Plus-Size Doll Casts Shadow Over Barbie

SPECIAL TO THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Memo to Mattel: Thin is not in.

The hottest doll at last month's International Toy Festival in New York doesn't have a super-spunky kid sister, a townhouse or a shiny pink sports car. But she does come equipped with something Barbie doesn't have: hips.

Emme, the plus-size model who made it more than OK for cover girls to be a size 12, is bringing an industry not known for positive body images up to size. Tonner Doll Co. last week introduced a toy created in the image of Emme.

The doll's designer, Robert Tonner, would rather talk about the beauty and timeless style of Emme (the person) than the messy issues surrounding feminism, Barbie and eating disorders. Tonner, a former Bill Blass designer and doll collector, said he created the Emme look-alike after being swept away by the model's appearance on a talk show. If he's out to make any statement, it's more "Emme is beautiful" than "Big is beautiful."

Intentional or not, the Barbie versus Emme comparison is hard to ignore. For 50 years, an impossibly proportioned figure has reigned in the fashion-doll aisle. So when a size 12 joins her on the shelf, it's got to make some waves. While her plastic counterpart might not make any political statements, the life-sized Emme is anything but silent on the subject: "Barbie needs some new friends ... and they need to be in all different shapes and sizes and colors."

Emme was the first model to speak to these issues before a congressional subcommittee. She's chair ambassador of the National Eating Disorders Assn., which will receive a portion of proceeds from sales of the Emme doll.

"Yes, it is just a doll, but it's a chance to open the doll industry to the idea of inclusiveness," Emme says. "Don't you think that girls who play with dolls would include all types if there were any available? They're not the ones who think all dolls should be blond, blue-eyed and thin. That's introduced to them."

The collectible Emme doll is 16 inches tall, costs between $79 and $100, depending on her accessories, and will be available in the fall. Tonner also plans to add smaller (not thinner) Emme dolls in lower price ranges.

While Emme is the first plus-size doll, she's not the first doll to challenge Barbie. Another line, Get Real Girl dolls ($19.99 at toysrus.com and kbtoys.com), is prepared for adventure. Each of the six, nearly 12-inch tall "reality" dolls comes with action gear, including snowboards, surfboards and scuba equipment.

The plus-size Emme doll was introduced last week and will be available later this year.

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