LOVE AND DEATH: Barbie Addict Is Still Master

We all have affections we cannot explain. It's what separates us from the animals and makes us the romantically fallible creatures we are. Unfortunately, my own personal affection is for Barbie, so not only can I not explain it, but it throws me into a hopelessly banal sub-species as well, one where most of my brethren are 9-year-old girls. (I am outclassed to boot: The Barbies of today are vastly more sophisticated than the ones they were churning out when I was 9.)

Barbies are a bad habit. When all that remains of your childhood is a hat box full of tiny gold lam? pants and decaying tutus - wishful thinking for a doll who can patently not point her toes, or stand in first position, for that matter - it puts you in a tough spot as far as making fun of other people is concerned. I am hardly in a position to criticize my mother's infatuation with Rasputin or my father's bird mania (although his recent note praising Hurricane Floyd for blowing so many species inland just before the Florida autumn count was not entirely that of the noble sportsman, to my mind) if all I can counter with is some guilty allegiance to a toy that has come to represent all that is most heinous in society's attitude toward impressionable young girls.

My Barbies and their delectable '70s chic have been boxed up for some time now, but they're never far from my mind. A recent article in a Russian newspaper got me to reminiscing: A plastic surgeon was cautioning young women against going under the knife in pursuit of Barbie beauty. Although the miracles of modern medicine could guarantee a complete makeover, the results would be horrifying: outsized head, bug eyes, stork legs, a waist that would take rib-removal to achieve, and of course those permanently arched feet. Stick to that fabulous little perk of a nose, the surgeon seemed to be saying. Or just dye your hair blond.

The concept of a life-size Barbie is fairly mesmerizing, but I don't think there's any cause for alarm. If experience is any indicator, the Barbie-master relationship is in fact just the opposite: If anything, the doll will become more human over time. I've met very few humans whose sense of beauty and personal style was given a substantial boost by their relationship with Barbie (although Russia would be a good place to start looking). I have, however, seen countless Barbies who look like they've dabbled in self-mutilation, bad haircuts, inadvertent eyelash removal, disfiguring automobile accidents, infrequent bathing and possible drug abuse - i.e., approximating the human ideal of self-determination that yet again sets us apart from the animals.

Of course, Barbies operate at a distinct disadvantage in that they are unable to regrow hair, replace lost limbs or distract themselves from physical and emotional inadequacies by dedicating themselves to their careers. So in the end, they become like humans, only worse - we, after all, have the potential to renew. Barbies may start strong, but under the watch of a careless owner, it's a fast track to the skids for most of them.

Our legs may never be as fabulously slender as Barbie's, but then again we can usually avoid having our toes chewed off by marauding household animals. If we accidentally draw on ourselves with a ballpoint pen, it usually washes off. Humans look better in crew cuts than Barbie, whose preternaturally large cranium and sparsely situated hair follicles are not at their best when exposed. We also stand a better chance of wearing breathable natural fabrics - when you're a Barbie, your sartorial life is just one endless brush with slippery synthetics, and a dearth of black and navy basics. Not subtle, those Barbie fashion designers.

It's a dastardly end - washed up, hairless, armless, knees painfully hyperextended, wearing high heels and cheap rags like some two-bit tramp fresh out of the methadone clinic. What better emblem of teenage angst exists? At least, of course, Barbie's got someone to take it out on - I can only believe she likewise emulates humanity in her capacity for rage, and Ken is an ideal object of derision. His clothes are worse, his hair is worse and his personality is a wash. Laws of mathematical buying impulses dictate that he will be chronically outnumbered as well. For every one witless Ken in a given home, there are at least four down-on-their-luck Barbies - a pretty tough spot for any small plastic man. No matter how delicate the owner, most Barbie families descend sooner or later into total dysfunction. People should spend less time worrying about the aesthetic standards Barbie imposes on their daughters - and more about the daughter-imposed depths she eventually plumbs.