Not all was well in Barbie dreamland. The buxom-but-wholesome blonde's worldwide sales were down 8 percent, and last year's tween-geared spinoff, My Scene, didn't do the trick. Mattel needed something to woo girls from Bratz, MGA Entertainment's pouty-lipped anti-Barbie that was stealing away girls ages 9 to 11. Mattel's solution: an anti-Barbie of its own. The result is Flavas (pronounced flay-vuhs), a line of six edgy--one might even say ghetto-fabulous--hip-hop-inspired dolls. Their breasts are smaller, their hips are wider and--how to put this?--baby's got back. The dolls flaunt midriffs and bling-bling. "Younger girls want the fantasy of Barbie," says Jerry Bossick, a Mattel senior vice president. "Older girls want a doll that represents realistic aspirations." There's no Barbie Dream House here--Flavas come with a cardboard cutout wall with graffiti. "Pull my street stand from the box, so I have a spot to hang out," the box instructs.
Some think these Flavas leave a bad taste. "When I saw the dolls I was in shock," says Raquel Wilson, editor in chief of hip-hop e-zine Verbalisms. "They completely misrepre- sent the culture." She takes issue with the superficial treatment of the movement, and notes that the term "flava," which means personal style, is no longer commonly used. But Bossick, who says Mattel didn't hire hip-hop consultants, stands behind the line. "Fearless self-expression and individuality are very positive messages for girls." The vandalized street wall's just a side effect.