Lammily the 'Normal Barbie' is a great start, but no gendered toy is without problems

We don’t want our daughters to believe that they are ‘average’, we want them to aim for the moon

Victoria Richards
Friday 21 November 2014 17:36 GMT
Lammily with acne on her forehead
Lammily with acne on her forehead (Nickolay Lammy)

Just one glimpse of Barbie, she of the tiny waist, impossibly long legs and pointed feet – which, if she were real, would mean she would have to walk around on all fours – is enough to send a shudder through the spine of any parent concerned with body image, self-esteem or gender stereotyping.

I intentionally avoid her plastic pink packaging; or, in fact, anything that screams the glitter-strewn words "Girls’ toys", instead leading my charge towards building blocks, books, trucks and trains and gender-neutral games.

Barbie’s influence – for I grew up in the eighties, surrounded by her lustrous blonde mane, rosebud lips, huge eyes and disproportionate physique – has been long-lasting. And even though it’s been years since I carefully coloured her hair in blue and then buried her pretty head in the garden, I still steer clear of dolls. I don’t buy them, I warn present-givers off anything unnecessarily pink, and am fastidious in my quest not to shop anywhere that segregates clothes or toys.

But now, finally, things might be changing. For there’s a new girl in town, and she’s certainly no poster pin-up.

American artist Nickolay Lamm’s creation, the ‘Lammily’ doll, carries the slogan that "average is beautiful" and comes with her own stick-on set of temporary tattoos, acne, moles, stretch marks and cellulite. You can make her "blush" when she feels "anxious or shy", and she can be customised to bear witness to her adventures with cuts and scrapes, bruises and a cast.

It comes at a crucial time, for it’s never been so important to encourage the next generation to feel body-positive. In 2013, the NSPCC reported a 36 per cent year-on-year increase in calls relating to low self-esteem and unhappiness, and a major study of 30,000 school pupils by the Schools Health Education Unit recently revealed that the self-esteem of teenage girls has fallen from 41 per cent to 33 per cent since 2007. 53 per cent of 12 and 13-year-olds said they would like to lose weight.

‘Lammily’ could be considered an important step in combatting the pervasive and insidious pressures of attaining an unrealistic female beauty ideal, but it’s not without its own problems. The use of the word ‘average’ is itself a bit of a misnomer: we don’t want our daughters to believe that they are ‘average’, we want them to aim for the moon, or at least the next Rosetta mission. We want them to strive to be better than Obama or Cameron; to occupy key positions in science, engineering, healthcare and the arts. We want our girls to embrace every inch of their perfectly imperfect bodies; warts, spots, wrinkles and all. We want the next generation to reject the pressures of starving themselves skinny; to laugh at the very idea of Botox, fillers, implants and tummy tucks.

There are some encouraging green shoots of change: this week, manufacturers Mattel were forced to pull the "Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer" book from online sale because it contained lines like: “I’m only creating the design ideas … I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!” In future, Mattel conceded, all future Barbie titles will be written “to inspire girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character”. Children’s publisher Ladybird has also announced that after 100 years, it has decided to drop gender branding from its books because it does not want to be seen as “limiting children in any way”.

So all hail "natural Barbie’ – if I could bring myself to buy dolls, she would be first on my list. But for now, I’ll keep trying with Lego.

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