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Not a Barbie world

| Monday, November 24, 2014

web_barbieSara Shoemake
In 1997, pop group Aqua sang, “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world. Life in plastic, it’s fantastic.”

But it’s not realistic, attainable or something young girls should aspire to, so this past week saw “life in plastic” redefined.

Nickolay Lamm, a Pittsburgh graphic designer, created the Lammily doll with proportions reflecting the average 19-year-old girl. His crowd-funded campaign raised $500,000, and he has announced the dolls will go into production before the holidays.

The dolls not only channel a more realistic body type — one that can fit a full liver and would be able to walk on two feet in real life, unlike Barbie — but can also be given acne, freckles, scars and even cellulite via a sticker pack.

In a video on Lamm’s YouTube channel, second graders at St. Edmund’s Academy in Pittsburgh were interviewed about the Lammily doll. The children gave heart-warming feedback like “she looks like my sister.” All of the girls interviewed thought the Lammily doll looked more like them than Barbie and said they would rather receive a Lammily doll than a Barbie.

Barbie has a reputation for bolstering restrictive gender role ideals, famously pointed out by Lisa Simpson who worried that her Malibu Stacy doll would have girls growing up thinking they could “never be more than vacuous ninnies.” Mattel, however, has tried to expand her career endeavors past model and make-up artist — careers the second graders at St. Edmund’s pictured her doing. However, an attempt at a computer engineer Barbie proved futile and has gone viral.

In 2010, Mattel released a computer engineer edition of their Barbie book series “I Can Be …” Now, the book has come under media fire after blog posts exposing the book, which perpetuates the idea that women need men in shining armor — or graphic tees — to help them solve problems. Excerpts include a conversation between Barbie and her sister, Skipper about the computer game Barbie is working on.

“I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.”

Mattel and Random House have since announced the print and e-book publications will be discontinued.

In the midst of the controversy, the story has been reworked by Casey Fiesler, a PhD student in computing, into “I (Really) Can Be A Computer Engineer.” She features Barbie as a competent coder, frustrated that her friends would assume boys coded her game for her after she posts a screenshot on Twitter.

It is refreshing to see the call for an updated, empowering role model for young girls, but elsewhere, the focus has shifted to a fresh series of toys aimed at young girls aspiring to more than a Malibu Beach house.

Chances are you’ve seen the viral commercial set to the Beastie Boy’s “Girls” that features three girls bored with the pageants on TV and proceed to repurpose their pink toys to create an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine and empowering message from the emerging brand GoldieBlox.

According to the company’s website, its goal is to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.” GoldieBlox’s CEO, Debbie Sterling — an engineer and Stanford graduate, wants to increase the number of females in engineering. As of now, only 11 percent of the world’s engineers are women.

In a more recent commercial the GoldieBlox marketers set the gold standard even higher, channeling a “1984”-esque scene in which Big Sister repeats: “You are beauty and beauty is perfection.” Young girls in pink fur vests and sparkly heels pick up dolls off of an assembly line to Metric’s “Help I’m Alive.”

Conveying a message addressed in the “Girls” commercial, a girl in denim overalls and red Converse takes a hammer to the machine. The doll production stops and the girls gleefully take off their heels. The ad is to sell an action figure for girls that channels the overall-ed rebel and challenges fashion dolls that fly off the shelves.

The idea of toys that allow girls to do more than take clothes on and off of unattainable — or “normal”— plastic bodies is a promising trend. These new toys break the pink, bedazzled, bow-shaped mold and encourage girls to become independent problem-solvers.

These days, it’s hard to be a Barbie girl in an evolving world.

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About Erin McAuliffe

I'm Scene's editor and a senior Marketing & Journalism student. To quote the exquisite Sadie Dupuis, "I'm not bossy — I'm the boss."

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