Over the years Barbie - long-legged, curvaceous, and forever young - has been no stranger to criticism, much of it well-deserved. Barbie, her critics say, has helped give girls a false impression of what the "ideal" woman looks like. Particularly in the beginning (Mattel Inc. introduced the doll in 1959), she was little more than a fashion model with an endless supply of clothes.
But Barbie has evolved - to some degree. She's had numerous careers, including singer, executive, doctor, pilot, and lifeguard. And her popularity has rarely waned. Now, in an attempt to tap into that "Barbie way of life," a fashion company in Japan says it plans to introduce a line of adult-size Barbie handbags, earrings, pajamas, and dresses, all emblazoned with the pink Barbie logo.
A disconcerting thought: Girls who once wanted to be just like Barbie can grow up to wear "her" clothes. But, as those at the Itochu Fashion System Company point out, Barbie represents more than just good fashion sense: She's energetic, ambitious, and can do whatever she wishes. "She's free," Itochu's marketing manager says.
In other words, she's a departure from traditional Japanese dolls, who are plain and demure - the opposite of Barbie's vivacity. Looking at it from that perspective, it's possible to see how Barbie could become role-model-of-choice for Japan's liberated set.
Yet the fact remains: Barbie's greatest appeal is her clothes and her looks. It's that market-proven fetish for fashion, not the doll's supposed social statement, that the folks at Itochu ultimately will be banking on.