Little Bo Peep is a Feminist Icon: Unpacking Her Toy Story Transformation

"At the time, I loved Little Bo Peep because society taught me to love a damsel in distress. I didn’t know there was an alternative. Now, I want to see strength."


This article contains Toy Story 4 spoilers.

Toy Story’s Little Bo Peep has always been special to me.

Despite having limited screen time, she immediately caught my attention. She was beautiful, kind, and boldly flirtatious. Her relationship with Woody was exciting (although far more risque than I realized), and their romance drew me in. Bo genuinely cared about Woody. She trusted him, comforted him, and worried about him.

I wanted Bo to be an important character because to me, she was. It felt like we shared a special bond—because of how much we both loved Woody.

However, despite how much her flashes of depth made me want to believe otherwise, Bo was not important.

Bo was a doll, a lamp, and ultimately, Woody’s accessory.

When Bo was written out of Toy Story 3, I assumed the worst. I believed that Pixar had given up on my Little Bo Peep. Bo was one of my childhood favorites and I knew that she deserved more.

My wish was granted when Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang reunited with their old friend in Toy Story 4. As thrilled as I was to see Bo again, I was even more pleased to discover that she had finally become her own character.

Bo’s Updated Character Design

Before the movie was even released, we could see from the promo materials that big changes were in store for Bo Peep.

Bo’s original character design screamed damsel in distress.

First of all, Bo is a porcelain doll. Although this wasn’t discussed in early movies, it reinforced the idea that Bo Peep was fragile. Of course Bo needed Woody to save her… what could a porcelain doll do for herself?

In Toy Story 4, her fragility becomes one of her greatest strengths through her tenacity and toughness. Bo isn’t afraid of breaking.

Instead, she’s a badass who nonchalantly ties her arm back on when Woody accidentally snaps it off.

“Her fragility becomes one of her greatest strengths through her tenacity and toughness. Bo isn’t afraid of breaking.”

Bo’s huge pink dress and petticoats were replaced with a fitted jumpsuit. In addition to being far more practical for her action-packed scenes, Bo’s new look is powerful. Although gendered clothing is (thankfully) becoming less meaningful in our society, pants have historically been a symbol of independence and progress for feminists.

Bo Peep’s skirt was so dramatically big that it hindered her. Her decision to get rid of it shows that she will no longer be overshadowed or controlled.

Other noteworthy changes to Bo’s character design include her staff and cape. Her staff was only slightly redesigned but it transformed from a flirtatious accessory to a useful tool and weapon.

And of course, with her new starring role, our heroine got a cape.

Did Bo Peep need the new outfit to become her more confident self? Of course not. The changes to her character design only symbolize her internal transformation.

A Heroine’s Evolution

When Andy played with his toys, they were villains, victims, or heroes. Bo Peep was always the victim. Outside of playtime, Bo still seemed powerless.

After Woody was abducted by Al in Toy Story 2, Buzz decided to rescue him. After giving a speech about why they need to help Woody, Buzz asked the toys “Who’s with me?” Hamm, Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, and even the timid Rex pledged to go, while Bo Peep said nothing.

Before they left, she pulled Buzz aside and gave him a kiss for Woody. When I rewatched this scene recently I wanted to yell at the TV. I didn’t want Bo to sit around again, hoping for Woody to return. I wanted her to go get him.

Whether Bo was afraid, disinterested, or simply ignored by the writers, her lack of heroism reinforced the idea that she was weak. In Toy Story 4, that all changed.

“Damsels in distress were dainty, beautiful, feminine, and sweet characters. I loved them because I didn’t know there was an alternative.”

When we meet up with Bo Peep again, she’s the badass hero I’ve wanted to see. Bo has a sidekick in Giggle McDimples, a quirky but useful Skunkmobile, who has some impressive moves.

Although Woody has been our hero, he takes a backseat to Bo Peep. She is the one giving directions, creating plans, recruiting help, and corralling him when need be.

At one pivotal moment, Bo refuses to help Woody when he tries to make an ill-advised last-ditch effort to save Forky. Although she eventually decides to return and help, this scene showcases Bo’s independence from Woody. She is not a blind follower. She looks out for her flock of Billy, Goat, and Gruff, Bunny and Ducky, Duke Kaboom, Buzz, and ultimately, herself.

Although it may seem odd that I praise her inaction in this movie but criticize it in the predecessors, her inaction feels different this time.

The mission to save Woody in Toy Story 2 never felt like an option for Bo. She could have gone, but she didn’t seem to believe it. In Toy Story 4, Bo’s decisions about when to take action were empowered choices.

An Empowering Ending

I’ll admit that I was unhappy with the ending of Toy Story 4.

Woody is the most devoted and loyal toy in the franchise, and I wish that he’d stayed with his family of toys, even if it meant separating from Bo. When Woody and Buzz said their goodbyes, I bawled.

However, the ending we got was incredibly empowering for Bo.

After spending so many years as a lost toy, Bo was entirely independent. Returning with Woody to Bonnie or finding a new child would have lost her the freedom she fought so hard to achieve. Rather than give up her lifestyle and dreams for Woody, she let him make sacrifices so that they could be together.

Women are so often expected to give up their lifestyles and careers for men. 2019 Bo didn’t even consider it, and for me, that’s a win.

Bo’s Transformation

Even though I loved her growing up, Bo from Toy Story and Toy Story 2 would not appeal to me now.

At the time, I loved her because she was the type of character society taught me to enjoy. Damsels in distress were dainty, beautiful, feminine, and sweet characters. I loved them because I didn’t know there was an alternative. Now, I want to see strength.

“Now, I want to see strength.”

On a personal level, I probably loved Bo Peep because she was like me. She was not a child but she was equally vulnerable. Bo and I had no idea who we were or who we could become.

As an adult, I am thrilled to see that Bo has grown up with me.


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