When someone brings up Barbie these days, there tends to be an instant backlash. What was once just a staple toy for young girls has now become associated with body image disputes, social normality, and even the very meaning of the word beautiful. All this has led to the creation of what mainstream media likes to call the “Normal Barbie,” right in time for the holidays.
The independently created doll by American artist Nickolay Lamm has stirred up a storm of publicity, being touted for its progressive body image in Time and Buzzfeed. This Barbie-like toy, named the Lammily doll, has so far been met with praise. With Christmas fast approaching and the tendency to purchase standard Barbies, these new Lammily dolls might be a better gift alternative for kids.
Mattel’s Barbie has been subject to criticism since she hit the scene in 1959. Ruth Handler, the wife of one of the co-founders of Mattel Toy Company, thought the doll market was missing toys that looked like grown-ups. After some convincing the first Barbie was created and marketed. Instantly, there were complaints. Barbie had too big of a chest, the eyes were too “suggestive”; Barbie was too adult for young children.
Mattel went back to the drawing board, and an improved Barbie was released with slight tweaks to please the audience.
This is what Barbie has become: a malleable figurine that changes based on consumer’s perception of beauty or appropriateness.
In the 21st century that looks like a white, disproportioned, anorexic 19-year old with a waist of 16 inches (the average for a real person is 35).
We don’t need a full report on how awful this plastic image of Barbie is. We’ve all seen the complaints and read the reviews from angry mothers and the comic images of what it would look like if Barbie really was real. It’s almost a worldwide consensus that this Barbie’s appearance is unrealistic.
However, it has taken a while for anything progressive to be done about it. Barbie has stayed skinny and white for a long time.
The first black Barbie was only created in 2009, barely five years ago. Nickolay Lamm’s rebuttal to the unrealistic Mattel Barbie was long overdue. The slogan he used to promote the Lammily dolls was “average is beautiful.”
His doll uses the measurements of an average American 19-year-old female. It comes with stickers of tattoos, spots, freckles, and cellulite. He’s attempted to make the Lammily doll an accurate representation of a typical teenage girl.
Lamm told CNN, “The message I want to send is that it’s not what you look like. That doesn’t define you. What you do does.”
His goal is noble. Too often we see teens concerned about their weight and self-image and this has the potential to be a huge step in combatting that beauty pandemic.
That being said the Lammily doll still might be a hard sell to your kids. There are some major marketing problems – like, can we agree that “Lammily doll” is a terrible name? The artist clearly took his last name and added –ily to the end in an attempt to feminize the product. Boys like to play with dolls too, and if Lammily is trying to be progressive, then Lamm should consider a gender neutral approach to reach more consumers.
Plus, he named it after himself when the project is supposed to focus on creating a positive body image for young girls. Who does that? Did he seriously do all this research into body-image and then decide that wasn’t necessary when branding it? Although Lamm’s doll is a progressive statement there are some serious marketing missteps here.
The reality is, the poorly named Lammily dolls probably won’t eclipse Barbie’s popularity – what really needs to happen is for Mattel to redesign Barbie for any tangible progress to be made.
This won’t be the final rebuttal to Barbie and it won’t be easy to convince kids that there’s better dolls out there. But we’re seeing good progress – from the Lammily doll to the less sexualized and popular Spider Girl doll – things are changing. For better or for worse, dolls will always reflect someone’s version of beautiful. Let’s hope that it continues in Lamm’s direction.