The Problem with Lamilly


There has been a lot of buzz regarding Lamilly dolls. This doll is designed to be similar to Barbie, but with body proportions that match that of the 'average' woman. The world seems to be excited about this prospect of a girls toy that portrays a healthy body image for girls to aspire to.

I'm not.

And it seems like, as a body-positive person and feminist,  you might assume that I'd be doing cartwheels over the Lamilly dolls. I take serious issue with these dolls because people are assuming that dolls are going to be the remedy for a problem that has very little at all to do with dolls at all.

Girls and boys around the world are facing eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders, and the thing en vogue has been to blame Barbie for anorexia. As a Barbie fan (although I went through a stint of disliking Barbie and her so-called perfection during my early teen years) I take huge issue with this, because it assumes that Barbie's image and existence is to blame for the body image issues girls are faced with.

Let me give you a little background on Barbie. Barbie was not designed based on an actual person (though she was named after the creators' daughter) but based on a German cartoon named Lilli that was something along the lines of what Betty Boop was in America some decades ago. She's had tons of careers including NASCAR driver, Computer Engineer, World Peace Ambassador, Yoga Teacher, Marine Corp Officer, Firefighter, and UNICEF Summit Diplomat. She has a lot of really good friendships, healthy friendships, with friends with their own individual personalities (if you so choose to play them this way) and she actually is not the hot side-accessory to her man-- actually, it's a little bit the opposite... Which is honestly pretty refreshing to me, given that too often, girls are often told that their value will be determined by the men in their lives.

Barbie is a fashionista, but she's not intended to be anyone's model of a real person, although she seems more realistic than a Raggedy Ann. Some of Barbie's other peers have much more absurd proportions, because they've always been intended as cartoons (Bratz dolls, who actually don't even have feet, Diva Starz, etc.) The problem is not what Barbie looks like, but an assertion that there is a way girls are "supposed" to look. Even the very fictional Barbie is fixated on by the general public, not for her many careers, her wonderful friendships, and her positive attitude, but her body. I've talked before about how uncomfortable I get when people try to insist on my feeling pretty in order to feel valuable when I know that I am so much more than what I look like. Telling girls that dolls are most importantly about what they look like, and not the wonderful make-believe lives they lead, is not a healthy move, especially when you pair that with the idea that they are supposed to grow up to look like their dolls.

So that's a big issue with the Lamilly dolls-- the assertion that an "average" doll is healthier and better. That Lamilly is "normal" and other body-types like Barbie's or a Cabbage Patch Kid's are "abnormal" and "unacceptable." I'm reading headlines like "Meet the Barbie with an Even More Perfect Body" and "Move Over Barbie! Meet the 'Normal' Doll that promotes Realistic (And Healthy) Body Proportions." And it's quite frankly disgusting.

These headlines assume that Barbie's proportions were always seen as the ideal and that finally, we can move that ideal to the "right" image. In the early 20th century, more curvy women (pin-up style) were considered the most attractive. In ancient times, large women with large hips and breasts were the most attractive. In Victorian England, it was important to obfuscate and exaggerate the feminine form with corsets and bustles. Which one of these is the best for society and women? Trick question, because there is no "right" body for a woman to have. Barbie and other dolls are intended as works of fiction. It is up to us as a society, as parents, as women, as sisters and brothers, to make that known. We need to stop saying "This is what a body should look like" and start saying "This is what a body looks like." Bodies are facts, not departures from normal, or failed attempts at a "right answer." There has never been a time when we have said "dogs that don't look like Snoopy are not as good as dogs that do look like Snoopy" and we need to make the same distinction amongst our girls and their dolls. Lamilly is the exact opposite of that.


Changing the ideal body once again will not break down the fact that we have put an ideal in place. Although there are many girls who will never look like Barbie, there are plenty of girls who will never look like Lamilly either. The problem is not what do our dolls look like?, but what expectations are we placing on our children? You may remember from my Op-Ed on Photoshopping that I have a problem when someone tries to tell us that there are right bodies and wrong ones.

When engineering a doll with the goal of being "normal" (one that Barbie never had) you're also setting out to describe what is "abnormal." That's one of the biggest reasons why I cannot support Lamilly. Though I thought initial renderings of a more average looking Barbie were a great and powerful statement that brought light to how our perceptions can be skewed by images we are told are ideal, the idea of someone selling these dolls on the mass market with the purpose being that this is "the real right body" is really disturbing. Girls should learn about how beautiful and wonderful all different kinds of bodies are from other, real women-- not from one doll.

