Over winter break, I was greeted by my five-year-old neighbor Clarissa as she crazily waved an unfamiliar looking doll above her head. I quickly learned that this doll was marketed as an “alternative Barbie,” known as the Lammily doll, created by Nickolay Lamm in 2014. It was made to resemble an average 19-year old woman’s body. It is advertised on Amazon to be the “most realistic doll on the market” and “helps children develop a positive body image.”
Lamm’s efforts to make a more inclusive doll, despite the separate issue of the lack of racial representation, came into play when the iconic Barbie doll began garnering controversy in 2013. Critics were concerned that Barbie’s body structure would cause many children to grow up with harmful and unrealistic expectations for themselves, so as a response, the Lammily doll has a curvier physique with wider hips and broader shoulders. The biggest differing factor is a pack of imperfection stickers, featuring acne, cellulite, moles, freckles, glasses, tattoos, scars and bruises, which can be purchased and applied to the Lammily doll. The stickers are meant to teach children to accept skin imperfections and undermine society’s preference to clear skin.
Even though the endeavor to redefine societal beauty standards and ultimately find imperfections beautiful is admirable, the introduction of the “alternative Barbie” sends the opposite message to children and conveys the same stereotypical notions regarding unhealthy body expectations, which were only supposedly conveyed by Barbie. While the inclusion of the imperfection pack is well-intentioned, it feeds into unhealthy body standards and is deceitful — it allows children to pick and choose which imperfections to include on their dolls. The intent of the stickers is undermined and therefore teaching children that these imperfections can be controlled.
However, the larger issue at hand is not Barbie dolls or the Lammily doll and all of its problems. Rather, it is society’s standard of beauty which has been used to shape these dolls. The pressure to be beautiful in the public eye has undoubtedly haunted young girls, and in some cases it has caused children to develop eating disorders in order to achieve a beauty standard proliferated by celebrities and the media. A 2004 study, “Eating Disorders and the Role of the Media,” states that “magazine articles, television shows, and advertisements have also created a social context that may contribute to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in girls and women.” This has become ingrained in our culture, therefore we should direct our focus on how beauty is defined in the media.
In my experience working with children, kids grow out of the phase where they are braiding Barbie’s hair and sending her for a sweet ride with Malibu Ken before beginning to judge their body type. Rather, as technology rapidly develops, kids are being exposed to media platforms sooner, and the physique of dolls is becoming less and less relevant to the younger generation. Mainstream media influences kids to want a thin waist and thigh gap figure. Children look to celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner and say “Wow, I want her butt!” or “I need to be thin and have big lips in order to be beautiful!” These figures are glorified, therefore perpetuating harmful body expectations for children. As a result, targeting social media and other entertainment platforms is essential to address unhealthy beauty standards.
It is wonderful that Lammily dolls’ physiques are proportional to that of an average 19-year-old white woman’s and, now, there are Barbies of multiple body types, skin colors, and hair textures lining the shelves of toy stores. However, it is important that different messages about beauty are sent out to the public, in this case, children. Various images of body figure must be present on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat which large numbers of kids use every day. Additionally, celebrities and models that dominate these platform should not be glorified so that we can combat the issue of unhealthy body expectations. In doing so, we will no longer be criticizing one of America’s most beloved children’s toys.