Goth dolls scare up trouble for Barbie

Mae Anderson / The Associated Press /

Published Jul 21, 2013 at 05:00AM

NEW YORK — As far as cat fights 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, blonde-haired, long-legged fashion icon. And they don’t have the same old standards of beauty as the aging diva either.

Monster High dolls, vampy 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,” said 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 generates an estimated $1.3 billion in annual sales. But Barbie’s sales have slipped for four straight quarters, even while the overall doll category is up 6 percent year-to-date, according to the researcher NPD Group.

Meanwhile, Monster High, which is also made by Mattel, has become the No. 2 doll brand in just three years, with more than $500 million in annual sales, says BMO Capital Markets Gerrick Johnson.

In addition to the competition from Monster High, Barbie has had to contend with increasing criticism of her impossibly proportioned body. While the 54-year-old doll has over the years graduated from pin-up girl to a range of characters that include astronauts, engineers and princesses, detractors continue to dismiss the 11.5-inch doll’s frame as impossibly top-heavy and tiny-waisted.

Barbie’s measurements equate to about a 39-inch bust, 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips on a life-size woman. The average American woman, by comparison, is about a size 14.

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 websites from CNN to Time and renewed controversy over the doll’s effect on girls’ 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 — adding to their appeal — while Barbie’s increasingly young audience is hurting sales. After all, no child wants to play with anything seen as a baby toy.

Barbie marketed to children that are between ages 3 and 9, but over the past 15 years or so, the range has shrunk to around 3 to 6, said Timetoplay mage.com toy analyst Jim Silver. 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.

“Kids are growing up much faster younger,” Silver said. “A 6-year-old is looking for something a little edgier. That’s the reason why Monster High has had so much success.”