I've had wonderful friends on social media discuss how they are extremely uncomfortable with these dolls, because they promote an ideal body that many girls don't/can't/won't have. While we all agree that diversity in the body shapes of children's dolls and actions figures are a positive thing, we can't reconcile the fact that Lamilly sets out to be "the right body" when there are many kinds of bodies that are not anything near her 'average' figure. Lamilly is a representation of one set of numbers out of many. How are the outliers supposed to feel? Lamilly is a so-called "realistic representation of beauty" which begs me to ask the question: realistic for whom?

I have other reservations against Lamilly. I don't like that there is no personality, no career, no friends in place or being planned for the Lamilly line. Lamilly is about her body-- a message that I don't want to promote, especially when her entire mission is to show girls what they should strive to be. I don't like that, along with the lack of plans to introduce more dolls, there is no form of racial diversity planned--which seems like a pretty important factor if you're going to say Barbie is promoting an unrealistic/unattainable ideal body. In Lamilly's quest to be "average" she has come out to be a tannish, racially-amibiguous-but-mostly-white-girl. Her skin is dark enough to be seen as appealing, but not so dark to threaten an assumption that she's probably white, and therefore appealing to everyone--which is another problem I have with society: The idea that whiteness is centered, and everything else is like some special, hard-to-relate-to sub-genre and outlier. Lamilly's coloring and her lack of racially varied cohorts is not something I feel comfortable with.

Not to say that Barbie is without her flaws and legitimate controversies and failures (Oreo Barbie being a notable one)-- but I will say that there's a difference between legitimate, actionable complaints, and pointless, ineffective complaints. While I really want Mattel (the makers of Barbie) to introduce more body diversity in their Barbie dolls (and their lines of Ever After High dolls, Monster High dolls, etc.), it only takes a basic business understanding to know how much money it would take to create new molds, and how insane it would be for a company to waste that money if no one bought those dolls. It's up to consumers to make most ethical, most socially beneficial option a financially responsible one for the company. Even better is if we make it the most financially beneficial choice, and we demonstrate that they are not only missing an opportunity, but show that if they carry through with production, they are presented with minimal risk because inventory will move. In capitalism, we vote with our dollars, and we've got to financially support awesomeness. This process has their wheels greased by social media since now it's easier than ever to talk to brands about our ideas for new alternatives. It's hard to mess with success, and we need to demonstrate an overwhelming desire for body diversity in the Barbie line if we want it to happen.

I think Lamilly dolls have room to grow and address the issues present, just as Barbie has and still does, but I don't think it can happen without Lamilly rejecting its premise that it is the "right" body and the "right" ideal for girls to pursue. But honestly, since that is the whole premise of Lamilly, I don't know that it can be done. This is a really complicated issue, but I hope I've made you think a little deeper into an issue that I know many people have sort of taken at face value as a positive.  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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photo credit: xshamethestrongx via photopin cc
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26 comments:

  1. Love your take on this doll and how you see Barbie beyond her body.

    xx Sarah

    Loser Girl Wins // Bloglovin

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  2. Agree with sarah! i love this!

    http://www.thepdxprepster.blogspot.com

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  3. Thanks, Sarah! I totally think that it's hypocritical to say that we should celebrate women for more than their bodies and then tell them what they need to look like in order to be acceptable! It's actually a bit of a hobby of mine to follow the toy industry :)

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  4. Thanks Natalie! I worked really hard on this post!

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  5. I agree with a lot of your points here. I played with Barbie dolls all day errday as a kid and never once did I compare my body to hers. I never thought I wanted to look like her either (and still don't). Sure, I wanted boobs, but I think that's pretty normal as a kid dreaming about being an adult. I think it's a little silly to compare human beings to plastic objects anyway. Every body is different and that's beautiful to me.

    xo Megan, Lush to Blush

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  6. Yeah that's how i feel too! I hope to never live in a world where parents are telling kids they're SUPPOSED to look like their dolls-- and that's what I fear Lamilly represents. It's okay to have complicated feelings about your body, but it's certainly not okay to tell other people (especially children!) that they have to look a certain way in order to be acceptable!

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  7. I finally got around to reading this post and it's just perfect. Thank you for writing this, and congrats on the thing you posted about on FB!

