Humor Magazine

Barbie and Body Image and Lammily, Oh My

By Katie Hoffman @katienotholmes

Barbies were never my favorite toy as a kid—I was more of a stuffed animals and Hot Wheels gal. I do remember having a Barbie that wore a wetsuit and was probably a marine mammal trainer or something, but I really think I only wanted her because she came with a killer whale I could take in the bathtub with me, which provided some company for my rubber ducky and washcloth dolphin (imagination, you guys–it’s a powerful thing).

Even though Barbie wasn’t my childhood toy of choice, I know plenty of people loved their Barbie doll(s) as a kid and still get a little misty when reminiscing about how their favorite Barbie (likely boasting some crazy braided pigtails) went everywhere with them. Even collecting Barbie dolls as an adult isn’t an uncommon hobby (even if it does creep me out). First launched in 1959, Mattel’s iconic darling was not only a success, but also a sensation that undeniably became the most influential product on the doll market.

Over the years, like any other public figure with some plastic parts, Barbie has been a frequent source of controversy, with no shortage of lawsuits to her credit. Most recently, the debate has focused on Barbie’s proportions and how realistic they actually are, along with the potentially harmful impact her body could have on her admirers, especially young girls. Take a look at this infographic that asserts Barbie’s waistline makes housing most vital internal organs impossible:

View more at: Rehabs

Or this photo of Katie Halchishick from O Magazine:

These images make a powerful statement, but I can’t help but utter a jaded “no duh” once the initial shock wears off. I don’t think I’ve ever been confused about the fact that Barbie isn’t meant to depict a “real” woman—I mean, beyond her limitations for thinking and talking–she’s also missing some pretty crucial lady parts. How many real women have their perfect Ken, a Jeep and a corvette, the qualifications to simultaneously be licensed as a doctor, an architect, and a SeaWorld trainer, a bigger closet than Kim Kardashian, and the uncanny ability to pull off hot pink everything without looking like a hot mess? Barbie is definitely a projection of a very specific fantasy, but does that become potentially dangerous when some of her physical qualities match those that are often proclaimed as ideal, like the space between her thighs or her slender torso?

Nickolay Lamm has been all over the Internet recently, because he started a crowdfunding campaign to raise $95,000 to mass-produce his doll “Lammily” (okay dude, I know you want your name involved, but why not “Nicki”?). Lammily is a doll that allegedly has the proportions of an average 19-year-old woman. He’s using the slogan, “Average is beautiful.”

Let’s just acknowledge the elephant in the room: Lammily is hardly what I’d call average or even normal. She has great hair, perfect skin, and an athletic build. She’s basically brunette Barbie who does more squats at the gym and wears less make-up.

Lamm asserts that, “It’s not an anti-Barbie… I just wanted to create an alternative.” In another interview he mentions, “Because Lammily is made according to typical proportions, she is saying that you are beautiful as you are, to those who play with her. You don’t have to have unrealistic proportions to be beautiful, you are beautiful as you are.”

Before I go on, I have to acknowledge my skepticism about this artist, Lamm, for a second. Maybe he truly believes “creating an alternative” is important and that spreading the message, “You are beautiful as you are,” is worthwhile, but perhaps he simply figured out that creating a doll like this would generate a lot of buzz and have the potential to make a ton of money (a theory that’s proven accurate, if the Internet response and his crowdfunding success are any indications). I’m not sure if we should accuse him of telling us what we want to hear, or give him the benefit of the doubt.

As news of Lamm’s creation makes its rounds on the Internet, all manner of criticism has been thrown poor little Lammily’s way. There are Barbie lovers who are outraged that their favorite doll has become the undeserving benefactor of society’s insecurity. There are those who are disgusted by Lammily’s proportions. There are people espousing that liberals and feminists are to blame for this latest witch-hunt. Much of the anti-Lammily criticism is absurd, but some of the feedback raises some thought-provoking, valid points.

The most common argument against Lammily is that Barbie has gotten unfairly mixed up in our society’s growing awareness about body image. Barbie’s militia has vehemently claimed that she’s “just a toy,” and that it’s up to parents to teach their children to love themselves and their bodies just as they are.

I don’t completely disagree with them.

