In 1996, Iran officially banned the sale of Barbie dolls, citing her “destructive cultural and social consequences” on its nation’s girls. But the girls did not want to stop playing with Barbie. In 2002, the country started production on “Sara,” a state-approved Barbie alternative who was realistically proportioned, dressed in loose fitting traditional clothing, and paired with “Dara,” the Iranian version of Ken. But the girls did not want to stop playing with Barbie. In 2012, Iranian police raided toy stores to crack down on its longstanding Barbie ban, forcing shop owners to hide their Barbie boxes behind their Sara boxes to avoid detection. But the girls did not want to stop playing with Barbie. “My daughter prefers Barbies,” one mother told Reuters in 2012. “She says Sara and Dara are ugly and fat.”
Iranian leaders aren’t the only ones who want girls to put down the Barbie dolls. Barbie backlash reignited stateside recently when Mattel bought Barbie a splashy ad in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and ghostwrote her an accompanying trolling internet op-ed. It was an obvious bid to cement her perch as the world’s bestselling doll in the face of creeping feminist criticism that she is dangerously thin, occasionally culturally offensive, and let’s face it, the ditsiest astronaut-lifeguard-veterinarian-cop-president this nation has ever seen. So this week, designer Nickolay Lamm proposed an alternative: He’s raising money to produce a “Lammily” doll who’s modeled after Barbie, but with the proportions of an average American 19-year-old girl. She is colloquially known as “Average Barbie.”
Credit where it’s due: Lammily’s got an impressive ass. And feminist mothers (and bloggers) are excited about her arrival. But I don’t think Barbie needs to worry her pretty little head. I predict that girls will not want to stop playing with the original just because they may soon have the choice of a more average version—one who does not have the backing of a huge corporation with 50 years of market dominance. (Lamm has already raised 172 percent of his $95,000 fundraising goal, so if all goes according to plan, the proposed doll will one day appear in the flesh.)
The problem with Barbie is not that she’s the only doll on the block. If parents want their girls playing with dolls proportioned like normal humans, they already have the choice to buy Only Hearts Club dolls or Journey Girls. Enough parents buy these dolls that they continue to exist. Some of them are even sold in major toy stores. But way, way, way more parents buy Barbies, and her stranglehold over the doll market is the reason she gets so much flak. The 4,900 funders that Lamm’s recruited so far are of course entitled to pay for whatever type of doll they want—and I commend them!—but their market is thinner than a hair on Barbie’s head. That means that Barbie’s impossible frame will remain the impossible standard. And as long as it is, daughters of feminist mommies and daddies who hit daycare with a doll who looks exactly like all the other girls’ Barbies—only shorter and fatter—may not end up learning the lesson of beauty-at-any-size that the doll was created to deliver. Still, I’m pumped for what’s sure to be Lammily’s dramatic introduction to the Barbie Dreamhouse. Lammily may never be serious competition for Mattel, but in the hands of a few creative girls who understand the appeal of real thighs, she could constitute serious competition for Ken’s affections.