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  8. This is exactly how I felt about this topic. Not once growing up did I think to myself "I want to look like Barbie!" Maybe I wanted to be like her, but that's a different story. The body image problems that we have today are based on the media saying that "this" real person has the "perfect" body. It has nothing to do with a doll, because I think even children understand that there is a difference between an actual person and a Barbie. I feel like this Lamilly doll has just stemmed from the newly popular trend of trying to find something offensive in literally everything (in this case, Barbie).

    xo Marina
    <a href="http://www.earthtomarina.com”>Earth to Marina</a>

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  9. Thanks Lix! I'm super excited!

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  10. I think another problem too is that adults are forgetting what it's like to play. If you tell a kid to play with a teddy bear and a dinosaur, she's not going to care that they are at different scales and different time periods. She's just going to play. When a kid plays with a Barbie, she's just going to play with her and imagine an awesome life-- she's not going to think she has to look like Barbie in order to do the amazing things she does-- unless you tell her so.
    Thanks for reading!

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  11. I definitely agree with what a lot of these comments are saying - I never once regarded Barbie as what I was "supposed" to look like. I mean, she's a toy - she's on the same level as Beanie Babies and Hot Wheels (am I dating myself with these references?), and goodness knows no one ever attributed body issues to stuffed animals. I think people try to attribute body issues to anything but the actual main cause(s). We as a country has terrible lifestyle habits, and these continue to get passed on. If anything, Barbie with her active lifestyle and her myriad of athletic activities should be encouraging kids to do more and be healthier!

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  12. Yes! Preach it! I agree with every syllable in this post!

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  13. I totally agree! As a society we have a terrible habit of reducing women and girls to their appearances and that's exactly what people have been doing to Barbie. There is SO MUCH good in her and her friends-- their philanthropy, compassion, dedication to health, etc-- and yet the conversation is always about her physicality!

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  14. Thank you so much for reading, Teva!

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  15. To be fair.....
    "I'm hoping to extend the line to embrace diversity. From race to body type, I want this doll to be true to you!". Read the FAQ.

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  16. I think it should have been presented as a series of dolls at the outset, rather than one doll as one "average." I think there's something inherently problematic with creating toys with the goal of being more representative of 'everyone' and pitching one doll, rather than a variety. Ex. the way Bratz dolls, or Monster High dolls were introduced as a whole series, rather than Main character + side characters.


    Yeah, I think people who happen to look like Barbie to some degree more than others shouldn't be reviled because of it. The point is to be accepting of all different kinds of looks, rather than just picking a new favorite and new least favorite look.

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  17. I think the problem is that most girls, who are the ones who actually consume dolls as a product, don't have neither someone like you for guidance nor the complex thinking required to analyze such thing. They just assume dolls are ideal. This is mentioned by a study done in 2006 published by the American Psychological Association, it says that Barbie brought dissatisfaction about their body image, making them biased about the thinness of other dolls, and made them wish slimmer bodies themselves. So, for girls that yound, Lamilly might be the right choice, although I agree designers should work a lot more on her and her personality.

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  18. That's because girls receive messaging as young as 2 that those dolls are the ideal. We, as a society, TELL THEM what to think about these dolls. In other societies and with other kinds of dolls, this isn't a problem because the cultural norms just tell kids these are cartoons or playthings. I think messaging around dolls need to change, but I don't think changing the shape of a doll will fix anything. There are still many girls who have as much chance of looking like Lamilly as they do of looking like Barbie, and that's why I don't think this is a solution.

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  19. While I agree with your view in this essay, I think youre overlooking an important facet to the barbie vs lamilly debate. Whether or not the marketing touches on it, lamilly has an attainable body whereas barbie fits a basically impossible mold. I dont think its good to claim there is a 'right' body type, but if kids really aspire to look like their toys (something I'm hardly sold on) then I suppose its preferable that those toys better represent reality.

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  20. My point is that for many girls, Lamilly is just as unattainable as Barbie. We should not make dolls with the intention of telling girls "this is what you're supposed to look like." Period. There are many body image disorders out there and they are fueled by the idea that there is an "ideal" body and whether that's at 25% body fat or 35% or 5%, there are people who will never reach that number. The best model is to let playthings be playthings and encourage acceptance of all bodies instead of pushing one as "best"

