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10:30 AM Sat, Nov. 17th

Get A Grip: Much ado about a well-endowed but hollow plastic doll<BR>

Poor Barbie.

In case you haven't heard, the goddess of contorted conformity has been kicked out of Iran.

It's true.

Babs has been unceremoniously kicked out on her molded plastic butt.

According to the Associated Press, Barbie was rounded up by Iranian police (police!) without warning.

Snatched from toy store shelves, Barbie probably didn't even have time to grab personal items from her townhouse or loan the Corvette to a friend to look after while she was gone.

The AP doesn't say, but I'm betting those police left Ken, sad despite his frozen plastic grin and helmet hair-do, alone on the shelf wondering if he'd ever see his busty blond buddy ever again.

And what about poor Skipper? Without her mentor what will become of her? Who will counsel her on splurging and purging and on saving her pennies for some silicone surgery? Poor, poor lonely little Skipper.

One has to wonder how Barbie ever got through immigration and into Iran, an intensely conservative Islamic country where women are forced to cover their heads in public and can't swim with men.

A country in which one government official proclaimed Barbie, in 1996, a "Trojan horse" used by the West to sneak unhealthy influences (such as makeup and tight, revealing clothing) into Iran.

How did the perky, mini-skirted Barbie make her way into such a country and why wasn't she thrown out immediately?

Again, according to the AP, Barbie is basically smuggled into the country where she has been a perpetual hot seller for toy store owners.

But hard-liners have apparently had enough pink persuasion.

Barbie is out.

Her troubles in Iran are just the latest in a series of troubles Barbie has befallen.

In fact, since her introduction onto the social scene in 1959, top-heavy Barbie has been a flashpoint of controversy.

People say she promotes an unhealthy self-image in girls who aspire to contort themselves to resemble her inhuman measurements.

People say she promotes a bubble-headed, fashion-crazed stereotype of American women.

People say she drives her Corvette too fast and is leading Ken on.

Some people.

I'm conflicted about Barbie.

While I acknowledge that she is a ridiculous ambassador of American bad taste, I also must admit to having dozens of Barbies as a child.

I loved playing Barbies.

I loved dressing Barbie up; loved bending her into inflatable chairs and packing her RV for road trips around the basement.

My Barbies had boxes of clothes for all occasions; not one but two Corvettes; the aforementioned RV; two homes, a townhouse and a custom-made (by Grandpa Gripman) duplex that I shared with my sister.

So how can I, in good conscience, now criticize Barbie?

For help in coming to terms with my Barbie opinions, past and present, I searched for solace on the Internet.

There I found

The Web site is a wellspring of information on things Barbie.

Facts gleaned on include:

• Placed head to toe, all the Barbie dolls sold since 1959 would circle the earth more than seven times.

• During Barbie's introductory year in 1959, Mattel sold 350,000 dolls.

• Barbie has had more than 75 careers, from registered nurse to rock star.

• About one billion fashions have been produced for Barbie and her friends during the past four decades.

The doll has had over a billion (are you listening, Imelda?) pairs of shoes in that time.

• More than 100 million yards of fabric have gone into Barbie's outfits, making Mattel one of the largest apparel manufacturers in the world.

• Barbie is marketed in more than 140 countries worldwide.

(In light of recent events in Iran, that figure may have to be adjusted to 139).

On, visitors can research Barbie's many career changes and read about body image issues.

My favorite feature on the site is a free videogame called "Feed the Model" in which players earn points by tossing bits of food to a bone-thin model.

I tried to toss the poor girl a piece of cake and a chicken leg but I missed.

Despite my research I find myself no closer to reconciling my Barbie conflict.

Good? Evil? Or much ado about a well-endowed but hollow plastic doll?

Poor Barbie.