The Evolution of GI Joe

In today’s world, there is definitely a new surge in the importance of the body image of a male. There is certainly a growing dissatisfaction within men and the way they look. Along with the way men look, there is also a stress on men, dominance and their place in society. Heteronormativity is this belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life. It asserts that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm, and states that sexual relations are only fitting for those of opposite sexes. Consequently, a “heteronormative” view is one that involves alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity, and gender roles. This is the idea that men “should” act a certain way also—they’re expected to be the dominant sex in life. Now what is up with this obsession with proving “male dominance” in today’s contemporary American teenagers? And as a matter of fact, in all boys and/or men these days. Is it social media? Is it celebrities? Is it because of what is presented in the magazines and on television? Or is it simply a combination of it all? With this in mind, how can men be satisfied with the way they look and dress when they’re simply held to impossible standards sometimes?

Some are familiar with the concept of “fag discourse”… others however might not be. This discourse manifests itself in an almost expected way in which young men label each other “fags” while seeking to avoid having that label applied to them. According to this discourse, fear of being called out publicly as a “fag” is the primary driving force behind an interesting ideology known as “compulsive heterosexuality.” Compulsive heterosexuality is the idea that one’s sexuality is not chosen, but rather forced through society. Heterosexuality is now viewed, as a result, as the “natural inclination” of both sexes—and anyone who does not categorize themselves as “heterosexual” is now viewed as unordinary or abnormal. To be a “heterosexual male” many stereotypes come along with that. You are expected to be strong, dominant, and aggressive… and that’s just personality. What about looks? You are expected to look like what society is putting out there for us, right? Channing Tatum in Magic Mike, Christian Bale in The Dark Night, “The Rock”…all the time…, IMPOSSIBLE expectations. So what about children’s toys too? Do you think it’s possible that these expectations have manifested from a young age? Children’s toys, such as GI Joe, groom little boys to believe that that is what we all should look like.

It was not always like that, however considering how much the GI Joe action figure has evolved in the past 50 years. The action figure G.I. Joe was created by the Hasbro toy company in 1964, in part as a response to the popularity of Barbie dolls with American girls. This new GI Joe action figure was nearly 12 inches tall, and his movable joints—right down to the wrists—made him a fast hit with young boys. Ever since this World War II-style fighting man first came out, he has been a huge hit to young boys. Here is the picture of one of the first GI Joe dolls that ever came out:


1960s GI Joe Action Figure

Now let’s travel through time to recent years, almost 50 years since the first GI Joe was created, this is the transformation this action figure has taken on:


gi joe

Evolution from the ‘60s to 2000s

Going off of this, we’ve all often heard that the Barbie-dolls unrealistic dimensions and body measures have a negative effect on small girl’s body ideals. So the question is: Does the action figure features have a negative image on the small boys body image? Or perhaps even on the adult male body image? The next question is: Why has the development of this doll moved in this direction? Unfortunately, living in the world we do, it’s all about the “next best thing”, and thus the newer doll “needs” to outdo the older model – and must look stronger and tougher than its predecessor. As the look of this doll progresses, so does the belief that men should look that way does as well. The bigger the action figure gets, the bigger people in today’s generation feel they should look as well. This is seen through many studies that have been done on children’s toys that suggest that cultural expectations may contribute to body image disorders in both sexes. One study I recently stumbled upon showed that about five percent of middle and high school students have used anabolic steroids to put on muscle, according to a new study from Minnesota. In addition to steroid use, more than one-third of boys and one-fifth of girls in the study said they had used protein powder or shakes to gain muscle mass, and between five and 10 percent used non-steroid muscle-enhancing substances, such as creatine.

As you can see, the evolution of this doll has resulted in unrealistic expectations for people these days. And thus leaves the question, how does this idea previously talked about known as compulsive heterosexuality parallel what the toy industry has put out there for us, and how far will one go to look how society “expects” us to look? How do the physiques of male action toys — small plastic figures used by children in play — provide some index of evolving American cultural ideals of male body image? And lastly, how does male body image and how one “should” look play into the concept of male dominance in our society?