In 1959 Ruth Handler noticed her daughter, Barbie, playing with paper dolls, giving them dresses and imagining them as grown-up women. She realised that there were only baby dolls on the market and felt that "there was a need for a doll that would inspire little girls to think about what they wanted to be when they grew up." And so Barbie, teen fashion model, was born.
At first there was just one, but Barbie was into cloning long before Dolly the Sheep and now it is a rare little Barbie fan who, from age three or four, does not have more than a dozen of the dolls.
Numbers easily mount up. As well as constantly launched new models in stores, check out the official website (www.barbie.com) for details of Happenin' Hair, Very Velvet and Wedgwood Barbie. And on it goes with aBarbie for each of the 29 National Basketball Association teams, three in the Twirlin' Make-up series, and two in the Bubble Fairy Barbie set and many, many more. Plus, there are the collectors' items for adults, kept in their boxes in pristine condition, rather like the sad Western dolls in Toy Story 2.
Each Barbie has her accessories. For Pet ovin' Barbie, there is a St Bernard, Dalmatian, Golden Retriever and English Pointer. For Walking Beauty, there is a horse. Above all, each Barbie has a wardrobe and each range has a cute name: Authentic Jeans, Matchin' Styles, Teen Skipper and Boutique.
Take it a step further and you can buy the CD-Roms: Barbie Nail Designer, the Cool Looks Fashion Designer or Barbie Totally Tattoos. For the more intellectual there is also the Detective Barbie CD-Rom.
Barbie is a marketing juggernaut and little girls roll under it in a cloud of pink froth, storing up ideas about the insufficiencies of their own bodies and the necessity of buying ever more clothes. Or do they? A quick straw poll suggests that improving ideas about teachers using Barbie to confront ideas about femininity, may be superfluous. The Barbie craze peaks at about age eight. After that the dolls are relegated to drawers, under beds or the backs of cupboards. According to Rosie, aged 10: "You can't do much with them, except dress them and that gets boring." Classmate Michelle gleefully adds: "I cut the heads and legs off all of mine. Stupid things!"