NEW YORK – With her inhumanly tiny waist and ample bosom, she's long been criticized as sending the wrong message to girls about how they should look when they grow up.
But this holiday season, Barbie will have to make room on the toy store shelf for a new friend, the plus-sized Emme doll -- fashioned after the model of the same name.
"I thought it was time for something different," said creator Robert Tonner of the Tonner Doll Co., which makes about 130 different fashion dolls. "There is more than one type of beauty out there."
The plus-sized set is making strides in a society filled with images of impossibly thin, toned people. Not only are plus-sized models and fashion becoming more accepted, but a magazine aimed at larger women called Grace was recently launched.
"We think it's a good idea," said Maryanne Bodolay, executive director of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. "Right now the only dolls that are out are like Barbie."
Emme, which was introduced at FAO Schwarz in New York and Hamleys in London last month in time for the holiday shopping season, is a 16-inch collector's doll. Tonner is working on a 12-inch play doll version to be released in the spring.
"It was fun to sculpt -- I got to put weight on her -- and then dressing her was a blast," said Tonner, who worked in fashion in New York for 20 years. "I wanted a new canvas to put the clothes on."
One toy distributor predicts Emme will be a hit this season.
"Of course it would be successful," said Peter Nason, marketing and communications director of Marz Distribution in Sarasota, Fla. "As a collectible doll it fits the criteria -- it deals with high fashion, has a name people know and is very elegant and classy. It's something that can add pizzazz to somebody's doll shelf."
So far, Emme has been snapped up voraciously by collectors and fashion types, according to Tonner, who said she sold out in both the London and New York stores where she was unveiled.
Different versions of the doll wearing an array of outfits -- some funky, some casual and some elegant -- are available, and her price varies accordingly, starting at $89 for the basic model and going as high as $150.
"It's perfectly suitable for a child. It's a beautiful doll," Tonner said. "The only thing that makes it not for little girls is the price."
But Nason is skeptical that a doll like Emme will translate well as a children's toy.
"That would be tougher," he said. "I see it more as a collectible."
M.C. Keegan-Ayer, a mother from Frederick, Md., said she'd buy it for her 9-year-old daughter if she were still in her Barbie doll phase, which she recently grew out of.
"With moms like me, it will probably sell extremely well because I'd much rather buy a realistic doll for my child," Keegan-Ayer said. "I'd rather have my child have realistic expectations of what she's going to look like when she gets older."
Keegan-Ayer said her daughter caught on to Barbie's exaggerated proportions on her own.
"She said, 'Nobody's really built like that, Mom,'" Keegan-Ayer remembered.
Though Tonner believed it was important to offer a new kind of doll, he thinks Barbie gets too much blame for unhealthy body images among girls.
"If there was no Barbie, there'd still be eating disorders, overeating and everything else," he said. "Barbie gets a bad rap."
And Bodolay said that although a product like Emme will be useful, it probably won't bring about far-reaching change in society and beauty ideals.
"Anything that shows what a realistic young woman should look like should help when it comes to distorted body image in young girls," she said. "But I don't know whether this small Emme doll or a few plus-sized fashion models are going to make a big enough impact to override all the other messages."