"Normal Barbie" (also called "average Barbie") has recently created yet another media dialogue about the Mattel doll. "Normal Barbie" is a digital image created by artist Nickolay Lamm (of MyDeals.com) that portrays what Barbie's body would look like with the measurements (e.g., breast size, waist to hip ratio) of an average nineteen-year-old woman. Her size proportions are based on CDC data.
Lamm explains that he created this image because Barbie is a site of contention for personal and cultural meanings of female beauty. In the accompanying clip (which also shows the digital image), he states: "Barbie's a very iconic figure...so it would be very fitting to create an average Barbie. And I also wanted to show that average is beautiful and we shouldn't compare ourselves to unrealistic beauty standards. And I feel Barbie kind of symbolizes that."
Lamm's views can be interpreted as paralleling feminist critiques of the doll. Along these lines, then, is "Normal Barbie" a symbol of feminist activism? Certainly, it is a form of digital visual activism, as it is a visual act with the intention to stimulate users' questioning of beauty norms. Through the power of his image, Lamm has cultivated a public dialogue about Barbie's body in a way that is not just a critique of her thinness. His visual highlights the separation between Barbie's body and "ours," literally and conceptually placing them side by side instead of in opposition to one another.
Of note, Lamm's endorsement of "Normal Barbie" as a positive portrayal of female beauty is situated within mainstream contemporary discourses of body acceptance that ostensibly embrace "average" as beautiful. As I have argued elsewhere, this communication, when used by beauty corporations, perpetuates postfeminist values and self-commodification. So, if Mattel were to produce dolls in Lamm's rendering, in what ways would this reconfiguration complicate the meanings of his visual activism? And, would a mass produced "Normal Barbie" be a symbol of postfeminism?