Graphic designer/amateur toymaker Nickolay Lamm plays with Barbies a lot. First he came up with the make-up-free Barbie—worrying that she was “a little bit too hypersexualized,” which is strange, since I see women walking around my neighborhood with a face fulla slap, and the kids don’t seem to be scarred from it. Then he came up with a “proportional” Barbie, whose body matched that of an average 19-year-old woman (according to the Center for Disease Control)—a noble aim, but I find it misguided, and a little patronizing.
I tend to think projects like this misjudge children’s intellect—not everything in a child’s play or fantasy world is somehow internalized like some kind of insidious timebomb of self-loathing, and while Barbie’s uncanny proportions certainly indicate something rotten about our perspective on women’s bodies, I honestly think their effect on little girls is negligible. I’d argue Barbie’s freaky shape and perpetual Tammy Faye Bakker-ish makeup is a symptom—but not the cause—of self-esteem problems with women and girls—but what do I know? I’m just a woman who grew up healthy and happy playing with Barbies! As I have said before:
On some level, hyper-realistic dolls are a bit silly anyways, since anyone who’s ever been around kids will admit you can draw a smiley face on a jar of pickles and they’ll play with it like a doll. In many parts of the world, dolls don’t attempt the detail of Barbie, and people don’t have to think about dolls’ “bodies.”
That being said, what children do like about dolls—far more than any adult-invented concept of body idealization—is interaction, and Lamm may have actually come up with something a little girl (or at least John Waters), might be really interested in playing with. The Lammily doll now comes with decals for acne, freckles, moles, blushing cheeks, scrapes, bruises, scars, stretch marks and even cellulite. I do believe children are better at distinguishing fantasy and reality than Lamm thinks, and I do not think little girls give two shits about the literalism of their dolls (I also played with pink unicorn dolls—they did not leave me disappointed with regular old brown horses, I assure you), but it is a scientifically proven fact that stickers and accessories are basically crack for kids!
Lamm says he “wanted to show that reality is cool,” and asks, “a lot of toys make kids go into fantasy, but why don’t they show real life is cool?” Maybe it’s because doll-play is literally a fantasy, in that children are animating an inanimate object! Kids will have plenty of time to contend with reality; they still play with dolls that “wet themselves,” for example, so the doldrums of domesticity have not lost their appeal to young eyes, even in the wake of Barbie and her Dreamhouse. I think Lamm should have a bit more faith in little girls—their intellectual independence and their critical reasoning skills—but playing with scars and bruises? That’s something I think they could get into, even if it’s not for the reasons he thinks.