Sheila Kyaw Helps Make Barbie Fresh-Faced for Her 50th Anniversary

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

As you might have heard, Barbie, that freakishly long-legged icon, turns 50 this year. To celebrate, Mattel last week released a modern re-imagining of the original 1959 doll. The special anniversary edition is tanner and younger-looking (but don't confuse her with the regular 2009 Barbie, which has also had a refresh).

A hip visage doesn't come without help -- like any wealthy woman of a certain age, Barbie's got a whole support team, in the form of Mattel's 3D Face Design department. And there are 21 people devoted just to Barbie's face and hair. We caught up with department artist and manager Sheila Kyaw to learn about the anniversary doll, and how Kyaw keeps Barbie current.

Growing up, I loooved Barbie. I had 20-plus dolls. I had the Rocker Barbie and her whole band -- her friends, Derek. I remember the song: "We're Barbie and the Rockers!" When I graduated from high school I got an internship with the face-painting department at Mattel. Then I went to school for a bachelor of arts, and after I graduated, the department had a position ready for me. I was born and raised Mattel.

With the original Barbie in 1959, her eyes were glancing to the side. We wanted to capture that essence with the 2009 face. We've given her a lot of shimmer, with soft, sheer pink lips and smoky pink eyeshadow. The original doll's eyes were very heavily stylized. The 2009 anniversary doll is much younger-looking, and she has a fresh new palette. But we kept the consistency of the eyes still looking to the side.

Barbie's face is constantly being updated. We look at fashion trends, at runway models, at anything that's going on in the celebrity world. Any avenue you can think of, we take that into consideration. In the latest face, she's a lot more personable. The face sculpt is more smiley, and there's a lot of sweetness coming from her. We want to keep her looking young and fresh. When you look at her face, you see that she's glowing -- very sweet, very loving. We want her to look young and sweet so that girls can relate to her.

There's a misconception about face painting. A lot of people assume it's makeup, or that it's directly related to cosmetology. But all of our designers in the Face Design department are painters. We went to art school. We have to understand human anatomy, color theory, painting and drawing skills. We treat the blank Barbie face as a canvas, like any artist would.

-- Interview conducted and condensed by Monica Hesse

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