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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Barbie gets "real"? Maybe!

Let's talk about Barbie.  Love her or hate her, you can't deny that she's enormously popular, and you can't deny her longevity.  Mattel's second-most popular doll, Chatty Cathy, lasted six years, and while that is a good run for a doll, it is only a fraction of the time that Barbie has spent in production.  With that long run has come a fair amount of controversy, which I've touched on in a couple of other posts (here and here).  The biggest (and oldest) bone of contention has been Barbie's figure; feminists, doctors, and overly-realistic parents have complained for years that Barbie's waist is too skinny, that her boobs are too big, that her legs are too long, and that she gives little girls complexes about their bodies.

Recently this "Barbie is too thin" business has flared up again, this time with a vengeance.  Barbie's site is once again littered with well-meaning but extremely annoying people begging, nagging, and in some cases even insisting that Mattel make a plus-sized Barbie to "make their kids feel better about themselves."  I could go into a lot of detail about how this is the wrong way to build a child's self esteem, but I'll save that little soapbox for quarrels on Facebook.  Instead, I'm going to introduce you to the work of Nickolay Lamm.  So far Mr. Lamm has made three attempts at what collectors are calling an "average-looking" Barbie.  Here is Try No. 1 next to a Barbie that is currently in production.  I like to call this picture "Pretty Barbie and Cow Barbie," or C.B. for short.  See if you can tell which is which!
I probably wouldn't mind C.B. so much if it weren't for two things.  One, she's wearing a two-piece swimsuit.  No offense to heavy people, but if it's one thing I can't stand it's a heavy person in a bikini.  I understand that Mr. Lamm wanted his creation to look as much like a real Barbie as possible, but come on!!!  Most of the heavy women in this world (including myself) would not be caught dead in a swimsuit like what C.B. is wearing.  If we bother with swimsuits at all, we wear a one-piece suit with a sarong.  Or, if you're one of those who can't swim (I can't), a long flowing dress and a sunhat will suffice.  

Okay, so I hate the outfit, which is always a big strike against any doll I'd consider buying.  However, the swimsuit isn't my biggest issue with C.B.  She's a doll, after all, and dolls can wear whatever they want and still look great.  Plus, she can be redressed.  This is my biggest issue with C.B.
NOT PRETTY!!!  I do not like this doll's face AT ALL.  She reminds me of Ann Robinson, the super-nasty mom from "Cheer Perfection" (Google that if you're unfamiliar with the show).  Frankly I probably wouldn't like this face even if there were no Ann Robinson (don't I wish), because...well, I just don't!  She looks vacant and dippy, though in truth Skinny Barbie looks vacant and dippy too.  Not a good start for Mr. Lamm, though.  This one is just too "Barbie-wannabe" for me.

Try No. 2.  I wasn't able to think of a snotty little nickname for this one, because she's not so bad.
I'm still not 100% in love with the result; again, I think she could do to be dressed a little more conservative, but like I said above, she's a doll.  I like the closed lips much better though, and her eyes are much brighter.  Overall she has a lot more character in her face, much more so than C.B.'s face, and also more so than the real Barbie that she is supposed to emulate.  I also like the way her shoes look on her feet.  If I had any other critiques about this one it would be her arms.  They're too stiff and robotic looking.  This is a big improvement over C.B., though.  I'd buy this one if Mr. Lamm released her.

Try No. 3.  She's pictured in what I assume would be her stock outfit, and a couple of extra outfits as well.
It took some time, but I've really warmed to this one.  Yeah, she could still lose the two-piece swimsuit (maybe something like this would be better), and her ankle joint is a little funky looking, but other than that she's fine.  Her clothes are cute, modest, and NOT PINK!!!  She's lost the robotic arms, and she has a lovely face.  Here's what she probably would look like up close:
She looks familiar!  I don't know who she reminds me of, but she reminds me of someone I once knew.  Either way I like this face.  She's not overly made-up, and she doesn't have a big dippy grin on her face.  She looks happy, intelligent, and down-to-earth, and yet she's not so focused that she seems to stare right through you.  I wonder what she'd look like with green eyes, or with an African-American skin tone?

