LEGO – where did it all go wrong?

There has been much talk on many blogs over recent weeks over the new LEGO Friends. I’m not going to start yet another blithering on the ghastly hideousness of the stereotyping subject matter of these sets – suffice to say that it’s just… bad.

But I do want to say something quite important. This…

… is not a LEGO set.

Sorry, but it’s not. It’s a small figure playset, for sure, but what part of that is any part the LEGO that we all grew up with and justifiably venerate? Let me show you… This is how the LEGO catalogue looked the year I was born:

THAT is what Maria, aged 5, built with her Lego set. And THAT is exactly what Lego celebrated in their own catalogue – just look at the sense of humour they have in those labels. In their very own words, the next page reads:

…You probably say “now, Common sense tells you that doesn’t look like a real one”
But common sense is something invented by us grown ups. Maria built it exactly as she wanted it.
For her it’s an ambulance.
She built her ambulance with LEGO. Because LEGO has no limits.
That’s the whole idea behind LEGO.”

So where did it all go wrong? Exactly when did they start to limit the play, the imagination? To tell our children what those bricks should be made into?

I’m not so concerned about the sexism thing; they’ve ALWAYS done ‘girls’ stuff and ‘boys’ stuff. They’ve always made Kitchens and Police Cars.
But look what the girls had to play with back then in their ‘girls’ sets (do note the lack of PINK, despite it blatantly being a ‘girls’ set):


Can you see what it says there?

“You can build the dolls house itself from a Basic Set. Just the way you want it.”

Quite so.
MY very own 5yr old girl saw that picture, and yelped with longing. Because she saw the POTENTIAL – and wasn’t presented with the finished product that she would definitely end up with.
And don’t tell me that ‘children have changed’ – if I sit my girl down in front of a box of bricks, she would end up with something remarkably similar and equally-well-thought-out as Maria’s ambulance.

No – LEGO has changed. And that makes me sad because I LOVE LEGO. For so very many reasons.

My eldest son is the biggest LEGO freak in the house, and through his long two years of housebound-illness it was about the only activity that kept his busy 11yr old head sane. He has more sets than I can tell you (or care to think about the cost of), and what does he do with them? Leaves them all in huge boxes so that he can pick and mix the bricks to create whatever he has in his brain that day.

THAT is the genius of LEGO.

And the lack of any kind of imagination is exactly what makes the new ‘Lego Friends’ range set our teeth on edge.

** LEGO catalogue courtesy of the awesomeness that is Retronaut – do go and see the whole 1973 Lego catalogue for yourself **

Author: Laura

A 70's child, I’ve been married for a Very Long Time, and appear to have made four children, and collected one large and useless dog along the way. I work, I have four children, I have a dog… ergo, I do not do dusting or ironing. I began LittleStuff back in (gulp) 2004. I like huge mugs of tea. And Coffee. And Cake. And a steaming cone of crispy fresh fluffy chips, smothered in salt and vinegar. #healthyeater When I grow up I am going to be quietly graceful, organised and wear lipstick every day. In the meantime I *may* have a slight butterfly-brain issue.

Share This Post On


  1. My youngest is obsessed with lego & yes he has lots of “sets” but the lego that he loves the most is the big box of random lego given to us by a neighbour. His favourite part of the lego shop is the wall of individual bits you can buy. I don’t think you need to worry too much because you can “tell” kids what to build but the imaginative kids will go their own way …. thank goodness.

    Post a Reply
    • JO that’s my biggest problem with these Lego Friends sets; there really isn’t anything else you can break them up and make them into. They have actually removed the whole principle LEGO is founded upon – what else can you do with that set at the top than walk girl around pool and lay her on her sun lounger?
      A child looking for more creative play will simply ignore the set entirely.

      Post a Reply
  2. A really interesting post. I have 2 young girls and they are interested in Lego but want more ‘girl’ bits and bobs so I was interested to see the new sets on sale. Fully appreciate your comments though, and I’ll be wanting to look at the new sets in more detail.

