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Barbie: Prickly in pink Add to ...

Well, at least I got a belly button when I was 41.

That was a relief, and I shouldn't really complain. I'm grateful for all the changes designers have made over the years. My bendable knees in 1964 were a godsend. I could actually sit like a lady on the lawn swing I came with that year. And my eyes! It was terrific when I could open and close them for the first time back in the sixties. A blink-free stare can ruin a girl's mascara, and I like to pack on the goop, as you know. I still have my stiletto-ready arched feet, but I can live with them, even though it makes it hard to pad around barefoot in my beach house.

I am Barbie, and I am turning 50 today. So, even though it may be impolite - and unexpected for my legion of fans - I figure it's time I speak out. I am the world's most famous doll, after all, and I have been silent long enough. I should have a say in how I'm managed. Isn't midlife a time when women come into their own, know who they are and what they want? That's what Midge has been telling me. Besides, I'm slightly menopausal today, and I feel a rant coming on.

For starters, there are a few things I want. Like nipples. No one thought I would sell with my humongous breasts. But I did, didn't I? And if I can get a navel, why not some nipples? They're safe enough. It's not like I'm asking for a vagina and for Ken to get a nice package - other than the one he comes in, I mean.

I know my place in the world: I am a doll of sanitized sexuality. "Little girls have difficulty adjusting to their breasts," said my maker, Ruth Handler, in a documentary about me. "I thought if they got a grown-up doll with breasts it would ease their feelings about their own breasts." That lady knew what she was doing. Allow young girls to fantasize about being women without scaring them with anatomically correct sex parts.

On the subject of Ruth, I feel the need to set the record straight on my childhood. My parents are supposed to be plain and honest-as-doughnuts folks in America's heartland: George and Margaret Roberts from small-town Willows, Wis. But they're fictitious. Truth is, I popped into being at 17, and I owe my existence to an improbable pair of women: a German tart (my predecessor, the Bild Lilli doll, modelled after a gold-digging bombshell cartoon character) and Mother Ruth, a battleaxe of a businesswoman who hailed from Denver and looked a bit like Barbara Bush, with her white cloud of hair and double strand of pearls. I should also reveal that I never graduated from Willows High School, even though I went to college in 1964.

I admit, I am feeling proud of myself. I am multiethnic. I have changed with the times. I have sported a nose ring and a tattoo. I have had about 80 careers, everything from model to paleontologist to presidential candidate. My friends and I have worn close to one billion fashions.

In many ways, I have come to embody modern mature womanhood. We all juggle various roles in our lives, and we never know what we'll have to be next. One minute you're a gourmet cook in a dream house, then you're dressed up in a party dress for a glam event, next thing you know, you're firing off e-mail directives from work. We have all worn many hats, or rather, outfits and shoes. (Speaking of which, I have more than one billion pairs.) I am prescient, really. I mean, look at all the women my age who are embracing plastic, when I did that at the beginning.

The point is, I have endured. I am a star, still, 50 years after I made my debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York with a zebra-striped bathing suit hugging my hourglass curves. Sure, sales were down in the last three months of 2008 - I have read about a 20-per-cent drop - but who isn't suffering these days?

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