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Latest doll craze has Barbie fighting for her life
W Monster High dolls
Tegan, 9, poses with Monster High dolls in this June 27, 2013, file photo. Monster High dolls have grown to an estimated $500 million in annual sales since debuting in 2010. - photo by Associated Press

    NEW YORK — As far as catfights 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, blond-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 is with 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, said 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.
    Kim Blake's daughter Sarah, 7, used to be a Barbie fan, but she's moved beyond that. She's getting ready to donate her 3-foot-tall Barbie dream house and about half of her 20 Barbie dolls to charity.
    Now, she's more into playing outside or taking Taekwondo martial arts classes and less into dolls in general. That's a switch from her mother, 35, who played with Barbie dolls until she was 13.
    "Her girlfriends don't play with them any more, either," said Blake, a store manager in Renton, Wash. "They've actually said the word 'babyish' talking about them."
    In general, "hot toys" have a cyclical nature, usually with a 5-year time span, said BMO Capital's Johnson. This ensures that no toy stays on top forever. Even evergreen brands that endure for decades, like Barbie, have highs and lows in popularity.
    "It happens with everything — name a toy, and it's had its ups and downs," Johnson said. "At some point the day comes when a kid said, 'Nah, I'm tired of this.' "
    That day isn't completely here for Olivia Maddux yet. Her mom, Lisa, believes her new love affair with the Monster High dolls may have in fact extended the life of Barbie dolls.
    "I think the addition of Monster High dolls, aimed at a little different demographic, kept Barbies alive in our place, since she plays with them together," she said.
    That may be true. In Olivia's world, the two — Barbie and Monster High — peacefully coexist. Well, sort of.
    "The Monster High dolls are like the Barbie's servants," Olivia said.

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