    Post a Reply
    • Jen I have no issue with the girl-targeted sets. I own a very pink kind of girl myself, who will quite naturally lean towards any girl-targeted product no matter how much I encourage her otherwise. But the lack of creative play in the new LEGO friends sets is the issue – the thing we all love most has been removed, leaving a lEGO-built Playmobil-type set instead. Which is okay, but really NOT what you buy LEGO for.

      Post a Reply
      • I really have to call BS on that. The set we have here does, indeed, lack quite a bit of play value. However, Emma’s Splash Pool (as the set is known: is valued at only $6. That is the bare minimum price for anything near a full set in today’s economy; any lower, and you get into the range of just selling minifigs with accessories. This really is not a suitable representation of the Lego Friends line, and criticizing the entirety of it on the basis of a set about as variable as “198-1: Cowboys” ( is really just a sad waste of text.

        If you want to do an actual comparison with doll sets of yesteryear, then take a look at sets like “41095-1: Emma’s House” ( This has far more playability to it, and while it may have many more specialized pieces in it, several of the small touches on this set wouldn’t be possible without those pieces. Take a look at that porch light, for example. The piece connecting it to the wall was originally designed to be a gun. Or the backs of the chairs in the dining room, which started as the ramps for a car carrier trailer. Just because the pieces are more specialized doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for creativity; in fact, there is a term in the MOC (My Own Creation) community called NPU, or Nice Part Usage, that congratulates creativity with interesting pieces.

        And seriously, if you still can’t see how to be creative with these sets, well…

        Post a Reply
  3. that looks like Barbie by any other name ….

    Post a Reply
  4. I agree with you, Lego is about imagination not ‘it should look like this’. That’s what Revell models are for. We’ve had all sorts of sets over the years but the best things are the random things built :)

    Post a Reply
  5. Couldn’t agree more! Last week I was given a fab Lego Hospital set, still in it’s original box, dating from 1978 – they really don’t make it like they used to… (I blogged about it if you want to see it in all it’s late 70’s glory ;-) )

    Post a Reply
  6. Urgh I so agree with you. We have the Winnie the Pooh set too and while the figures are lovely and DD adores them, the actual lego that came with the set is a bit lame. A big box of plain lego pieces is still the best way to stimulate their imagination I think.

    Post a Reply
  7. So much I could say, so little space…
    1. Pink is just a colour, not a political or sociological movement. Buying your child a Lego vet clinic is not a slippery slope to Katie Price. Nor is buying her a Lego beauty salon, which, yeah, its a little tacky, but it is actually just a toy, and unless that is the sole influence on your childs character, it isn’t going to do them any harm.
    2. Don’t see how a Lego set based on Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean or Harry Potter has any greater/lesser worth than a set featuring puppies, a cafe, a treehouse or a convertible. They are just catering to different preferences.
    3. The Lego Friends sets seem to fit right into the kinds of games my girls actually enjoy playing. 99% of all the games my girls play involve role playing, and they rotate between (among other things) playing families, shops, doctors, vets, schools.
    4. I think that society as a whole has got itself into a bit of a frenzy about anything ‘girly’, as though it makes girls stupider to play with very feminine toys. But I’m stuffed if I know why. Whats wrong with a fashion design school Lego set? Sorry, I just don’t get it. Particularly when I look at what else is available – I mean, the Ninja Ambush set? Which features little Lego people brandishing massive axes and machetes at each other? Obviously, any sane parent would say that is perfectly harmless, your child isn’t going to go and chops their friends head off after playing with that. Sort of like, my child wouldn’t go and get breast implants and botox after playing with the beauty salon set. (Which, honestly, I wouldn’t buy because they would find that boring, but I’m not about to judge other girls who would like it)
    5. My girls have almost no interest in Lego at the moment because most of it seems to be almost exclusively marketed at boys. Good on Lego for trying to make something my girls might actually play with. You’d think they’d tried to extract children’s brains with Lego Ninja machetes judging by the (over)reaction from the worlds media.
    6. There are loads and loads of Lego sets that are very much designed with one end product in mind, but no-one seems to find the Batmobile or the Volkswagon camper van objectionable on that basis.
    7. I really want the VW camper van now, but its $US200.
    8. I’m finished. xx

    Post a Reply
  8. I’ve got to agree with Emma. My dd was 6 this week and received the cafe, convertible, treehouse and several smaller sets! She has huge buckets of Lego (pink and normal coloured too!) and really wanted the Lego friends sets. She also received a Lego city set which can only really be build into what its meant to be so not really any different to the friends sets. She’s a girly girl and I’m fine with it! She likes hello kitty too so I expect to be shot for my terrible parenting skills now!!

