Why I Won't Buy My Daughter a 'Normal Barbie' for Christmas

Designer Nickolay Lamm has created a “Normal Barbie.” It has the proportions, according to CDC data, of the “average” 19-year-old woman, which means she looks more healthy and realistic. But in spite of being committed to encouraging a healthy body image, I don’t think I’d buy my daughter this doll for Christmas.

First, the deets: The doll, called Lammily, was created as part of an art project in 2013 by Lamm to show that “average is beautiful,” and then debuted visually earlier this year after crowdfunding and marketing garnered Lamm half a million dollars to make it a reality, according to Time.

Lammily is back in the news because she’s now available for purchase, and is being touted as an ideal holiday gift for girls. And why not? As we’ve all groused for decades, Barbie is not anatomically correct, and perpetuates unrealistic body images for girls, and is generally seen as part of the insidiously shallow, low-expectations foisted on women since birth to be pretty and not much else.

Lammily only costs $25, and for an extra $6, you can buy a sticker-extension pack that includes acne, moles, freckles, and blush, scrapes and bruises, scars, and cellulite. You know, regular person stuff.

Here’s Barbie vs. Normal Barbie:

[via Buzzfeed]

Here’s Normal Barbie with a gnarly zit cluster:

[via Time]

But all I can think is that this is well-intentioned but coming at the issue from the wrong end. The problem to me is not so much that Barbie or other dolls look pretty in unrealistic ways. It’s that they don’t do anything. It’s that they are only dolls, dolls to dress up and pair with mates, and that the activities they are meant to participate in are about as interesting as watching cleaning grout.

Dolls can, and to some extent, should be, aspirational. Boys’ dolls are notoriously empowerment aimed and don’t look super realistic either — they are dressed to kill, save, solve, destroy, explore. Girls dolls are meant to sit in pretty clothes and do nothing, or worse, I shit you not, shit charms.

The answer, to me, is not to get rid of the doing-nothing dolls (or even the nurturing dolls, which are also useful and should be given to boys), which can still give children a chance to play act and explore roles, feelings, and ideas. The answer is to expand on what girls are offered beyond looks-focused dolls. What girls desperately need are more dolls that do something grand and exciting and imaginative.

So to fix the issue with girls’ dolls, we should create dolls who are heroes and villains. Not because they should be just like boys, but because those are nice ideas for all kids to imagine, and for some reason, we still only think boys need to imagine big exciting things.

My other beef: This is still a doll promoting a body image, and it’s still not a very realistic one. As Haley Goldberg at the Post noted:

Kudos to Lamm for finally correcting Barbie’s body-image problem: Lammily has a healthy figure and she becomes imperfect with the touch of a sticker.
But in terms of “realistic beauty standards,” she still has issues:
Her long brown hair is silky and perfect, her lips a beautiful blush pink, her big eyes are pumped up with mascara and winged eyeliner. And her brows? They look freshly shaped by the salon.
This is certainly a step in the right direction in promoting better body image and beauty standards. But fashion dolls made from any “mold” will always set some standard, whether it be about body size (Barbie’s frail frame) or beauty (Lammily’s perfect button nose).
A doll with an average frame AND bad hair AND bushy brows probably wouldn’t sell.

She’s right. Is the average woman so pleasing, so well groomed, so well proportioned as Lammily? Basically, Lammily is still pretty. Lammily will just have a zit or two and some scars, easily removed. This is still looks-focused, and in a way, even more so, with all those “optional” flaws (Question: Are freckles flaws? Is cellulite “optional”?). Average is beautiful? Hey sweetie, there’s no prince, but one day you CAN look forward to rosacea. :: Gulps vitamin cocktail to get rid of rosacea::

Also, sorry Lammily, but the first thing I do with a zit is try to cover it up. That’s not because of Barbie. It’s because zits are gross. The designer has also shown what Barbie and other dolls would look like without makeup, and the answer is pretty, because they have none of the actual issues real people without makeup face, like splotchy skin, zits, discoloration, acne scars, etc. that require at least some concealer. Could we at least get a sticker set for the acne, but then another sticker set of makeup that goes over the acne sticker, thus creating that kinda gross makeup-on-zit look that’s so fashionable? What about periods, could we get a doll who has a period?

I think the main advantage of boys dolls versus girls is that when the doll is more action and adventure focused, it takes you out of your body, and into your head. There’s certainly a place for dress-up, and my daughter has princess costumes and costume jewelry and silly hats and scarves and oversized glasses and we have a blast playing with them. But that is balanced out by building robots and helping cook and playing games and puzzles and watching all kinds of cartoons so that there is more to her inner life than what can be conjured by a beauty contest. So that she has this idea that her life and play and identity can be all these things, both fun and useful.

And when so much of girls playthings are only decorative and passive, the idea of a doll that actually takes that to the next level — only the level is even MORE about looks, just the less glamorous side — I’m not sure we’ve beaten the system. I’m not sure we’ve beaten anything. It’s a nice idea, though.

This is not to say I’m passionately against the doll, because I think kids can have plenty of dolls and play with them in different ways, and for different reasons. And more is better, and more diverse is better (Lamm is said to be working on a range of ethnicities and shapes, too). But maybe the best people to give these dolls to are not girls, but boys, because if anyone needs to be told that most women don’t look like Barbie, it’s them. Girls are already well aware. Let’s give them something else altogether.

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