Beyond Barbie

SHE is eternally young and impressively statuesque - a leggy blond with a face that for 32 years has defined a certain kind of idealized beauty for millions of little girls. She is Barbie, the undisputed queen of "fashion dolls" and the most successful doll in history, accounting for $740 million in sales last year alone.So appealing is Barbie's face, in fact, that it has launched, if not a thousand ships, at least a high-visibility lawsuit. Barbie has now gone head to high-coiffed head with a look-alike "Miss America" doll produced by Kenner Products. A lawsuit filed by Mattel Inc., Barbie's corporate parent, charges that two of Kenner's five Miss America doll heads bear an almost identical resemblance to Barbie. Kenner defends the similarities by stating in its legal brief: "The concept of fashion dolls is to look like human fashion models, enabling little girls to pretend that they are, or one day will become, fashion models. Thus, the faces of fashion dolls must have the pretty features expected of most fashion models, along with the standard features typical of most dolls...." Barbie has come a long way since her introduction in 1958, when she was little more than a pretty face with an extensive wardrobe. She has dabbled in careers that range from doctor and pilot to singer and executive. She has also maintained a steady relationship with her boyfriend Ken. But through it all her primary function has been as a clothes horse with 100 new outfits a year - to the despair of career-oriented mothers, who worry that Barbie will serve as a negative role model for their young daughter s. With or without competition from Kenner's Miss America, Mattel's Barbie will continue to maintain her time-honored place in the world of make-believe. What the toy world needs now is not a Barbie clone, but a different doll that can inspire a new generation of little girls to do more than "pretend that they are, or one day will become, fashion models." Go for it, Kenner.

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