The year 1959 was a completely different era when compared with 2014 (but please don’t tell my mother that, because she’s a Baby Boomer who takes issue with the term “mid-century”). I think Barbie’s potential for harm is much greater today than it was in the 50s. In 2014, there are so many more channels through which children can receive messages about how they should want to look, thanks to the Internet on their cell phones and their social media feeds. It only stands to reason that the Barbie doll in their toy chest could easily add to that pressure.

It’s unreasonable to lay blame exclusively on Barbie as the evil doll dooming young girl’s healthy self-esteem development from the balcony in her assembly-required dream house, but I think Barbie’s body has come under fire as of late because body image is a subject that comes up more frequently today than it ever did in 1959 and the decades that followed. Of course body consciousness existed in the 60s, 70s, and so on, but it was different; it was more easily contained. It wasn’t the cause célèbre that it is today. Even as recently as the 90s, when I was a kid, I don’t think opinions about body image had the same extensive and influential reach as they do now.

“Well, Barbie’s appearance wouldn’t be an issue if parents would just teach their kids! She’s just a doll! A silly toy! It’s a parent’s job to instill these important values! Don’t blame Barbie for bad parenting!”

Every parent wants to teach their child that he or she should love him or herself inside and out—unconditionally, but if that positive outlook doesn’t take root like it should, I don’t think it exclusively indicates failure on behalf of the child’s parents or on behalf of a doll in a mini taffeta gown, for that matter. There are so many factors that shape how a person feels about his or her body that it’s naïve to assume that good parenting alone or designing a doll with more realistic proportions are surefire ways to ensure your child will develop a healthy self-image.

And let’s not forget, Barbie might be the doll that goes everywhere with your little girl, whose hair she brushes after you brush her own tangled tresses every morning. You can look your daughter in her eyes and tell her she’s beautiful every single day, but don’t underestimate the influence a beloved toy can have on its owner.

I never recall wanting to be or resemble any of the few Barbies that I had, but like I said, dolls were never my thing. What I can tell you is this: the way I played with my stuffed animals influences my life to this day. The pretend perils I’d place them in, the worlds I’d dream up for them to explore on my bedroom floor—my imagination was very much nurtured by those stuffed animals, and they were the subjects of the first stories I wrote as a youngster. So without those “just toys,” who knows if I’d even be writing this blog. Toys have a profound impact on a child and his or her development, and if you have any doubts about that, please get a box of Kleenex and watch Toy Story 3.

Many are quick to defend Barbie’s reputation, with protective statements like: “I owned Barbies, and I never wanted to look like her! I love my body!” or “No one wants to look like Barbie! She’s a toy!” Forgive me, but I’m calling bullshit.

It’s not remotely unrealistic to assume that a Barbie doll could have some influence on how a young girl wants to look. It’s certainly not a guarantee, but anyone who uses the “just a toy” argument clearly does not recall what it was like being a kid connected to his or her favorite toy. When a child adores a toy who happens to be an attractive woman with a permanent good hair day and an exciting life, a sense of admiration shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s important to note that Barbie idolatry isn’t limited to appearance. How many little girls had a phase where they wanted to be a teacher when they grew up because of teacher Barbie? You can’t get away from the fact that Barbie is a source of aspiration, whether that manifests itself in her appearance or her lifestyle.

And to all those who suggest no one wants to look like Barbie, let me suggest you Google Valeria Lukyanova. Lukyanova is no doubt an extreme, one in a million example, but who’s to say there aren’t other cases of Barbie hopefuls who hate their hair for not being blonde? Or regret that their legs aren’t long as Barbie’s? In most cases these longings won’t materialize into anything more than fleeting insecurities, but what happens when they do?

On the less coherent end of the commentary spectrum, there are people out there accusing Lammily of being fat, and suggesting that this entire Barbie/Lammily debate is perpetuated by liberals and feminists on their latest crusade. I see no need to defend Lammily’s size, because anyone who sees Lammily as fat has clearly drawn their ridiculously skewed line in sand, but when did body image concerns get relegated to being solely a liberal and/or feminist issue? Are people who identify as conservatives immune to body image concerns? Are men not insecure about their bodies? Let’s not forget, it was a man who created Lammily. Why would people rather give body image this weird otherness as a cause rather than take it seriously? No one’s burning Barbies (to my knowledge); we’re just trying to keep it 100 and have a real conversation, here.

