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Emme fashion doll's a full-figured model

By Aline Mendelsohn

Lifestyle Correspondent

Posted December 23 2002

For years Barbie, the 11-inch tall, blond, blue-eyed fashion doll, has represented the ideal American beauty. Never mind that Barbie's stick-thin figure is impossible to achieve in real life -- girls love her.

But now Barbie has some competition: the Emme doll.

Based on supermodel Emme's size 14-16 figure, it's the world's first plus-size fashion doll.

Emme's TV show, Fashion Emergency on the E! Entertainment Television network, inspired doll maker Robert Tonner to sculpt the doll. Emme agreed to model for him on one condition: that the proceeds benefit body-image and self-esteem groups. The collectible doll sells for $99 and is available at www.tonnerdoll.com. The company will issue a mass-market version in the $20 range in the spring.

Emme hopes the doll will give girls the "emotional armor" to help them deal with poor body image. The doll is a vehicle to talk about health, fitness, anorexia and obesity, she says.

"If we can take away the guilt and shame of being subhuman for not being built a certain way," she says, "we can really see clearly."

Nutritionists and body-image experts point out the benefits of a plus-size doll that starkly contrasts with Barbie's oversized chest and tiny waistline.

"When a lot of young girls or women look at a typical doll who is physically impossible to look like, it sets up an impossible expectation," says Cynthia Sass, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "This doll looks very healthy, not emaciated, certainly different from what we're used to seeing."

What we're used to seeing, of course, is Barbie. More than a billion Barbie dolls have been sold since 1959, the year she was introduced. Some Barbie dolls sell for less than $10.

Critics have long accused the best-selling babe of creating a distorted body image for young girls. In 2000, the Mattel Co. reissued Barbie with a more athletic figure, specifically a thicker waist and less makeup. But at this time, Mattel is not considering a full-figured Barbie.

Marianne Szymanski, who heads the Milwaukee, Wis., toy-testing company Toy Tips, predicts that children will play with the Emme doll if they like Emme the model and TV host. Of course, many kids don't know who she is.

Still, Tonner says he has hundreds of e-mails from parents who would like to buy the doll. Toys "R" Us and FAO Schwarz have expressed interest in selling the Emme doll. The company has not decided on a marketing campaign.

The doll's appeal lies in its aesthetic quality, he says.

"If it's a beautiful doll, it's a beautiful doll, and kids will respond to it."

Children begin to develop body-image awareness about age 5, Sass says. How much does Barbie affect young girls?

"It depends on the child," Sass says. "There are some girls who tend to compare themselves to Barbie. There are others who realize she is just a doll."

In a society dominated by media images of ideal beauty, numerous organizations such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance have mobilized to demand equal rights for the overweight. Magazines for plus-size individuals, such as Grace and Big Beautiful Woman, strive to offer more than one kind of ideal body type.

"We shouldn't be relegated to black, bulletproof polyester, and we also shouldn't be sent to the third floor, the back of the store," says Sally E. Smith, editor in chief of Big Beautiful Woman, a fashion magazine. "We internalize this message that we're second-class citizens. We deserve to ride in the front of the bus too."

Emme, 38, has been one of the most vocal advocates for larger women. She grew up with a stepfather obsessed with weight. When she was 12, he used a black marker to circle fat on her thighs, hips, arms and stomach.

Emme went on to shatter the stereotype that plus-size women are unattractive: Twice she has been chosen one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People."

And though Emme has sworn off dieting, she doesn't encourage people to eat with wild abandon. She encourages an active, balanced lifestyle for the sake of good health.

"I am not a poster child for obesity," Emme says.

For the record, Emme has nothing against Barbie; she'd even let her 15-month-old daughter, Toby, play with Barbie dolls -- along with more realistic dolls.

The Emme doll is not an anti-Barbie.

"This is just my way of expressing that there needs to be a more even playing field for children," she says. "There's a lot of room in the dollhouse."

Aline Mendelsohn writes for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Co. newspaper.

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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