Lammily, Barbie And The Doll’s Surprisingly Progressive History

Published November 21, 2014
Lammily Specs

Source: Mike Shout

This week, a Barbie alternative designed in the image of the “average nineteen year old girl” went on sale. Lammily, as she’s called, was designed by a young, male graphic designer named Nikolay Lamm. At first, Lamm only set out to find the average proportions for today’s “average” young woman and compare them to Barbie in the form of an infographic. The image soon went viral and Lamm was inundated with commentary. People wanted to buy a doll that looked like this “average” Barbie. So, he created her.

As a concept and a product, Lammily has received a warm reception overall, but some have noted that calling anyone average is setting an unfair precedent. Lammily is of an athletic build, she’s a brunette, caucasian and boasts a stylish Gap-esque wardrobe. Though she is all peaches and cream skin tones, you can buy stickers to accompany her that include stick-on cellulite, blemishes, scars and pimples. It’s a nice gesture, but the overarching theme of average is beautiful still doesn’t settle right with some reviewers. Any time you say “this is what’s average”, you’re creating a singular ideal.

I’m a little older than Lammily, a few years deeper into my twenties. I’m not athletic. I don’t have a stylish J. Crew wardrobe. Like most of my peers, I wear a lot of sweatpants and leggings, sometimes don’t wash my hair, have plenty of weird scars and blemishes every day of my life, haven’t ever had a flat stomach even when I was dancing thirty hours a week and was in fabulous shape, and I can assure you Lammily’s line of accessories don’t include a bottomless cup of coffee, a pack of American Spirits, several prescription medications and birth control. That would be a fairly accurate representation of most of the young women I know in real life.

For all her faults, Lammily does pose a rather stark contrast to Barbara Millicent Roberts, better known as Barbie. For decades the doll has been lambasted for setting unrealistic expectations about body shape and size for young girls, a fate that her creator never set out to have ascribed to her. The designer of the original doll, which appeared first in 1959 at a toy expo, was a woman named Ruth Handler. Handler was inspired to create the doll after seeing her young daughter (named Barbara, of course) play with paper dolls.

While paper dolls may be long forgotten for little girls of today, they were all the rage in the 1950s. Handler would watch her daughter and friends play make-believe with these one dimensional dolls and “experiment with the future from a safe distance”, ultimately making Handler want to create a doll for them that, unlike the limits of paper, could assume an infinite number of careers. Considering that most girls at that time expected to grow up and be a housewife, nurse or teacher, Handler’s thinking was pretty progressive.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England, currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Medium, Seventeen, Romper, Bustle, and Quartz.
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