The Ukraine's disturbing 'Barbie flu' beauty trend

The Week's Editorial Staff

With the help of plastic surgery and extreme styling, women are proudly transforming themselves into living dolls

Barbie's body dimensions may be physically impossible for a human to achieve, but that isn't stopping a growing number of women in the Ukraine from trying. After one Ukrainian woman gained international notoriety for her transformation into a "living doll," at least two more have surfaced as devotees of the beauty trend, nicknamed the "Barbie flu." Here, a guide to the disturbing and dangerous craze:

When did this trend start?
It seems to have been triggered by 21-year-old Valeriya Lukyanova, who made international headlines back in April for turning herself into a living Barbie with the help of plastic surgery, eyelash extensions, colored contact lenses, and styling. Her heavily exaggerated proportions — 34-inch bust, 18-inch waist, 34-inch hips — come pretty close to what real-life Barbie's would be.

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And more women are following suit?
There are at least two other Ukranian women who are making the media rounds calling themselves living dolls. One of them, Olga Oleynik, who goes by Dominkia, is reportedly friends with Lukyanova (it's a small living-dolls world, after all) and the pair appear together in interviews. Dominkia has had breast augmentation to complement her doll-like look that includes long hair, contact lenses, and heavy makeup. Unlike the other two, Anastasiya Shpagina, 19, who goes by Anime, claims she has not had plastic surgery, though she would like to one day. For now, her look is achieved only through styling and makeup as well as an extremely limited diet of just fruits and vegetables. Anime reportedly rises at 5 a.m. to complete her look — which includes fairy-like outfits, long purlish hair, and large raccoon-like eyes — before leaving for work.

Why do these women want to be dolls?
On the surface? Publicity. Anime, who is a hairdresser and makeup artist by trade, says her look may help gain clients and advance her career. Similarly, Lukyanova uses her internet popularity to promote the lectures she leads about, ironically enough, out-of-body experiences, for which she charges $80 per person. But look a little deeper, says Katya Soldak at Forbes, and this "Barbie doll syndrome," may more likely be "a struggle for perfection or escape from reality." 

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Have people outside the Ukraine caught Barbie flu?
Not necessarily the same strain. But there are instances of other young women trying to achieve extreme and impossible standards of beauty. Britain's Sarah Burge, who has dubbed herself the "Human Barbie," has spent more than $800,000 on plastic surgery to transform into the eternally youthful toy. Fifteen-year-old Venus Palermo of London is so infatuated with ball-jointed dolls that she uses exhaustingly elaborate makeup techniques and styling to look just like them. And these kind of extreme transformations aren't just limited to women. American Justin Jedica, 32, has spent almost $100,000 on 90 plastic surgeries to achieve a "human Ken doll" look.

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