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  21. Just one guy's perspective... Talk about 1st world problems. I have never met or heard of anyone, male or female, presenting a girl with a Barbie and saying "this is the ideal." My entire generation wanted to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Anyone who failed to outgrow that... or started using steroids because they watched Predator one too many times is... frankly.. a moron. There is a simple solution to this and all of the other body issues: Develop an internal locus of control. Men do not read Cosmo. We (at least normal men, as opposed to the combination of Slash and an SS Officer with rubber skin known as Karl Lagerfeld) are not the ones driving any of this. I have never... in my life of hockey and rugby locker room conversations... once heard a guy say "yeah, she is cool... but if only she were a size zero." Humans are extremely competitive. This can be healthy, and this can be detrimental. 90% of the fashion industry feeds off of women unhealthily competing with other women. Twiggy was sexy as hell... so too is Chloe Marshall.. and for the exact same reason: Confidence. The WWII generation didn't give a shit about their dress size, or dolls, and the men who won WWII couldn't have cared less if they had 6-pack abs. Why? They were adults. (ASIDE: I have a step daughter... she plays with Barbies, she builds them Lego castles... and she also enjoys Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. People with a victim mentality will always find something to be "oppressed" by, and people with a victor mentality will always find a way to overcome... even the horrors of dolls and advertisements)

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  22. I appreciate you opinion, believe me. I've never felt the need to look like Barbie, and like your step daughter, I also played with Legos, and I earned a black belt in Taekwondo-- so this is not about me saying all women and girls feel the same way about this. In the piece I specifically address that Barbie is a doll based on a cartoon-- a caricature. That's the intention. Everything else is external.
    In addition, this piece is not about me saying that men are pressuring women into looking a certain way. Some men totally are, but once again, it's likely not a majority by any standard (at least in America). Those who do are dicks, and that's pretty self-explanatory.
    However, there is a problem when a doll maker says "this is what normal looks like." There's a problem when you make money off of making people feel bad about themselves or telling them how they should look. Developing an internal locus of control is essential-- but it's hard to develop if, since early childhood, you have felt like things are out of your control no matter what. For example, the way you look is not changeable, not really. So when you develop a doll to tell girls that "this is what normal/healthy/good" looks like, that's the kind of thing you reinforce.
    You can talk about eating disorders and self-hatred being a "first world problem" all you want, but people are dying because of those things, and it seems like a dick move to be so reductive of that. You can call it a "victim mentality" but there's a death toll here, a preventable one. The reason why we haven't found the one thing that'll stop eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders is because there isn't one problem at play. I'm not saying that dolls are the one factor, or even one of the most important factors in shaping these tragedies. It's a lot of dominoes that fall together to take a life. But this piece isn't about that-- it's about my feelings about a doll that is designed first and foremost to be a model of a "good" body.

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  23. The molds probably cost several thousands dollars to make. They'd have needed a lot of money and expertise. Afaik they're not experienced toymakers are they? They were better off starting with only one and learn from that first.

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  24. I am happy to see someone get it. Barbie gets a bad rap but it is society that is pushing expectations onto children as to what they should look and behave like to be normal. I have been a Barbie fan since I was three. I never looked like her or aspired to do so.

    The children I have meet with eating disorders tend to have mothers with body issues. Parents need to be careful what they are teaching their children thru their actions and place less blame on toys.

    The only thing I disagree with you is about the Oreo Barbie. It wasn't really controversial. At that time, Mattel was working with many food companies (including Campbell's Soup, Jello, Life Savers) to produce dolls sold at grocery stores. Oreo fit with the theme and avoiding the term because a small population choose to use it offensively, would be more wrong to me. It gives too much power to those who use the term offensively to label others.

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  25. The molds are definitely very expensive so I understand starting with one doll first-- I think the mistake was in not announcing plans or even hopes for other dolls alongside the initial doll. The company has since responded to the criticism and now has plans for additional, different dolls, but by coming out with Lamilly as though it was "the one doll to rule them all" or something was definitely an expression of normativity and made many women feel that they were attempting to invalidate the experiences and bodies of women who didn't look like her.

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  26. I totally agree with you that mothers have to remember that they are models for their daughters. It took me a long time to distinguish between my mother's problems and my own when it came to body image issues, and when I did it was the most freeing thing. I never wanted to think poorly of my body but my mom put it upon me, and when I realized that her issues with my body were more about her own feelings about her body and life than mine, I could finally leave her baggage behind-- it wasn't mine to carry.


    As a business person, my problem with the Oreo Barbie thing is that it was poorly thought through and executed. I think they should have anticipated the backlash and not done things the way they did. I think there was a GOOD way to execute the brand partnership and a BAD way to do it, and I think they made mistakes. While it is awful to have to give in to people who would use the word to make others feel bad, I think it's worse to give those people another way to do so. I think Oreo Barbie felt like a betrayal to many Black girls and their families, and that's more important to me than a company backing down from one of many business decisions that could make them massive profits.

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