Barbie gets a dose of modesty

Pop Culture

March 11, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Ken's been getting an eyeful for some time now: Barbie spilling out of her halter top, Barbie showing off her abs of plastic, Barbie's long legs -- inch after inch of them -- stretching from her short shorts.

Monica Garcia -- a new mom, longshoreman and Orthodox Jew -- gives a succinct fashion critique: "Some of these dolls are dressed like prostitutes."

Garcia hopes to give a wardrobe makeover to Barbie and her bare-midriffed friends, dressing them less like Britney Spears and more like, ah, hmm ... that's the problem right there, isn't it?

From her small apartment, the 31-year-old former Catholic and single mother from Irvine, Calif., runs her fledgling doll-clothing company, Ms. Modesty. She dreams up patterns, sews the dresses, peddles the merchandise, ships the goods to places as far away as Israel and tends to a Web site (www.msmodesty.com). She's developed a line of 40 dresses, all of which reflect the Hebrew tradition of "tzniut," or modesty. The clothes -- dresses, shirts and blouses -- cover the knees, elbows and collarbone.

So what do they show? Let's just say they leave a lot to the imagination -- quite a feat for shapely Barbie, who would measure 38-20-33 if human-size.

"I just don't want my daughter playing with dolls dressed like Barbie," said Garcia, who converted to Judaism three years ago. "Why not try to teach modesty and values with the dolls they play with?"

Barbie's official line of outfits ranges from swimsuits to evening wear, reflecting the fashion trends of the moment. The clothes may be sassy, a Barbie spokeswoman says, but not sexy.

Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie and co-founder of Mattel, the manufacturer, likes the way her doll has aged over the past four decades.

"I understand Orthodox Jews, just as others, have their beliefs. That's their privilege," says Handler, 84 and a Reform Jew who is no longer involved with Mattel. "But Barbie sells more dolls and clothes than she ever did. The entire world loves Barbie very much as she is."

The Barbie doll line brought in more than $1.5 billion in 1999, according to Mattel. On average, an American girl between the ages of 3 and 11 owns 10 Barbie dolls, company officials said. Garcia's outfits cost $20 apiece, much more expensive than official Barbie clothes.

Susan Stern, director of the 1998 documentary "Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour," says part of Barbie's charm is how many different lifestyles and attitudes she can reflect.

"I've seen people make S&M outfits for Barbie," Stern said. "She's really in the eyes of the beholder. And [Garcia] is part of this wonderful Barbie world in which anyone who wants to play can play. You project your own dreams and fears onto Barbie."

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