Debunking plastic ideas of beauty

MARK REEVES
Last updated 11:14 13/05/2014
barbie
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The best thing about Barbie dolls is that they provide a reminder of everything we shouldn't aspire to, writes Mark Reeves.

Last year American artist Nickolay Lamm produced a Barbie doll with the physical proportions of the average 19-year-old American female, based on statistics from the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

You can check the doll out for yourself on Lamm's website nickolaylamm.com.

Personally, I found the results pretty confronting. I was alarmed at how strange and weird Mattel's usual Barbie looked when compared to Lamm's "real" Barbie - and, without wishing to sound like some weirdo with a doll fetish, I was interested by how much more physically beautiful and attractive his "average" Barbie was compared to the mass-produced, supposed "ideal".

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mattel went pretty dark over Lamm's doll; this is the company whose Teen Talk Barbie was programmed to say such inspirational phrases as "I love shopping", "Will we ever have enough clothes?" and (my personal favourite) "Math class is tough!".

If a real woman had the proportions of Mattel's Barbie, she would have half a liver, be unable to lift her head or do any heavy lifting, and would have to walk on all fours. To his credit, Lamm has gone further, creating the Lammily line of dolls himself. As he points out, Lammily is the name of the brand, not the doll, and he encourages everyone to give their doll a unique name.

As he states on his website: "Lammily represents the idea of being true to yourself in a world that too often convinces us to pursue an unattainable fantasy."

Lamm crowd-funded initial production costs for the doll via the fundraising website Crowdtilt. It took less than a day.

When I was at medical school, Naomi Wolf published The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. I read it conspicuously because, if I am absolutely honest, I was hoping to be seen reading it in an attempt to appear more attractive to a certain female.

That said, the book was a thought-provoking read, and actually caused a paradoxical feminist awakening within me.

My evolution reminded me of a study of teenage boys in Britain who played the video game Tomb Raider. They initially chose adjectives such as "pretty", "hot" and "sexy" to describe central character Lara Croft, but after playing as Lara for a few months, they chose adjectives such as "skilful", "brave" and "loyal" instead.

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A quote that has stayed with me from The Beauty Myth is, "Women who love themselves are threatening; but men who love real women, more so". And the good news is, I got the girl, so win-win; I'm sure Ms Wolf is jumping for joy.

I am hard-wired to regard any notion of "corporate responsibility" as a suspect oxymoron. That said, hats off to Dove and its Campaign for Real Beauty.

Yes, I know about the palm oil problem (I like orangutans, too), and I know that Dove is owned by Unilever, which also makes Lynx body spray, the advertisements for which are hardly paragons of feminist emancipation. But check out the Dove YouTube clips Evolution, Beauty Sketches and my favourite, Onslaught.

From time to time, I make a point of "accidentally" clicking on one of these with my 8-year-old daughter, which usually sparks a chat about something interesting.

The model Kate Moss once infamously said "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels". It is self-evident that Moss has never tried my baked New York lemon cheesecake, and I would also argue that for the majority of people who are not naturally and healthily thin, "skinny" looks terrible and a lot like disease.

One of the less PC ways I have heard this put is that skinny girls look good in clothes, while healthy girls look good naked.

I reckon it's pretty simple, but in reality it's not always easy. Exercise to be healthy, not skinny; eat to nourish your body, and always ignore the haters.

I'll give the last word to the great American author Amy Bloom: "You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful."

Mark Reeves is a Nelson Hospital emergency department doctor. This article reflects his personal views.

- The Nelson Mail

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