- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

The preternaturally young Barbie is celebrating her 50th birthday Monday as any other doll would do, by getting a new face, a new tattoo and a fabulous new home. Yes, Barbie of the eternally teenage profile and good hair days is having a midlife makeover.

First came the recently introduced Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie, with a set of tattoo stickers that can be placed anywhere on her body, plus a tattoo gun that enables children to stamp temporary tattoos onto the doll’s clothes and onto themselves. Girls seem to love it, and the doll is selling well, Mattel executives say. A few parents have complained.

Mattel has been here before. In 1999, Mattel sold Butterfly Art Barbie (skimpy halter, miniskirt and tummy tattoo). That doll came with sheets of butterfly rub-on tattoos for girls to stick onto themselves. Her main squeeze, Ken, also was available with a tattoo.

In 1998, when Babs was staring down 40, Mattel gave the couple matching Harley-Davidsons and leather jackets. Still available on eBay and collector sites, Barbie has a sweet pair of chaps, and Ken sports jeans and a goatee.

Fast-forward to 2009, and Barbie is getting what the other ladies in her McMansion subdivision want: a new face and a dream house.



Black-and-White Bathing Suit Barbie, revealed at midnight - about the same time Barbie, if she were real, would be rolling in from drinking Cosmos with her twice-divorced friend, Midge - unveils a new face sculpt, according to Mattel. The new design has been kept under wraps, but, to be sure, Barbie does not have the same makeover issues as a real 50-year-old. Her forehead remains unlined, and there are no crow’s-feet to be found. Will she look just a little more “well rested,” as if she has had a chemical peel and a shot of Botox?

The new bathing-suit Barbie is a homage to the original doll, which wore the same thing when it debuted in 1959, Mattel says. This week, the new Barbie will sell for the 1959 price of $3, too.

If a real-life 50-year-old could be jealous of a doll, she might be. Barbie has a tiny waist and the same gravity-defying breasts she did a generation ago. Real life gives gray hair and perimenopausal pudge.

Barbie gets to work at a wide array of interesting professions, and her feet, despite those teeny-tiny high heels, never hurt. She has had 108 jobs over the years, including presidential candidate, astronaut, Olympian and veterinarian. Meanwhile, you may work in customer service, or maybe you are one of the more than 500,000 Americans downsized last week. Where’s the glamour doll for that?

It is precisely Barbie’s charmed life that has made her what University of West Florida sociologist Mary F. Rogers calls a “fantastic icon.” Our culture is full of icons, Ms. Rogers writes in her book “Barbie Culture,” and those cultural icons provide a common point of recognition in our society.

“A fantastic icon contributes to culture by exaggerating what is actual, possible or conceivable,” Ms. Rogers writes. “Such an icon invites fantasy by taking the as-if or the fictive to its outer limits.”

While millions of people struggle to pay the underwater mortgage, Barbie is getting a new dream house.

In Malibu - home of movie stars and mudslides - a “pink-carpet celebrity birthday bash” is scheduled for Monday at a 3,500-square-foot house decorated by designer Jonathan Adler.

Says Mattel: “With features such as skirted, corseted lace-up ‘dress’ chairs, a chandelier made of Barbie hair, a closet filled with thousands of shoes, a sunburst mirror made from 65 Barbie dolls and a garage that includes a real Barbie Volkswagen New Beetle car (pink with a motorized, pop-up vanity in the trunk), the house brings to life all the fantasy and fashion of Barbie.”

With accouterments like that, Barbie really isn’t for children anymore. Forget flat abs; what 50-year-olds really fantasize about is white furniture free of children’s grime, a stocked shoe closet and plenty of cash to pay for the Jimmy Choos.

Barbie gets a “My Super Sweet 16”-style “outrageously pink” birthday party designed by Oprah’s fabulous friend Colin Cowie.

Brush aside the wardrobe and the good - albeit plastic - skin, and what truly is enviable about Barbie is her incredible success. Since 1959, Mattel has sold more than 1 billion Barbie dolls, nearly 100 million of those last year.

Barbie has been through America’s tough times. She’s seen war and recessions, bad hairdos and horrendous 1980s shoulder pads. She’s had mythical high-status jobs, but if she had a brain in her made-in-China head, she might say she has never “had it all.” She’s 50 and never married - she and Ken broke up a few years ago - and never had children.

“This piece of molded plastic represents many statuses in society,” Ms. Rogers writes. “Female, adult, young, white. What she represents also derives from what her persona leaves out. Barbie has no husband, daughter or son, no teachers, no minister, priest or rabbi and no neighbors.”

M.G. Lord, author of the book “Forever Barbie,” recently said Barbie is probably at peace, living a life without regrets. “By 50, Barbie - like [mature] women in general - has learned to live with being ‘of a certain age,’ ” Mr. Lord told a Canadian newspaper.

So, live it up on your 50th, Barbie, but remember the advice of almost everyone in your demographic who spent a spring break in Cancun: In retrospect, the tattoo probably was a bad idea.

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