    Post a Reply
  9. Noooo, I have absolutely no issue with the sets that make particular stuff, honest. We have never bought ‘boxes of bricks’, we have only ever bought the sets (actually breaks my heart when they’re broken down into so many bricks and end up in the Lego crates).
    And I don’t have an issue with the ‘pink thing’ per se (though I do tire of the toy manufacturers thinking that is ALL they should offer, presuming that is ALL girls want – of course it is when it is the only thing they see that is marketed for them).
    That’s not the problem – it’s the fact that these sets feel like a Lego sell out. I adore Playmobil as much (possibly more, judging by Son No.3’s bedroom) than any parent has a right to do – and that is purely sets for imaginative role play. The daughter has the ‘pink’ Playmobil sets, and I love them very muchly in all their girlie princess-and-flowers glory.
    But Lego is about something DIFFERENT. At least, it always was.
    Maybe I’m being idealistic, expecting a brand to stick to it’s principles, but Lego was always about going where your imagination takes you, not what the manufacturer tells you your toy will look like. Exactly as Katy states – you know that once your rocket is made and played with, there’s always a Space Ship Fire Engine with secret ray guns and a cupboard for snacks waiting in the wings.
    These Lego Friends sets just. don’t. do. that. And tis ONLY Lego Friends I’m talking about here, not the other ones.
    Maybe it’s simply the figures with boobs and mini skirts and lipstick that have got my back up… Just the way i’ll not buy any numbe rof other ‘girl’ toys for my 5yr old. Plop the regular mini figures in there, and it’s really just yet more banal pink plastic crap for the children to squeal over…
    (*sob* When did LEGO become banal? THAT’s my issue…)

    Post a Reply
  10. Mmmm, yes, indeed you can make rockets, space ships, fire engines and ray guns very easily with Lego….Alas this is kind of my point, my girls have no interest whatsoever in any of those things, and have a lot more interest in puppies, ponies, pretend shops and girls that don’t look like boys with long hair. I still don’t see why this Lego can’t be used with all your other Lego and be used to make stuff that isn’t pictured on the side of the box, but I guess I’m just going to have to buy some of this damn stuff when it makes it to New Zealand and find out for myself if it ruins all hope of imaginative play, or is really just different looking prettier plastic blocks :-)

    Post a Reply
  11. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the marketing that’s annoyed me more than anything – the figures and the feckless grown-up-girls-with-lippie being targeted at 5 and 6 year olds.
    If it was real-world little girls type stuff, then I wouldn’t mind half so much about the useless Lego-ism of it. Don’t care what you say – we have the café, it is NOT very Lego-ish. NO.1 son hates it, and he is Lego King. He constructed it for Pink, muttering about its crapness as he went. PInk ignores it and has never played with it (and she begged for it, and squeaked with delight at the box) – and this is the girl who’ll happily play with a pack of crayons walking up the table, giving them voices and lives.
    I am not some stuck-in-the-past rose-tinted-specs-wearer. I have never bought ‘a box of bricks’, not once. We ALWAYS buy the ‘sets’, and we universally love them (though some are better value than others).
    But even No.1 turned down the opportunity to have the Hogwarts Castle for his birthday, as he said it looked totally amazing, but once he’d constructed it, he’d “never want to break it, and that’s just not the point of Lego”.
    But if they want to do girl sets (and they ALWAYS have) – why can’t the girls be superheroes, or vets, or doctors, or have a playground? Why is it that they have to hang out at the café drinking latte’s, drive their convertible with fluffy pink pooch and lippie to the beauty salon where they can swish their mini-skirted little arses inside to make themselves Pretty Enough?

