Update: Nickolay Lamm, the creator of the Lammily doll, did not respond to our request for an interview before this column appeared. But on Tuesday he weighed in with a response:
"Some people misinterpret my saying 'average is beautiful' is to say that if you are not average you are not beautiful, but I am saying pretty much the opposite," he says. "Let's forget about the whole political correctness. If you look at the doll, she does look more normal than what is out there. I don't blame anyone for calling it normal, I don't think they are trying to offend anyone. It's a very simple way to describe her.
"But at the same time, that image of her doesn't suggest that if you don't look like her something is wrong with you. I am not trying to start a war with Barbie, I am just trying to add an alternative. I am not saying this is good or that is bad. Lammily represents the fact that everyone is beautiful. Lammily is for everyone."
Normal Barbie. Who is this new phenomenon said to be the next big thing in the toy aisle?
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Her name is Lammily and she’s the new “it” doll, created from the average measurements of a 19-year-old girl – about 5 feet 4 inches, with a 33-inch waist.
She’s more anatomically correct than Mattel’s Barbie, who couldn’t function if she were human. Lammily is shorter than Barbie and Bratz. Her makeup is minimal. And her joints are bendable.
OK, so this is “normal”: Lammily may not be tall and super skinny, but she is certainly fit, an athlete. We’ve seen her in running poses and with a ball. Her stomach is flat. Her designer, Nickolay Lamm, told the Huffington Post that he wants her clothes to have that Gap and J. Crew look. Because, you know, Lammily is like a “real” woman.
When we start using words like “normal” and “real,” we are teaching girls to compare by saying this is what normal looks like in the form of a plastic mold. What if we don’t have an athletic build or wear preppy clothes? What if we don’t fit that mold?
Eventually the designer plans to add more ethnicities to the line, but for now Lammily is white with long, straight brown hair. She is being embraced as Normal Barbie. We are basically saying, hey, Lammily is the standard. It destroys the entire mission.
I get where Lamm is coming from. Last summer, the artist’s picture of what Barbie would look like if she were based on an actual woman went viral. People loved the idea of a doll that looked more like the average gal. He started a crowdfunding campaign to raise $95,000 so he could make Lammily for the masses. He’s raised $225,000 and counting.
No one can deny that body image is an issue. Unrealistic beauty standards are a problem. Eating disorders are prevalent. Half of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight. So I find it easy to support Lammily and push doll makers to put more options on the aisles.
But don’t call her “normal.”
“There are a lot of ways to have a real body,” says Erin Brown, a Lawrence, Kan., mom and the personal trainer behind fitmamatraining.com. “I love the idea of having a doll that has measurements based on an actual woman, and it’s great for diversity, but I don’t like calling her ‘real’ or ‘normal.’ She’s pretty fit, and she’s a white person who will be wearing J. Crew or Gap clothes.
“I don’t know that we have to have a doll that looks like every single person on the planet, but when we call this specific doll the Normal Barbie we’re sending a message to everyone who doesn’t look like her. What if she had another body type? What if she was bigger? What if she was black? Could we still call her Normal Barbie?”
And then there’s the issue of pitting Lammily against Barbie. We all know Barbie is controversial. People say she’s hypersexualized. The Sports Illustrated partnership that landed her on a mock cover of the mag’s annual swimsuit issue only added fuel to the fire.
Advocacy groups the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream are pushing for the Girl Scouts to end its relationship with Mattel (a Barbie participation patch, a website and more). But Barbie is also a celebrated pop culture icon – she’s had 150 jobs. She’s been an astronaut, the president and then some. For many, she’s about girl power.
Heather Cleavinger, a supermom of five daughters in Moberly, outside Columbia, Mo., says Barbie is big in her household. And while she likes Lammily and the addition of more options, she doesn’t like this manufactured cat fight between the two. You can like both, she says.
“We teach our kids diversity,” she says. “We teach them the importance of inner beauty. When they are playing with Barbie they are not focused on her looks. They are focused on her career and what she does. I love that Lammily is another option. I think that is great. But when my kids are playing, they see all of their dolls equally. They don’t look at skin color or hair or body. It’s how we teach them. We push esteem and equality.”
Two of her daughters are really into Barbie. One is tall and skinny. She is a track star. The other is short and muscular. She is a gymnast. In general ways, one has a Barbie build and the other has a Lammily build. In their house, one is not better than the other. They embrace differences.
“When you start introducing a doll or a body type as ‘normal,’ it means others are abnormal,” Cleavinger says. “And if we continue along those lines, we are creating a problem.”
Still, there’s no ignoring the success of the Lammily campaign, says Laura Eickman, a clinical psychologist and founder of Rebel, a nonprofit peer education program. She agrees that a marketing campaign of “normal” is problematic. But Lammily means progress.
“I think this speaks to the fact that Americans, particularly women, are hungry for a different way of viewing beauty and their bodies,” she says.
As a kid, she wanted Barbie’s thigh gap. She idolized Photoshopped celebrities. Her adolescent years were spent battling eating disorders. Now she helps treat patients with body image issues and encourage positive self-esteem.
“I love that the proportions are based on the actual average teen,” she says of Lammily. “I think the importance of this doll is that it’s a step toward a more realistic view of what women look like. And while one doll can never encompass what all women look like or what constitutes true beauty, this is at least a closer approximation than the completely unrealistic Barbie.
“I also like that this doll has articulated limbs so that she can actually move and be an active part of her world, as opposed to Barbie, who can basically only be dressed and looked at.”
“Average is beautiful,” Lammily says. Yes, it is. But what is average? There is no normal. The bigger statement is everyone is beautiful. All of us.