The original ``Barbie,'' an 111/2 fashion model doll with an hourglass figure, was introduced to the American public in 1959 and has been a bestseller ever since. In this witty and perceptive study Lord, a columnist for New York Newsday, chronicles Barbie's history and her relevance as a cultural icon. Ruth Handler, co-owner of Mattel Toys, modeled Barbie on a sexy plastic German pin-up that was sold to men in tobacco shops. The popularity of Barbie and her ever-expanding wardrobe with preteen girls led to the development of ``Ken'' and ``Midge'' dolls and a line of African American fashion dolls. Lord's comprehensive research includes interviews with toy-makers, an eclectic group of Barbie collectors, visual artists and feminists who disagree on Barbie's impact on young girls. The author sees Barbie, whose careers have included surgeon, pilot and astronaut, as a female role model, and credits her childhood play with Barbie as helping her cope with her own mother's mastectomy. Illustrations.