A less busty Barbie is on the drawing boards at Mattel Inc. in a makeover designed to give a more realistic profile to the curvaceous best-selling doll that has rankled feminists while becoming an icon for generations of females.
Barbie’s new look also will include a thicker waist and slimmer hips. Changes above the neck will include a new nose and softer, straighter hair, Mattel said Monday.
Some features of the new Barbie already are on store shelves. The “Rapunzel Barbie,” a long-haired variation based on the classic fairy tale, has a more refined nose and closed mouth - part of the new design, said Lisa McKendall, Mattel’s director of marketing communications.
Other features will be introduced during 1998. By the end of next year, six of 24 versions of the 11-1/2-inch doll will have the new look. The rest will have the old face and body.
“She looks more youthful and more contemporary,” McKendall said.
The plastic surgery is part of a continuing evolution for Barbie, which got a face lift in 1967 and another in 1977, said McKendall. More than a billion dolls have been sold worldwide since Barbie was introduced in 1959.
“Barbie’s kind of like Betty Crocker. She gets updated to make her look more appropriate to the times. She is a fashion doll first and foremost,” said Chris Byrne, an analyst with Playthings MarketWatch, a monthly toy industry magazine.
“She hasn’t been updated for a while, and I know the Barbie franchise is critical to Mattel, so keeping it vital is important,” he said.
In 1996, Barbie generated $1.7 billion in sales, about 44 percent of Mattel’s total revenue. Sales rose 24 percent during the first three quarters of 1997 and were expected to finish at least 25 percent higher than the 1996 figures, putting sales of Barbie dolls worldwide near the $2 billion mark.
Those figures suggest that demand remains strong for Barbie in her present dimensions. By updating Barbie’s looks, Mattel is trying to anticipate a change in preference, analysts said.
“I think the company is trying to figure out how it’s going to keep the brand going,” said Brian Eisenbarth, an analyst with Collins & Co. in San Francisco.
But part of Barbie’s success, he said, has been the desire of mothers who want to give their children a toy that’s just like the dolls they played with. The changes could dampen some of that enthusiasm, he said.
“They’ve got to keep the Barbie line growing. That’s one of the things about success. It’s hard to duplicate,” he said.
Over the years, Barbie has come under sharp criticism from feminists and child advocates, who contend that her shape is unrealistic and creates the wrong ideal for young girls who may aspire to a body type they can never achieve.
Kelly Brownell, a Yale University psychology professor, concluded in a 1995 study that young girls notice the body shapes of icons such as Barbie and translate them into unhealthy images.
“Is Barbie going to have a negative impact on people’s images, I suppose so. But is it better in the new form? Probably,” Brownell said. “It would be nice if Barbie had the proportion of a normal adult and she could still be glamorous and drive her nice car.”
Another expert said Barbie’s shape has little to do with self-image.
“The fact is, the way a 5-year-old plays with a doll like that is as a vehicle for imaginative play. They create all kinds of scenarios that really don’t have anything to do with her looks,” said Dr. Robert Schacter, a New York psychiatrist who has studied toys and children’s play.
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