As a young girl, I never took a dance class or did embarrassing lip-sync routines to Spice Girls songs with friends. I was pretty into sports and more of a Backstreet Boys fan. But I did own my fair share of Barbie dolls, and while I never felt the need to measure down to her body type and stunted arm movement, I saw her appeal.
The original Barbie was a 1959 depiction of the All-American woman: blonde haired, blue-eyed, white and skinny. Very skinny. While there have been variations in the former three physical attributes, the latter remained the same for 65 years.
As a visible representation of society’s accepted and incredibly flawed beauty norms, Barbie is more detrimental than helpful with regard to self esteem and body-awareness. Studies show girls who played with thin dolls faced a higher rate of degraded body image and lower food intake, indicating the potential for eating disorders.
Earlier this month, Nickolay Lamm, an artist from Pittsburgh, created a doll prototype of “the average 19-year-old woman.” The new doll, named “Lammily,” with a broader frame and an athletic build, tries to challenge the harsh reality of beauty expectations. As a doll created to be physically fit and outfitted with minimal makeup, she is a new ‘realistic’ doll for the current generation of girls to embrace.
However, Lammily further muddles what our society endorses as healthy and average in efforts to resolve the impossible beauty standards and body issues associated with Barbie.
Lammily’s accompanying mantra, “Average is Beautiful,” replaces Barbie’s standards of crazy skinny with the idea of an average woman. To be normal and acceptable by the newly established norms of Lammily is to emulate her in appearance and embrace what it means to be average.
It’s absurd and, though well-intended, harmful to girls.
I wonder, what is average and is it really something we should promote to impressionable youths? While the doll can be an average representation, the word should not be transferred to how we portray young girls by extension. It is as if Lammily’s true mantra is “Normal is the new perfect.”
Producing a more true-to-life doll is a reasonable agenda, but projecting this plastic toy as the new ideal is something I don’t believe Mattel ever strove for with Barbie. I personally have never seen Barbie to be the everyday woman or the approved image for little girls that this new doll claims to be.
Many girls who are larger, smaller, shorter or taller than Lammily’s calculated proportions will not identify with the plastic doll’s body type. Does this make them abnormal and not beautiful? I personally have never felt normal, body-wise, and to ingrain the intent to be normal in future generations depreciates girls and their uniquely individual bodies.
Achieving average could still lead girls to eating disorders and an accoutrement of psychological disorders. Normality is not what we should be gauging if we want girls to grow into women with strong senses of self-confidence.
The standard associated with the new doll is put up to replace those of Barbie when we should be bringing down beauty standards entirely and taking away the power a toy has to manipulate how future generations view themselves.
Lamm means well, but the new doll is just another prototype to uphold the beauty standards of society that act against today’s girls. The depiction of the Barbie doll led to generations of body hyper awareness for girls and that will likely continue with the new doll.
Lammily’s creation is a new chance to change how dolls represent society, but the destruction of impossible beauty norms is the issue that really must be addressed.