So apparently, a real-life Barbie exists. In 2012, Valeria Lukyanova, a young model who reportedly spent half a million dollars to look like a Barbie doll, shocked many because her striking resemblance to the toy. Articles reporting on her have mainly focused on her resemblance to the plastic doll and highlighted how Barbie sets an unrealistic standard for girls. I am not writing to further comment on these two issues (and you can read about them here, here, and here) because what strikes me is the rationale Valeria shares for undergoing such changes.
With a porcelain face, glassy eyes, pale skin and an alarmingly small waist, Valeria says she “never tried to look like a doll”. She claims to just so happen to like “everything beautiful, feminine and refined” and “dolls are based on the image of refined girls” (quotes from this article).
Her statement links the idea of refinement to appearance. However, a refined person is defined as someone whose manners are “pure”, elegant, and polished. You can look “pure” but it doesn’t mean that you actually are. Starting with one of their very first toy dolls, girls are already exposed to the idea that they need to polish their appearance rather than focus on letting their actions show “purity and refinement” in the ways they treat people. The underlying message is that in the same way young girls value their toy dolls, they themselves are valued for their appearance more so than for their character, actions, heart, and personality.
Valeria is also a seminar leader on new-age philosophies and out-of-body travel. I have no comments on her ideas but what I do find interesting is her acknowledgement that her “PR is only based on [her] physical appearance”:
“Unfortunately spiritual ideas will never get so much attention. If a nun starts talking about spirituality, would anyone notice her? No, no one will. But if a beautiful, inspiring young woman starts talking about it, many people will start thinking. So I use my appearance to promote my spiritual ideas. It works perfectly well.” (Source)
Valeria’s blatant honesty about her motivation behind her look points out a saddening truth in our society – girls have more of a voice because of the way they look. Isn’t it silly that we are more willing to listen to a message because of the appearance of the person delivering it? Maybe that is why companies hire celebrities or striking models as their spokesperson because it works. Regardless of how someone looks, we should judge the ideas themselves.
What this “real-life” Barbie doll has shown is that as confining as our societal standards of beauty are, people get rewarded for being beautiful and fulfilling that standard. If people didn’t get rewarded for fitting into society’s narrow definition of beauty, no one would care to chase after it. The beauty industry would not be making billions in profit annually. We get recognition and acceptance on various different levels of life. Media and toys – they play a part in entrenching these ideas but we are ultimately responsible because as individuals, we are who makes make up society. We’re all part of both the problem and the solution. As long as we continue to validate and criticize others based on their outer appearance, the existing paradigms of beauty and gender will be in place. Until we can consciously choose to look past appearance to accept and recognize people, there will always be an incentive to try to fit in this idealistic but confining model of beauty that Barbie so exemplifies.