It’s hard to think of a bigger symbol of our culture’s body image crisis than Barbie, who has spent over half a century teetering on impossibly long legs as her enormous breasts propel her forward. This year saw a number of projects and campaigns to take Barbie’s unrealistic proportions down a notch and bring her into a more human level, which opens up a conversation about what Beyoncé is aptly calling “the disease of a nation”–the never-ending and unattainable quest for physical perfection.
In April of this year, Barbie had two different artists render her without her makeup. Eddi Aguirre gave us this version:
And Nickolay Lamm made this version:
While the first image perhaps goes into hyperbolic territory, these are pretty fascinating examples of just how made up Barbie really is. Lamm’s version still portrays a conventionally beautiful figure (well, if you break it down, she’s kind of weird because it’s that crazy cartoonish beauty with enormous eyes), but it really draws attention to the double layer of eyeliner and fake eyelashes that Barbie wears to say, say, outer space. Would it kill Mattel to give their dolls a slightly more natural look?
Later this year, Lamm made an even more striking image:
This figure on the right is Barbie with the proportions of an average 19-year-old. What’s especially jarring about this image is that I have so internalized Barbie as a normal standard (even though I know in my brain that she’s not) that I looked at the shorter figure and thought that she looked off.
Finally, last week Plus-Size-Modeling.com posted a photo on an illustration of a plus-size Barbie-like doll on their Facebook page.
Per The Huffington Post, “[o]ver 35,000 people have “liked” it, but many have taken issue with the doll’s so-called extreme size.” I don’t really understand what’s so extreme about this body, except that perhaps it differs greatly from our usual conception of Barbie. Yeah, it’s a fat Barbie. Who cares? Commenters, apparently, feel that this fat Barbie isn’t representative of what multiple people referred to as “normal,” which is bullshit because every body is normal. If Barbies have to exist, there should be fat Barbies, short Barbies, Barbies of all races, and a diverse representation of the women in the world.
This year’s conversations about Barbie have been especially interesting in that they sharply point out just how far gone our paragon of beauty is from any actual humans. The fact that I thought Lamm’s portrayal of the 19-year-old girl was “wrong” is a pretty striking message of just how harmful Barbie can be. Of course, Barbie is a symptom of a greater problem, and is certainly one aspect of our harmful cultural narrative. But if we agree that Barbie is a symptom and not the cause, how can we treat the cause without taking care of some of the symptoms?
Barbie is obviously harmful, and as Jamie Peck pointed out, studies have shown that Barbie puts undo pressure on girls as young as five to want to be thin. But getting rid of Barbie’s impossible standards isn’t enough. It’s not just Barbie–young girls and women face innumerable messages that they aren’t good enough, and internalize a concept of acceptable beauty that is simply out of reach for any human. Altering Barbie to fit a more human standard would be an important first step, but it’s simply not enough.
Photos: WENN, Nickolay Lamm, Getty Images, Facebook