Deconstructing Barbie’s Disproportion

by Jillian Steinhauer on July 5, 2013

Nickolay Lamm's "normal" Barbie (via TK)

Nickolay Lamm’s “normal” Barbie alongside the standard-issue doll (via

The blogosphere and the mainstream media have exploded this week over the story of artist Nickolay Lamm, who used 3-D modeling and Photoshop to create a “normal”-looking Barbie. Lamm based his version on CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) measurements for the average 19-year-old woman in America, and placed it alongside a manufactured Barbie doll to highlight the contrasts. The result is pretty convincing: “normal” Barbie manages to look both healthy and cute.

But lest we forget, the fact of Barbie’s ridiculous proportions is not news. It’s long been assumed that the doll’s measurements would make it impossible for her to stand, although some scholars who’ve studied the topic say that’s not true; she simply possesses an “extremely rare” body shape, which a real woman has a 1 in 100,000 chance of having, too. According to Wikipedia:

Barbie’s vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches (chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips). At 5’9″ tall and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 and fit the weight criteria for anorexia. According to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, she would lack the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate.

And that’s after a 1997 remodeling. Gross. Given the doll’s unflagging popularity, it’s no wonder, then, that people have focused so obsessively on her disproportions. Last summer a model named Kate Halchishick traced Barbie’s proportions onto her own body, much to everyone’s horror:

But it’s more fun to do it in Photoshop, right? That was Forbes‘s thinking, when they doctored photos of a model to fit Barbie’s shape:

(© Stephen Aviano for Forbes, via

(© Stephen Aviano for Forbes, via

It was also’s approach. The mental healthy advocacy group made this nifty infographic pitting a Photoshopped avatar of Barbie alongside a regular woman:



The best Barbie Photoshop job, however, comes from Mexican artist Eddi Aguirre, who theoretically removed Barbie’s makeup to reveal this (gasp!):

There have also been other, more hands-on approaches to deconstructing Barbie. Galia Slayen, for her high school’s participation in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, built a Frankenstein-ish life-size Barbie and dressed it in her old clothes:

Galia Slyen with her life-size Barbie (via

Galia Slyen with her life-size Barbie (via

And artist Jason Freeny, who makes anatomical illustrations and sculptures, made a version of Barbie that reveals how cramped her internal organs would be to fit inside her body:

Anatomical Barbie (© Jason Freeny) alongside a regular anatomical rendering (composite via

Anatomical Barbie (© Jason Freeny) alongside a regular anatomical model (composite via

But possibly the best comment on Barbie’s crazy body size comes from Mattel itself, which has, it turns out, released a handful of more normal and plus-size dolls in the past. Stephanie Penn rounded up the ones she could find in a blog post for Daily Venus Diva, namely Effie from Dreamgirls, Rosie O’Donnell, and a Barbie for Emme Aronson, one of the first plus-size models. Unfortunately, none of these dolls is currently on the market.

Plus-size Barbies, from left to right: Effie, Rosie, and Emme (images via

Plus-size Barbies, from left to right: Effie, Rosie, and Emme (images via

At the top of her post, Penn also includes an image of a row of “Ciotka Kena dolls,” which are Polish artist Zbigniew Libera’s older, curvier take on Barbie, although it’s more like a relative, since “Ciotka Kena” actually means “Ken’s aunt.” Some say the figure was produced in cooperation with Mattel, but that hasn’t been corroborated and seems unlikely. According to one blogger, only 24 of them were ever made.

Zbigniew Libera's "Ciotka Kena" dolls (via

Zbigniew Libera’s “Ciotka Kena” dolls (1994) (via

Now we just need Mattel to pick up “Ciotka Kena” (easy, right?!) … and then we’ll start pushing for Transgender Barbie.

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