The Lammily doll was born in 2013 out of a Photoshop experiment (oh, the irony!) by Nickolay Lamm, who wondered: What if fashion dolls were made using standard human body proportions, rather than proportions that would only allow for half a liver and a few inches of intestine? His Photoshopped image went viral, and one year later the Lammily doll arrived on my doorstep — a Christmas gift for my two-year-old son. Yes, you read that correctly. For my son.
Let’s just take a moment to appreciate Lammily’s coming to be. The crowd-funding used to create the first Average Barbie raised $501,000, which is five times its initial goal. And before anyone ever held a Lammily doll in their hands, 19,000 dolls were sold via pre-order. These figures are solid evidence — in my mind — that there is a need, an opening, a welcomeness for this kind of product. People are hungry to see images they can relate to and identify with. We are tired of being constantly bombarded by representations of the human body that are unrealistic, unattainable, and, quite frankly, make us feel bad about ourselves.
I see the success of Lammily as a loud statement against unethical Photoshop practices and size-zero mania that mainstream media and, let’s be honest, the fashion industry perpetuate on a daily basis. Lately, however, it seems that the message is finally sinking in. I mean, Calvin Klein using a healthy-looking model in the brand’s latest campaign was a pretty big deal considering these underwear gurus traditionally favor a much more slender figure in their ad campaigns. I bought Lammily because she is part of a sea of change that I hope will make the world a better place. How often can you be a part of something that positive, really?
Something that’s really interesting to consider when it comes to Lammily is the use of the word average in the advertising surrounding the doll — their tag line being “average is beautiful.” Critics have wondered whether the use of this word would limit the popularity of the doll, but personally, I am glad they stuck with it. Because being “average” — however you define the term — isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Critics have also suggested that marketing Lammily as “average” is an insult to kids with other skin tones, but Lamm was quick to address this in an article for Huffington Post. And after all, you have to start somewhere, right?
In the future, I see the Lammily line including dolls of different ethnicities and different healthy body shapes. I also see some special edition dolls based on inspirational role models: sports stars, actors, leaders. And, yes, of course I want the Lammily line to include male dolls.
Belgian stand-up comedian Henk Rijckaert has a sketch about this topic. Rijckaerts’ viewpoint is that if everyone aimed to be “average,” the world would be a better place. Society teaches us that we must be successful at all costs (from our careers to our families to our overall happiness). We have to achieve something, make our mark on the world, have our 15 minutes of fame. From a very young age, children are lead to believe that they can grow up to be something great — an astronaut, a movie star, an inventor — when the actual fact is that most of them will spend their adult lives sitting behind a desk in order to pay the bills. Ultimately, this means that there are a lot of people in the world who are disappointed with what they have done in life, when actually they are doing quite okay in the grand scheme of things.
Imagine a world without the competitiveness of wanting to be richer, more successful, prettier, thinner than your neighbor? Sounds peaceful right? Rijckaerts’ 2013 tour was entitled “Swarm,” a name that was inspired by a flock of birds flying together — no bird faster, bigger, or better than the rest; a huge group in which everyone was equal and worked together to make something beautiful. Imagine if our society worked like that?
When discussing such issues with friends, I recently received some feedback along the lines of, “Kids don’t think about body image.” “Kids don’t think that Barbie is real.” “Barbies are just toys; they don’t have the psychological impact you seem to think they do.” I agree that children before a certain age do not consciously think about body image issues — perhaps it doesn’t come naturally — but we have to be aware that they see and absorb everything. And the age at which children are beginning to develop body-image issues might be getting lower and lower. A couple of years ago, Body Bliss Central reported on something that gave me shivers: “Five-year-old girls and boys, in Australia, in 2009, are being admitted to hospital for voluntarily restricting their eating because they think they’re too fat.”
Until we’re about seven years old, the part of our mind that we call the subconscious is wide open and taking in everything going on around us. The subconscious mind has no filters, no evaluation processes, no cognitive challenge mechanisms, it simply absorbs and stores information exactly as presented. By the time we complete the first seven year cycle of life, our conscious mind is starting to take over. That’s why our subconscious beliefs and values run our lives as adults — at least until we dig them out, make them conscious, and make different decisions.
Growing up, I loved my Barbie — what with the wonder of her groovy, ’80s leg-warmers. I played with her often, and I can’t say that it really damaged me! My crippling body image issues probably came from somewhere else, right? But I’m going to err on the side of caution here, and that is why my two-year-old son is getting a Lammily doll for Christmas!
Now all I have to do is stop my mother from convincing me that it is a collector’s item, and that I should keep it in the box! I understand her point, and for a split second I thought about buying a second one to keep in the box. Who knows, Lammily could be the product that tips the scales in the fight toward healthier body-image representation in toys — and that’s something that all children of all genders need in their lives. And hey, maybe the doll could even make me rich in 50 years time. But for the moment, I would prefer to have it enrich my son’s life. I would prefer it help instill the idea that you don’t have to be an astronaut, a movie star or an inventor to be valued — to be worth something. “Average” isn’t the plague we deem it to be. It’s okay. And it can even be kind of good.
First published on Bustle 12 Dec 2014