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Can bald be beautiful?

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Barbie's gone bald. The plastic beauty had a stint as a brunette but now she has been shorn of all of her flowing locks. Apart from this image, you won't be seeing anything of Bald Barbie, though. Mattel's branded the limited-release model as strictly non-retail and it's causing an outcry.

Bald Barbie was born of controversy: she was launched after a Facebook campaign by the mother of a girl who underwent chemotherapy in the US, which drew 150,000 supporters. But Mattel plans to donate the doll - officially a ''friend'' of Barbie's (can't cast aspersions on Babs' longevity) - directly to hospitals. The doll and its accompanying accessories - wigs, hats and headscarves - will not be appearing on shop shelves. ''Why not sell the bald Barbie?'' the Vatican's official daily newspaper said, describing Barbie as ''one of the most criticised and stigmatised [dolls] and rightly so''. The newspaper believes Bald Barbie would be good for children who have lost their hair through chemotherapy or illness. I think it might be equally useful for the statically greater number of girls who are seeing their mothers undergoing chemo. Georgie Cooper, who lost her mother to cancer when she was 17, agrees.

''It'd be particularly useful for girls from about four to 10 to help with role play,'' says Cooper, a mother of three. ''Barbie is a teenager, at least - she's got boobs - and maybe it would make it easier for them to see their mums like that.'' Cooper is a mobile beauty therapist who focuses on the ''therapy'' side of grooming, visiting clients in hospitals and care homes. Several of her clients are women with young children. ''A bald Barbie would be a useful tool more than anything else,'' she says. ''If it's another toy in the toy box, good, otherwise I don't know that they'd be that interested in playing with it.''

She's got a point. Bald Barbie isn't as glam as Big-hair Barbie in all its permutations and is therefore not as appealing to little girls. Let's face it, children go for the obvious. Maybe Bald Barbie doesn't deserve space on the toyshop shelf. Can bald be beautiful? Can hair loss be made less traumatic and confronting? How can you look good - and, more importantly, feel OK - if you've lost your hair through illness? Cancer has become almost mainstream - even Target has a mastectomy lingerie rack. Everyone knows someone or several someones who have had chemo. But is society - our Australian society - ready for bald beauty?