In the days of Britney Spears and Bratz dolls, the classic Barbie seems almost sedate. But the doll with the va-va-voom vital statistics has been blamed by critics for giving young girls an unrealistic ideal for female beauty since soon after her 1959 launch at a toy show in New York.

M.G. Lord, author of "Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll," speculates that a 5-foot-6-inch Barbie would boast an ample 38-inch bust, a waspish 18-inch waist and slender 33-inch hips. Her 1965 slumber party outfit, remembers Lord, came with a bathroom scale (set permanently at 110 pounds) along with a book titled "How to Lose Weight" which offered the following advice: "Don't Eat." But "the really grotesque thing," says Lord, "is the length of the [doll's] legs."

This illustration shows the body of a healthy preadolescent girl alongside a Barbie and -- with some surgery by the photo department -- an image of how that girl might look if she were to develop to conform, more or less, to the doll's inhuman proportions.

And Barbie herself? Why, she's keeping up with the Bratzes. Her waist has expanded in recent years, but her intellectual horizons appear, if anything, to have shrunk: The doll who has been a student teacher, a doctor and an astronaut is strutting her celebrity status these days as My Bling Bling Barbie -- and sporting barely anything at all as Lingerie Barbie.

-- Frances Stead Sellers