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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?

I have been through so much more than you can imagine. Little girls have sawn off my head. My hair has been shorn to stubble with kitchen scissors. I have been dismembered, drawn on, punctured, strung up by one foot. I have been left to float for hours in bathtubs and forgotten for months in toy chests. It's true that I have never married - which some of my newly divorced friends say is torture (no one holds back on the truth at this age) - and never had kids and bratty rug rats to deal with, but I have been tested.

For years, feminists got their granny knickers in a twist over my unrealistic body shape of 36-18-38 (if I were life-sized). Last week, even, a Barbie ban bill was proposed in West Virginia on the notion that I encourage girls to place too much emphasis on physical beauty and not on their emotional development.

To which I say: Just can it, already. Get out of my ponytail and find a life. I have put on a few pounds, if you must know. In 1997, my waist thickened, which I did partly to please all of you. (I also blame it on the Harley-Davidson lifestyle I took up that year: Too much sitting around.) I work hard to look this good. I don't have a closet full of gym gear for nothing. When things are going well, I can generate about $3.6-billion (U.S.) in annual sales, thank you very much, which statistically means that every second at least three of me are purchased somewhere in the world.

All I can say is that it's a good thing my head is precast. Otherwise, it would be very, very swollen.

There have been would-be usurpers. Most recently this Bratz chick. When she came on the scene in 2001, I think she figured she could bump me off my pedestal, being years younger and all. And for a while, she was doing well, what with her lollipop head, kiss-me lips, cascade of long hair and skinny body. (Between you and me, I think she came off as a little desperate for attention.) But my people look after me: Last year, we won $100-million in damages for copyright infringement. Ha! Stuff the sisterhood, I say. It's every babe for herself.

Before I start primping for my many birthday parties, I do have a few more things to put out there. Could someone please find a new pink for me? I need something more serene than the Pepto-Bismol hue.

And let me clear the air about Ken. We did break up for a while in 2004, after 43 years together. No, it wasn't that he was questioning his sexuality. It was just ... well, simple things. His hair troubled me. And I'd had it with the scuba gear he was always toting around. I kept thinking about this guy, Derek, who played in my Barbie and the Rockers band back in the eighties. I had a crush on him then but never acted on it, partly because Ken muscled in on our gigs the next year.

I had a bit of a midlife crisis. Who hasn't? I sought out Derek, who had disappeared from my life decades ago, but I couldn't find him, not even on Facebook. Which is why I took up with Blaine, a surfer dude from Australia. He was sweet; the perfect fling.

But then Ken came crawling back. He was looking good after consulting a stylist and hitting the gym a lot. I think he always took his boyfriend role for granted, and I was touched that he cared about me so much to work on himself. We're back together, and I like that he has no inclination to get down on bendable knee to propose. Why would I want that now? I have a lot going on. I've even started modelling again - for Karl Lagerfeld, at that. I grow restless at times, but my loyal boyfriend is happy in my orbit, which is just where I like him.

Things couldn't be better.

1959

Barbie Millicent Roberts is born. The #1 Ponytail Barbie sold for $3

1961

The first Ken doll is introduced

1965

Barbie joins the space program two years after the first female astronaut

1968

Barbie's African- American friend Christie is introduced

1971

Shortly after Woodstock, Barbie dons flower power bell-bottoms

1975

Barbie becomes an Olympic gold medalist in numerous sports

1980

Hispanic and African-American Barbie are introduced

1988

Canadian Barbie makes her entrance

1989

Barbie joins the Army and goes on to serve in the various armed forces in the early '90s

1997

Barbie becomes a Harley- Davidson biker babe

2009

Present-day Barbie

THE GLOBE AND MAIL SOURCE/IMAGES: BARBIEMEDIA.COM

In pictures

See Barbie's look change

over the years. globeandmail.com/life

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