Unfortunately, the images of Try No. 3 are computer-generated; we don't know yet what Mr. Lamm's creation, whom he calls "Lammily Dolls," would look like after mass-production.  If they're as pretty as this one, or even the second doll, I'd buy her.  If they all end up looking like C.B., then I'll tear my eyes out and run screaming towards the horizon.  Perhaps I should cut Nickolay Lamm some slack, though.  After all, he is working hard to create an appealing product, something that's a little like Barbie but different enough that she's NOT Barbie.  Plus his goal isn't to unseat Barbie and remove her from her Queen of the Dollies throne.  Rather, he wants to create a realistic alternative, something that kids might want because it's more like them.  The problem is this:  realistic dolls don't seem to sell.  Not realistic toy dolls, anyway; I have no idea how well Tonner Hortencia sold, so I can't give you numbers on collectible plus-sized dolls.  However, there have been plenty of forays into the realistic toy doll world.  There were the Happy To Be Me dolls, who has a backstory similar to that of the Lammily dolls:
There were the Get Real Girls, dolls that were meant to be athletes:
And there were the Smartees, dolls that were meant to portray young women in intelligent careers such as doctors and lawyers.  This one is Ashley the Attorney.
There were other Barbie alternatives that have come and gone, some of which can be seen on this page (UPDATE:  also check out this one; kudos to D7ana for finding it).  I like the idea that the Smartees tried to portray, but none of these dolls sold.  They were there and gone within a very short time frame, and I can't name very many people who have even heard of Smartees.  I know of a few who recognize Happy To Be Me and the Get Real Girls, and I even know of some who liked the Get Real Girls.  The thing is this, though:  little girls (and boys too) aren't into playing "real-life" with their dolls and toys.  They like playing this game called "make-believe," the kind of game where you can fly, travel in time, grow rainbow-colored hair, or visit another planet.  They like dolls like Draculaura, Pinkie Cooper, and Rainbow Dash, all of whom are as realistic as a unicorn with three legs.  As a little bonus, Draculaura, Pinkie, and Rainbow all send the same message that the Lammily Dolls are trying to send, only they do it in a more creative, more original, less in-your-face way.  None of them are realistic, but all three are completely happy the way they are.  Plus, they manage to send this message without comparing themselves to an unrealistic model, like the Lammily Dolls inadvertently do.  Didn't think of that one, did you, Mr. Lamm?  Hmmm...maybe THAT is the reason why so many Barbie alternatives fail.  Perhaps since they are marketed as Barbie alternatives, kids tend to compare them to Barbie, say "I like Barbie better," and walk away without even giving the other dolls a chance.  But I'm going out on a limb, and I'm getting off the subject.  

What do you think?  Will the Lammily Dolls be a hit if they are released, or will they fall victim to the current trend of vampire teenagers and magic girls who morph into horses?  Discuss.

Very truly yours, 


  1. I remember the Smartees dolls, and I have had most of them. They were considered an alternative to Barbie because they were more career-focused and less glamorous. They have neat accessories. I like the Smartees dolls as additional dolls, but they do not replace Barbie. I like variety in my playscale figures. They're just another fashion doll set ;-)

    I doubt the Lammily dolls will be a big hit. Collectors - who support Barbie and other fashion dolls - will buy a few. Possibly even more than the kids who seem to prefer the vividly colored vampires and/or the technicolored human-animal hybrids. Shrug. That's not taking in that dolls aren't as big a deal to the young people today ....

    1. Yes, I remember seeing some of those Barbie alternatives in your collection. Perhaps there will be some new faces soon? LOL, I agree with you that the collectors will likely snap up a few of these if they make it to production. If nothing else they'll be an interesting little footnote in dolly history.

  2. Well, I would buy one if they also introduced her in a medium skin tone (she would remind me of my mother). Though she probably wouldn't be so popular (then those people asking for a realistic doll will get even angrier).Also I wish I hadn't looked up feral cheryl..

    1. Oh yes, Feral Cheryl...that one is original, to say the least. LOL, I hope for your sake that they do release a Lammily doll in a medium skin tone; it's always special when you can find a doll that looks like someone you love.

  3. I actually saw the Smartees in a store towards the time that they were on the way out. I thought that they were clever but sadly they did not offer the same fun as Barbie, I didn't see any real accessories other than those provided within the package, nothing to really play with them in their field such as a restaurant for the chef. To me the Smartees was something like a doll to collect more than play with.

    I feel in love with the Monster High line, sure it was just another fashion doll line but they sold me with the movies featuring the dolls,they push the materialistic need for them to have all of these items of clothing but at the same time they are putting a message out about acceptance in yourself and others, tolerance, and I must admit that for a show aimed at mostly young girls they approached the subject of love impressively.

    Barbie has somehow managed to survive in a time where you need a TV/web show to tie in with the product to act as a big commercial and keep kids wanting and parents buying.

  4. I don't mind girl-next-door proportions, but I wouldn't consider any figure with articulation less than artiBabs.

    1. Yeah, the finished product has stiff arms that look too robotic. Her legs and ankles are jointed though, so she's not completely a mini-manikin.