Why I don’t give a shit about what your ‘real-life Barbie’ looks like
Nickolay Lamm just came out with his own line of imitation Barbie dolls that are built on the premise of their being average. “Average is beautiful,” he says whole-heartedly, making eye contact with the camera, promoting his creations, called Lammily dolls. They were made after the huge success of his first creation, a Barbie doll made to embody the exact average proportions of an American 19-year-old. He has the statistics to back it up.
When I first heard about his new Barbie creation, I marveled at the difference in appearance right along with countless other viewers on the internet. This girl does look average. She looks great. But there was something still nagging at me: Why do we give a shit what she looks like at all?
Now, stay with me here. I’m not saying that we should be in a post-appearance society, and that every body should be regarded as simply nebulous cell-created organisms that should be disregarded entirely. I’m talking about priorities.
See, here’s the thing—think of your average boy’s doll (action figure, whatever they call them). Picture Superman. Does he have ridiculous proportions? Rippling muscles? An incredible six pack that very few men will ever achieve in their lifetime? He does.
Now think about all the people who are up in arms about the way men’s bodies are being portrayed in action figures. Can you think of anyone? Any campaigns going viral about changing action figures’ bodies? Didn’t think so.
That’s because when you think of Superman, you don’t think about his six pack or his rippling muscles. You think about what he can do—the lives he saves, the incredible feats he achieves, even his personality. His appearance isn’t your first priority. You look at Superman the same way you look at men in society: achievements, character, actions… all of those things matter more in judging a man as a whole than if you’re judging a woman.
Back to Barbie. Let’s think about what she looks like. Now, let’s think about what she’s achieved. According to NPR she ran for president of the United States in 2004. According to this playset sold at Target, she’s a goddamn doctor. Considering the gal doesn’t even have functioning ankles, it’s pretty impressive, right?
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right—Superman was a character in a story before he was a doll, and Barbie was not. She’s always been a plastic toy that girls dress up and place in different situations. She’s always been whatever the girl wants her to be…so why can’t that be her story? Why the focus on her looks?
PolicyMic’s story about the Lammily doll says that it will “revolutionize the way girls think about their body.” And if that’s true, I say that’s great. We need girls thinking that Barbie isn’t an average woman’s body. But what we really need are girls revolutionizing the way they think about themselves. A girl is more than her body. A girl should love her body because it is part of her, not because it looks a certain way and looks similar to a doll.
To declare that these dolls make “average” into something “beautiful” is to declare that average is now the new measuring stick for beauty. Are you above average or below average? Fatter than average? Skinnier? That matters now, so you better start measuring yourselves accordingly, girls! I’m being overdramatic, but you get my point. To place so much importance on what the Lammily doll looks like makes her just as judged as Barbie is. It’s continuing the politicizing of women’s bodies, regardless of what you’re saying about them.
Brené Brown, a researcher and writer, declares, “What we think, hate, loathe and wonder about the acceptability of our bodies reaches much further and impacts far more than our appearance. The long reach of body shame can impact who and how we love, work, parent, communicate and build relationships.” Notice that she doesn’t mention what the person in question’s weight is. She talks about how the person measures him or herself according to what is acceptable. The Lammily doll is merely changing the marker for acceptability.
It’s only when we find peace with our bodies and start focusing on what we can achieve, that we do the real work of becoming ourselves. Lupita Nyong’o, in her acceptance speech at the Essence’s Black Women In Hollywood award, spoke of her struggle to find peace with her body as it was, with darker skin than she wanted. She mentions the measuring sticks she used for how she felt about her own acceptability, saying that other kids’ opinions hurt her, society pushed against her, and then later Alek Wek’s modeling career helped her feel better about her skin tone. But then, she let that go. “Finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be,” she said. Finally she felt she was more than how she looked, and became what she could do. And that is the difference.
I want us to stop talking about what Barbie looks like, and start talking about what she can do. I want us to stop telling girls how to measure their worth based on their appearance. What Barbie can do is whatever she puts her mind to—and that’s exactly what real girls can do, too.