Barbie fights for her life as newcomers challenge her title as queen of the doll world

By Mae Anderson

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, July 18 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Thursday, June 27, 2013, photo,Tegan, 9, poses with Monster High Dolls as part of a Christmas toy preview at the toy store Hamleys in London. Mattel’s Monster High Dolls, with neon hair and punk clothing, have grown to an estimated $500 million in annual sales since debuting in 2010.

Frank Augstein, Associated Press

NEW YORK — As far as catfights go, this is a doozy.

Barbie, long the reigning queen in the doll world, has suddenly been thrust into the battle of her life.

But Barbie's competitors look nothing like the blue-eyed, blond-haired, long-legged fashion icon. And they don't have the same baggage and old standards of beauty either.

Monster High dolls, teens that are patterned after the offspring of monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein, have neon pink and green streaks in their hair. They wear platform heels and mini-skirts with skulls on them. And the dolls that go by names like Draculaura and Ick Abbey Bominable are gaining on Barbie.

In the Maddux household in Portage, Wis., for instance, Olivia, 10, has been playing with Barbie for six or seven years. But she added Monster High dolls to the mix a year ago.

"I look at Olivia and some of her friends and see they're growing out of Barbies," says Olivia's mom, Lisa Maddux, 42, a freelance writer.

That Barbie is losing her edge is no surprise. Since debuting in 1959 as the world's first fashion doll, Barbie has long been a lightning rod for controversy and competitors.

To be sure, Barbie is still No. 1 in the doll market, and the Mattel franchise is worth $1.3 billion. But everything from the growing popularity of Monster High dolls to increased criticism over Barbie's impossibly proportioned body at a time when the average American woman is about a size 14, have led some to question whether the diva has reached her prime.

This isn't Barbie's first brush with trouble, though.

The 54-year-old doll has been forced to evolve with the times, graduating from pin-up girl to a range of characters from astronaut to engineer to princess. But detractors have long criticized the 11.5-inch doll's frame, which would equate to about a 39-inch bust, 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips on a life-size woman, impossibly top-heavy and tiny-waisted.

In fact, artist Nickolay Lamm on Monday posted pictures of what the doll would look like if it had the average measurements of a 19-year-old, revealing a much more meaty physique. The pictures were featured on Web sites from CNN to Time and renewed controversy over the doll's effect on girl's body image.

Monster High dolls, on the other hand, although still pretty slim, have a punk rock look that's intended to send the message that being different is OK. And they're aimed at slightly older children, also adding to their appeal.

Monster High has become the No. 2 doll brand in just three years, says Timetoplaymage.com toy analyst Jim Silver. And while Mattel, which makes the dolls too, doesn't break out Monster High figures, BMO Capital Markets analyst Gerrick Johnson estimates the brand is worth more than $500 million in annual sales

Barbie's audience, meanwhile, is getting younger, which has hurt sales. After all, no child wants to be seen as a baby playing with baby toys.

She's marketed to children that are between age 3 and 9, but over the past 15 years or so, the range has shrunk to around 3 to 6. This has happened because older children are likely gravitating toward electronic devices or dolls like Monster High, which are aimed at kids 6 to 13, Silver says.

It's a trickle-down effect: The same reason why 5-year-olds who belted out "The Wheels on the Bus," 25 years ago would today be more interested One Direction boy band pop songs, he says.

"Kids are growing up much faster younger," Silver says. "A six-year-old is looking for something a little edgier. That's the reason why Monster High has had so much success."

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