Decades after her unveiling, Barbie is still loved and admired by young and old.
With her flowing mane, impossibly perfect figure, sense of fashion and endless array of career paths, Barbie has been the role model of generations of little girls.
An imagination is the only limit to Barbie's possibilities.
Years later, her bruised plastic body, butchered blonde locks and homemade clothes remind grown women of all the places Barbie went in their young mind.
That's why women such as Deb Bruhns collect their childhood best friend -- as a reminder of the good ol' days when they were young and their imaginations free-spirited.
Bruhns, 38, has filled her Lawrence home with 44 different Barbies, a monument to her own childhood memories of playing with Barbies with her younger sister as they grew up in Oklahoma. Her younger sister, 36, also collects Barbies.
"Right now it seems like everyone my age is starting to get back into their toys," Bruhns said. "I think it's just memories. Your remember the fun times you had as a child. I like looking at Barbies and remembering my childhood.
"When I was a little girl, this was a doll you could look up to and hope you would be like when you grew up. Barbie has become a career woman. I think she has changed with society. Now Barbie can be anything a little girl wants her to be."
Bringing back memories
Bruhns' childhood imagination saved her parents plenty of money.
Barbie had clothing made from her father's old clothes, and sometimes socks "he wasn't necessarily ready to get rid of." She had stylish silver purses fashioned from gum wrappers.
Her Barbies also had every possible piece of furniture -- dressers fashioned from vinyl-covered detergent boxes, couches made from Velveeta cheese boxes with sponge cushions, ottomans made from mom's sewing tomato and chairs made from ornately cut tin cans.
"My Barbies suffered haircuts and got their fingernails painted a few times," Bruhns remembers with a laugh. "My sister and I would turn their heads so they could talk to each other. We did it so much her neck cracked. Our Barbies had a ranch for a while with the plastic ponies I collected. At the time, my school had a Bison as a mascot, so my Barbie had a green-flocked bison. I built little corrals out of Lincoln Logs and Barbie did her little corral chores in a dress."
Though she never had the coveted Barbie Dream House or Barbie Fashion Store her cousins had, Bruhns did have one short-lived Barbie luxury that she treasured.
"Barbie had a Corvette, but my brother loved playing with it and he broke all four wheels off of it," Bruhns said. "My dad fixed it, but it didn't drive quite the same."
Hunting for treasure
To find Barbie bargains, Bruhns hits yard sales. She finds unusual or collector Barbies either at doll shows or at local stores.
"Every once in a while I find a doll that wants me to take her home," Bruhns said. "I don't mind buying a doll that's been played with. It just shows they've had that much more love."
Some of Bruhns' more prized Barbies are ones she got off the shelf, like a long-haired Rapunzel Barbie and a Barbie garbed as an astronaut.
"She's rare," Bruhns said of her astronaut doll. "About the time she came out, the Challenger incident happened and Mattel thought it might be in poor taste to keep on the shelf, so they pulled her."
Like Bruhns, Doris Ottinger hits sales and shows to add to her collection of 88 Barbies.
Ottinger's Lawrence home is filled with a menagerie of Barbie and Ken dolls of various shapes and sizes. Rather than trying to limit her passion, her husband pitches in by helping build ornate cases to house her collection.
"He's just as proud of them as I am," Ottinger said. "The minute I move a doll, he'll know something has changed. He's never once said anything about the dolls I've bought."
Some of Ottinger's most treasured Barbie dolls include a 1960s wedding Barbie, a beautiful Hallmark Barbie dressed in Victorian ice skating clothing, two talking Barbies, a Skipper doll with Shirley Temple curls and a Ken doll with a metallic tuxedo.
"Each one seems to me to have a personality of their own," she said. "I enjoy every one of them -- they're a treasure to me. They all cheer me up. That's the reason I display my dolls."
Barbie collectors like Bruhns and Ottinger will be able to take advantage of a national convention next month that is expected to bring in hundreds of dealers.
The convention, Dan's Dinner Auction, will be held May 10-12 at the Holidome. At least 300 registrants to the show will receive a special foreign souvenir Barbie doll for attending.
The show will feature Barbie exhibits, an expert appraiser, an exclusive Barbie doll auction and a bus tour to the Barbie store in FAO Schwarz in Kansas City, Mo. The auction, which is open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. May 11. Admission will be charged.