    Post a Reply
  12. And not to harp on about this, because I do feel we’re flogging a dead horse, but having just sat down and looked at every single Friends set on the website, and watched a couple of videos showing more detail, I think they are no different at all from other themed sets. Loads of little blocks for making all sorts of other things, and when you say that “These Lego Friends sets just. don’t. do. that.”, there are only maybe 3 out of the 14 sets for which that is possibly correct, and you’ll find the same for most categories of Lego. I’ve spent more time on the Lego website in the last day than in my entire lifetime. (And Lucia was squealing with excitement when she saw the Friends sets. We’re definitely getting the vet clinic, and probably the house). Over and out, I really am done now.

    Post a Reply
  13. I’m not going to wade in on the debate about Lego friends, but I’m LOVING the pics from lego catelogues from the 70s.

    I’ve not got kids, but – aged 37 and three quarters – I do have a big box of Lego. For when friends bring their kids around obviously…

    Post a Reply
  14. Ha ha! Its the pink-panic, I knew it! (We were posting at the same time). (There is a vet clinic). (Any why aren’t you bothered about all the war-mongering encouraged by Lego?)

    Post a Reply
  15. I get what you mean, it did make me sad when I saw it as I think it’s great how lego encourages imagination and creativity! It’s all a bit pink isn’t it? I’m a girl and when I played lego as a child I played space ships and pirates. We are still in the duplo stage at our house and my little on loves all the figures that come with it, she builds things for them to play on but I don’t think she’s get as much out of it without the little animals to role play with. I guess maybe it’s the same thing with the lego friends? Girls love to role play games. Either way it’s clearly a hit, 2 of my nieces have just had birthdays and it’s all they’ve asked for! They probably would have considered themselves over lego till this came out. xx

    Post a Reply
  16. I have to agree with Emma here too I think. As the mother of a boy and a girl (and previously a nanny to many others) I do think there are some differences in what they want to play with but I do agree with Laura that some of it is marketing. But only some. I think the lego sets are fun and just a toy. They do seem to just fit with other lego in the end. As to the influence of the gendered sets, I nannied once for a family who decided that the toys for their boy and girl were going to be gender neutral. We didn’t visit toy shops and they had no tv. The boy made guns with his duplo and lego and the girl built houses and schools for the teddies. I know that is far from a scientific conclusion but I think as strong, independent, intelligent women we get a little bit carried away with “pink panic” as Emma calls it. I had a Sindy, her wardrobe, a Barbie and a Pippa, dolls houses, a little brush and pan set etc but have I grown up to be a domestic slave, subordinate to my other half? Have I heck! It is all just imaginative role play, I think we need to take it a little less seriously and ensure we provide strong role models for our girls in our own lives. xx

    Post a Reply
  17. My daughter absolutely loves lego. She has been bought lots of “sets”. These tend to be made once using the instruction booklet, then end up in the giant box of lego bits for her to make whatever she fancies without instructions. Some of her creations are amazing, all coming from her imagination.

    I did cave in when she asked for the Lego Friends cafe. She saved her pocket money to pay for 1/2 of it & was overjoyed when it arrived this week. After putting it together, she has used it as a playset loads. My son also loves playing with it & acts out scenes using the figures & props.

    I have nothing against the new sets, they are a great idea for playing. But why oh why did they have to make them “fluffy” & pink?. It was v interesting to see the 1973 “girls” sets, still in the traditional lego colours. I would have loved them as a kid (& still would love them now!).

    Laura, I’m going to quote you as I love what you’ve said…..

    “But if they want to do girl sets (and they ALWAYS have) – why can’t the girls be superheroes, or vets, or doctors, or have a playground? Why is it that they have to hang out at the café drinking latte’s, drive their convertible with fluffy pink pooch and lippie to the beauty salon where they can swish their mini-skirted little arses inside to make themselves Pretty Enough?”

    Post a Reply
  18. I hope my late arrival in this conversation is not an intrusion; I stalked Emma here from Facebook.

