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Secret Agent Barbie

Photo via Mattel

Well, Barbie’s gone and done it again. Yes, the petite, plastic plaything has proved, once more, that she’s hardly a retrograde relic. Far from it. Barbie’s on the cutting edge—where, as a matter of fact, she has been since her inception in 1959.

Coming this summer, Mattel will bring out the Barbie Photo Fashion, a brand-new doll with an LCD implanted in her impressively toned tummy. A lens in her back allows her user—almost always a girl—to take pictures with the doll. In a word: Brilliant. Instead of the bimbo blonde who passively receives the male gaze, this new Barbie channels and harnesses nascent female power, by encouraging play of an entirely new kind. Yet again, Barbie has become a vessel and conduit, tapping into the inchoate desires of girls, and giving those desires a comprehensible form of expression in the world.

But to those of us who have known and loved her over the past five plus decades (and I count myself at the top of this list), there is nothing fundamentally surprising about this news. Barbie has always been a secret agent, a force for subversion and empowerment masquerading as a harmless, leggy pin up.