The comments below are but a small sampling of the opinions out there about the Lammily doll, and if you were looking for a reason to be embarrassed about society, I encourage you to Google “Lammily doll,” pick one of many articles that will populate, and peruse the comment thread to find gems like these:

“Watch Out Barbie: Average body Lammily doll is coming”

Average body in Europe maybe…

If they want to make a doll with the average AMERICAN body, they’ll need to add another 30-40 lbs. They could call her “Bon Bon Brittany” and she could have a McDonald’s cheeseburger in one hand, and a TV remote in the other.

I fully admit that I’ve made quips here and there about the growing obesity rate in America, and I believe we Americans are self-deprecating about this point because it’s an issue that we know needs to be taken seriously, but there seem to be a lot of people who are personally offended by even the prospect of someone else’s fatness, as if, heaven forbid, they might be associated with dreaded rotundity by simply living in a country that has a reputation for having overweight people in significant numbers as part of its population.

If you live in America, and you’re incensed by how overweight everyone around you is, allow me to encourage you to find a skinnier nation to call home so you don’t get any of that horrible fat on your reputation. Might I suggest somewhere in Africa, where food is scarce? If you don’t live in America, and you think everyone here is fat, I promise we won’t miss your tourist revenue. In either case, know that making blanket statements about the collective weight of a country’s population is stupid and accomplishes nothing, especially when you take the opportunity to direct those useless sentiments at a new doll you saw when surfing the Internet.

I want them to take out half the stuffing in stuffed animals to not promote obesity.

This is a logical step, because human dolls and stuffed animals have so much in common besides just being toys (that aren’t even kept in the same aisle at Toys ‘R Us). We all know that if kids aspire to look a certain way from a young age, they look not to their attractive, human-esque dolls for inspiration–they emulate their tub of lard teddy bears! TEDDY BEARS ARE SPREADING THE MESSAGE THAT IT’S OKAY TO BE FAT RIGHT FROM YOUR BABY’S CRIB! Problem solved. Let’s get these bears on a treadmill before more harm is done.

Barbie was a toy. We all knew as kids that she was a DOLL and that we could never look exactly like her. THIS shit, however, is seriously promoting a negative body image. And the sad thing is all the fat ass moms will think this is THE GREATEST IDEA EVER OMMMG!!!

Maybe I missed it somewhere, but I’m not sure how Lammily promotes a negative body image. Is there a version of Lammily frowning in the mirror in disapproval?

A portrait of negative body image, obviously.

A portrait of negative body image, obviously.

Or did someone just assume that because Lammily has a more athletic build with some more meat on her bones that she must have a life that’s riddled with insecurity and self-doubt? I mean, sorry to go all MythBusters on your asses, here, but there’s no scientific correlation between being thinner and having a more positive body image. Conversely, being average weight doesn’t foretell a negative body image, either.

For the record, I don’t think Lammily is OMMMG the greatest idea ever (though that may be because I’m not a fat ass mom yet). I don’t think creating a doll who’s brunette, shorter than Barbie, and a little thicker will suddenly eliminate all the pressure kids face when it comes to body image, but I think it has the potential to help, even in a small way. It’s out of concern for how my own hypothetical future daughter will handle all of the messages thrown her way about her own body that I’m supportive of giving this whole Lammily thing a try. There will never be a doll that accurately depicts every body type and every proportion that exists out there, and even though the majority of women I know wouldn’t identify with either Barbie or Lammily, I still believe that anyone who suggests that Lammily is a bad idea or one that promotes obesity, is out of their mind. Go ahead and put Lammily on shelves next to Barbie, and let the kids throw a tantrum for whichever doll they want–is it so unreasonable to think that instead of either/or, they could want both?

If the argument remains that Barbie is just a harmless doll, and kids know she’s simply a toy, not a projection of how they should look, why wouldn’t the same apply to Lammily? If Barbie doesn’t encourage kids to believe that being thin with perfect thighs is ideal, why would Lammily have the power to give kids an inclination toward obesity? Or is a doll only “just a doll,” when she perpetuates societal standards of what’s attractive? I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud here.

Perhaps the debate isn’t Barbie vs. Lammily–it’s with us vs. our lack of understanding about how to tactfully have a discourse on body consciousness without being accusatory or unrealistic.

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