It’s a doll’s life

She might have celebrated her 50th birthday this week, but the world’s most popular toy still manages to live it up in her fairy world

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Published: Wed 11 Mar 2009, 9:45 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:42 PM

UBER-FASHION DOLL Barbie turned 50 on Monday, celebrating her half century with a face-lift, a life-size version of her very own California dream beach house and a string of parties around the world.

The busty icon had good reason to celebrate: Barbie is the most successful toy in history with hundreds of millions of dolls sold. Corporate parent Mattel estimates than on average three dolls from the line are sold every second.

Although sales slipped by some 20 per cent last year, Mattel, the world’s largest toy company, recently won a major court victory against the maker of Barbie’s trendy, hot-selling rival Bratz, which were found to be based on work done by a designer who was employed by Mattel.

For years, many feminists have reviled Barbie for her impossible figure, which they claimed taught young girls to have body expectations that could only be met with starvation and surgery.

In her many permutations, Barbie’s makers countered feminist criticism by placing her in 108 careers, while having her represent 50 nationalities.

The new Bathing Suit Barbie, launched to commemorate the doll’s birthday, is described by Mattel as a ‘modernised version of the original 1959 doll.’?Her face features - a more natural look, including a thinner jaw line, more almond-shaped eyes, fuller lips and a softer makeup palette.

Another new doll timed to coincide with the birthday reflects how times have changed since Barbie was first sold in 1959 as Barbie Millicent Roberts by creator Ruth Handler, who went on to launch Mattel.

Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie comes with a set of more than 40 tiny tattoo stickers, which can be placed on her body. The new doll has already sparked condemnation from some parents, who fear it could encourage racy behaviour in impressionable girls.

In another big move, Mattel is opening a six-storey Barbie megastore in Shanghai, where girls and their mothers can design their own dolls, get facials and manicures and peruse thousands of Barbie products, from branded chocolate bars to Barbie fashions for dolls and humans alike.

Opening up the Chinese market to the wonders of Barbie is a key strategy for Mattel as its Western clientele is increasingly ditching tangible playthings for electronic wonders.

There’s no reason why in five to 10 years, China shouldn’t be the biggest market in the world for us, Richard Dickson, Barbie’s general manager, told the Los Angeles Times.

Dickson was on hand on Monday at the opening of Barbie’s Malibu Dream House, where guests lined up opposite the Pacific Ocean to tour the strange abode. The 350-square-metre mansion features a bedroom with wall-to-wall pink carpeting, a closet filled with 50 pairs of pink shoes and a garage housing a pink Volkswagen Beetle with a motorised, pop-up vanity in the in the boot.

If you’re a Barbie fan and couldn’t make it, don’t worry. After the festivities are over, the decor will be shipped to a Las Vegas hotel, which intends to install it in a special suite that will be available for bachelorette parties, birthdays or other Barbie-themed events.

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