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.
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.
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.
photo credit: xshamethestrongx via photopin cc