He may be little more than a massive carbohydrate, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Potato Head isn’t capable of cutting himself down.

Active Adventures Mrs. Potato Head / Hasbro

Hasbro unveiled a new, noticeably thinner Mr. Potato Head last week during the 2011 International Toy Fair convention in New York City. The tinier tater, named the Active Adventures Mr. Potato Head, has a slimmer body and, for the first time, even wears pants. Mrs. Potato Head has shed a few pounds herself, joining her spouse in his new active lifestyle. (More on The 100 Greatest Toys of All-TIME)

Hasbro is marketing the change as just a fun “extreme bake-over,” but we’re wondering whether the cultural pressure to be thin finally got to even these iconic characters of childhood?

Believe it or not, Mr. Potato Head has already taken steps toward becoming something of a health symbol. In 2005, he won a starring role in the U.S. Potato Board’s “Healthy Mr. Potato Head” campaign. The spokespotato was even featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade that year, promoting the nutritional values of, well, himself.

Come fall, when the Active Adventures line of toys hits stores, it seems Mr. Potato Head’s figure will morph to match the message. “Obviously there’s a culture-approved idea of fitness that is now part of the bigger picture of what that culture says is beautiful,” says Washington D.C.-based child psychiatrist Jean M. Thomas. “Mr. Potato Head maybe won’t be the same kind of icon as Barbie for slimness but it does add to the cultural pressure of ‘slim is better.'” (More on Toy Fair 2011: 15 Smartest Toys for Young Geniuses)

Of course, the preference for physical fitness doesn’t just come from the manufacturers of fashionably toned toys. It’s also the mantra of the First Parents themselves. In February 2010, Michelle Obama launched her “Let’s Move” campaign to fight the country’s epidemic of child obesity. One year later, it’s clear that toy companies got the memo. Scores of movement-based toys made their debut at this year’s Toy Fair. Wild Planet Entertainment, Inc.’s 2011 product line, for instance, was 67% made up of toys designed to encourage physical activity among children.

Active Adventures Mr. Potato Head / Hasbro

President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign to improve American children’s performance in science, technology, engineering and math has made a similar impact since it began in 2009. Designed to boost support for science- and math-focused extracurriculars, the program also presented a challenge to toymakers: help our kids learn. Companies like LEGO have already implemented products designed specifically for use in after-school robotics programs.

But toys that seek to get kids moving are different from those that simply reflect slim figures. “It’s part of a trend, but it’s a negative trend,” says Thomas. “It’s silly on one hand, but worrisome that the culture basically has suggested to the toy companies that they should get on the bandwagon and make slim beautiful.” (More on Elmo at the White House? Monster Plugs School Lunch Bill)

Putting the Potato Heads on a diet my seem like a trivial matter, but like it or not, kids pay attention. As to how much their formerly rotund torsos may affect children’s idea of body image, Thomas says it’s parents, not toys who do the real influencing. “It’s the parents who are going to say that this Potato Head is better,” she says. “That’s what will influence the children. Kids are influenced by parents.”