    If the pink stinks debate were only about a few slightly less versatile Lego sets then of course it would be a fuss over nothing. But I really don’t think that is the point. It is the framing of girls’ childhoods, and modern femininity in general, that is at issue. Young girls face a world in which they are widely expected to be either princesses or porn stars (metaphorically at least).

    If you saw that scarcely believable TV series about English gypsy weddings you will have been astonished and appalled as I was. The girls were treated and clothed like virgin harlots. All pink, “pretty”, and infantile, and existing largely for their men’s pleasure.

    Is that really that far removed from our culture? Take a look around a department store in Sydney or London some time. You will see shelves and shelves of imagination-limiting toys for girls. They are almost all pink, oddly, despite women my age having somehow managed to identify what toys they wanted to play with when children without them being colour coded.

    A few steps from those shelves will be racks of raunch wear for nine year olds. Training bras for very-pre-teens with no earthly need for them. T-shirts for primary school children advertising Hugh Heffner’s vile and exploitative empire. Is this really what we want? Is there not reason to protest?

    I would venture that the strong independent women posting here were not raised in a culture that treated its girls this way. I dare say our daughters will fare well enough, despite the crass and dangerous intrusion of the multi-billion dollar empire that has a vested interest in limiting their choices to the products that it has decided to manufacture.

    I mean no offence to anyone here, and I am sure we will help our daughters to make good choices. We will shield them from the worst of it while we can, but this is not the world in which we grew up. Many of our toys may have been lazily unisex, but at least it was laziness, not contempt.

    Today’s options are clearly not so benign, with Paris Hilton and her ilk as viable and richly rewarded role models, and large swathes of the toy and media industries on board, I don’t doubt that damage will be done to our children’s generation.

    As a feminist father of two girls I am very clear that this is not what I want for my daughters. Yes I did say feminist. I believe that any father of daughters (or sons for that matter), who does not consider himself a feminist has misunderstood the definition of the very broad word that is feminist, or he has misunderstood his job description.

    If we don’t treat our daughters as equals, capable of making their own decisions, who are we relying on? Mattel?

    Post a Reply
  19. CM – I have just realised that I have never replied to you, and that was very rude. However, I do think it quite fitting that your comment was the ‘last word’ in the debate – what an incredibly well thought out and positive comment, thank you for taking the time to write it.
    And yes. *nods*. < What CM says. *grin*

    Post a Reply
  20. I grew up with fond memories of sets from the late 80’s and early 90’s, so it’s only natural I feel the style and form of those sets are the best and “purest” form of Lego. The set in example here isn’t too terrible in my opinion. There was a time when I thought it was a form of blasphemy to have Lego pieces in any color other the basic colors. I’ve grown to accepting to new colors including pink.

    I still am not terribly fond of the way the elements have changed over the years though. Like in this example, the girl just doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the set. Her form is smooth and specific in definition, while the rest of the pieces are blocky and can take on many forms. There are many other elements I’ve seen which also seem to be too clearly defined as one thing only. A lot of character specific heads for example. Yoda’s head is pretty hard to work into use as anything other then Yoda’s head. The generic smilie face, on the other hand, is less flashy, but can attached to a race car driver or pirate or astronaut or any character.

    The biggest problem of all I see Lego involved in though, is the overuse of franchising. It seems about 80 or 90% of what Lego makes these days has a registered trade mark already attached to it. To me I see it as a lack of creativity by the makers of a toy intended to foster creativity. It’s lazy, shameful, and ruining the magic that Lego once had in our hearts and minds. In many ways this also ties into my last point of too specific elements. When you attach a specific name and style to a set like Star Wars or Harry Potter or Batman, you’re laying a foundation to stifle creativity. Granted, the system still allows ways to be creative even with these sets, but not as well as the older, more generic sets did.

    Post a Reply


  1. Pre-Christmas Christmas Shopping list – Lego Friends Advent Calendar REDUCED! | LittleStuff - [...] one’s top of a lot of people’s list this year (not mine, thankfully… we all know how I feel…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *