Nickolay Lamm was on the hunt for a Barbie doll for his young niece when he learned a hard truth: They're pretty much all that skinny.
"I thought I'd be able to find one with realistic body proportions," Lamm, 29, told me. "We put a man on the moon."
After Googling "realistic Barbie" and coming up empty, he created a prototype for one, using a 3D printer and the proportions of the average 19-year-old American woman, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
A few outlets caught wind of his project (CNN, Huffington Post, Time). Demi Lovato tweeted about it. And soon enough folks started calling him to ask where they could get their hands on such a doll. This was back in spring 2014.
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In a matter of months, Lamm crowdfunded $500,000 and launched the first Lammily ("Lamm" plus "family") doll, which went on sale just in time for the holidays that year. The Tribune reported at the time that traffic crashed the Lammily site for seven hours on launch day.
Barbie's sensible proportion counterpart was a hit.
I heard from Lamm recently. He emailed me after he read my column about Mattel's new line of heroine Barbie dolls – Frida Kahlo, Katherine Johnson, and Amelia Earhart – which set out to be role models for young kids. I was disappointed to see the company maintain that infamous Barbie body that, if translated to a real woman, would mean she wouldn't have room for vital organs and she'd have to walk around on all fours, particularly in a doll that they were touting as one for kids to look up to.
"Obviously, we're not Mattel," Lamm wrote to me, "but we've solved the problem of inspiring dolls with realistic proportions."
He attached photos of Lammily dolls dressed as Michelle Obama, Billie Jean King and Frida Kahlo.
I gave him a call.
Lammily dolls, I learned, now come in three options: traveler (the original), photographer and animal rescuer. Lamm dressed them in some of the Lammily-specific outfits (Barbie clothes don't fit them, obviously) to make them look like the aforementioned heroes.
"I made the photographer doll into Michelle Obama," he explained. "I made the traveler into Billie Jean King."
Which I appreciate, actually, more than dolls that are pre-packaged with specific roles. Lamm's way leaves room for more creative expression.
For $7, you can purchase a sheet of reusable stickers that give your doll freckles, acne, cellulite, bruises, grass stains, mosquito bites – even a tattoo.
For $21, you can buy your doll a wheelchair. (Although they're temporarily out of stock.)
I asked Lamm if he hears from people who think all this realistic doll stuff is going a little far. I certainly heard from them. "They're DOLLS," one reader emailed me. "You are way overthinking this."
"I feel like people who say stuff like that think they know every single thing that influences how they think, which is impossible," he said. "I'm sitting in a room right now with light orange colored walls. Maybe these colors are influencing my mood somehow; I don't know.
"Let's say 10 percent of people are affected by how skinny the dolls are," he said. "Why not offer an alternative?"
I can't think of a single reason, to be honest.
Our notions of what's normal, what's desirable, what we should aspire to, are absolutely influenced by the images we see day in and day out. For kids, girls especially, Barbie accounts for a whole lot of those images. She's got dolls, she's got movies, she's got apps.
And, thanks to Lamm, she's got some realistic-size peers.
(Contact Heidi Stevens at email@example.com, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.)