It’s not uncommon to hear girls referred to as looking like dolls–whether it’s their porcelain skin or their Barbie blonde hair, there are plenty of young women who agree that such a comment should be taken as a compliment.
However, a recent internet craze has taken this idea so literally that a handful of girls from around the world are being labeled as “living dolls.” Each has their own specific style, but they all share one thing in common–a unique concept that has frenzied the media.
The first girl I’m going to talk about has been an “internet celebrity,” if you may, for quite a long time. Seventeen-year-old Dakota Rose managed to develop somewhat of a teen fan base through MySpace back in the day, alongside her sister known as “Kiki Kannibal” (Note: not her real name). Starting out as a spunky scene kid posing for over-saturated photos with her sibling, Dakota has now developed her style into something much more feminine, and clearly decided to make use of her natural girly good looks. However, amongst all the fans are lots, and I mean lots, of haters. Speculation as to whether Dakota photoshops her pictures is top of the agenda, as well as her use of a range of make-up and camera tricks to give the illusion of appearing more doll-like, thin and stereotypically (as we have all unfortunately been led to believe), “perfect.” While some “doll-like” girls admit to wearing makeup and often teach how to achieve their look, Dakota Rose insists that she is all real. Type “Dakota Rose Photoshop” into Google images and you’ll be bombarded with photos–a lot of which people have gone out of their way to draw big red circles on, highlighting the areas which are speculated to have been edited.
Nevertheless, she’s still a beautiful girl; something that the fashion industry has not struggled to pick up on–more specifically, the Japanese fashion industry. Right now, she is currently living in Tokyo, working as a model. Unsurprisingly, her famed YouTube channel, and both her blog and her Twitter are now almost entirely written in Japanese. It seems she has found herself a place where, unlike the USA, she is adored and rewarded simply for her big blue eyes and cute button nose. East or West, fake or not, this girl is certainly getting attention.
Next up is Valeria Lukyanova–the Ukranian dubbed by the media as a real-life “human barbie.” Having begun posting videos on YouTube this time last year, she soon brought about a controversial debate on the extreme aesthetics that some women are striving to achieve. She is also under speculation as to whether or not she is just another Photoshop genius. Lukyanova virtually has the body and head of a Barbie doll; a figure that, we’ve all been taught, is physically impossible to acquire naturally.
Photographs of her could be mistaken for CGI imagery–her skin appears to be smooth plastic, while her extreme figure could pass for a character in a video game, complete with unlikely proportions thought of as alien to us human beings. Nonetheless, like Dakota Rose, Lukyanova also dismisses her critics, stating that she is in fact all natural and has had never had any cosmetic surgery. In a recent interview with V Magazine, Valeria insists that her supposedly unattainable looks are all her own: “Many people say bad things about people who want to perfect themselves. It’s hard work, but they dismiss it as something done by surgeons or computer artists.” However, in a Russian TV interview this year, (and I’m only guessing this through reading the comments as I can’t speak a word of Russian) she does admit consuming an all-liquid diet–a clear explanation as to why she is so thin, or most likely, clinically emaciated (yet with a questionably large chest…).
Since posting more videos of herself online, Lukyanova has opened up more opportunities for people to pick flaws in how she presents herself to the rest of the world. “This girl is a FRAUD. Her videos aren’t photoshopped. Does she still look the same? Not only are her looks fake/photoshopped, this girl is also mentally insane”, posted US gossip website, The Dirty. However, in her recent interview with V Magazine, we also hear of another side of this supposedly narcissistic 21-year-old. “The questions of what we are and why we exist have interested me from my earliest childhood,” she reveals–adding that she is also a teacher at the School of Out-of-Body Travel, “an international school in which our instructors show students how to leave their physical body and travel in their spiritual body, where you can visit any place on the planet and in the universe.” So, she teaches people how to disconnect and leave their physical bodies? What an absolute antithesis to the persona she presents to her YouTube viewers. On one hand, she insists on her devotion to the metaphysical, vowing that she has “a responsibility to bring more good, light, and positive emotions to people.” However, if it’s really true when she says, “I want to to share my art and my music and tell people about my spiritual ideas”, then why has she only just brought this up? Many have now been asking, and rightfully so, why she won’t post videos about her apparent spiritual quest, as opposed to those centered solely around her looks? It seems that Lukyanova will be basking in the limelight for a while yet, while the rest of us watch and ponder over what on earth she is really about. For me, Lukyanova is a complex and bizarre individual that I’m not sure I will ever fully understand.
Also from Ukraine, Anastasiya Shpagina has an entirely unique look. Inspired by Japanese anime characters and and with the help of her amazing hand at make-up and a pair of contact lenses, 19-year-old Shpagina transforms herself into a walking talking manga girl, complete with huge eyes and brightly coloured hair. Needless to say, she is just as tiny as her cartoon counterparts, having apparently slimmed her petite 5’2 frame down to just over 6 stone in order to appear as convincingly other-worldly as she can. One of her videos, showing how she does her makeup, has had over 4 million views and there have been rumours, according to the Daily Mail, that she’s even considering surgery to permanently alter her eyes to appear more like an anime character’s.
Surprisingly (or perhaps maybe not so surprisingly, due to the power of the internet), Anastasiya Shpagina has in fact met fellow Ukrainian Barbie, Lukyanova, as can be seen in various Facebook photos. Shpagina also recently met up with my fourth and final human doll, as can be seen in this rather odd video…
Venus Angelic (real name Palermo–clearly born to be an adorable bundle of cute with a name like Venus) is perhaps the most “real” out of the so-called “living dolls.” Living in London and only 15 years old, she can speak five languages and has a particular obsession with all things Japanese. People call her videos weird, maybe partly due to the fact that she has a really bizarre voice. Yet, really, she’s just being her awesomely cute girlie self. Her 112 (and counting) videos include make-up tutorials and videologs about what she’s up to, to the slightly more peculiar “face workout” and mad choreographed dance routines being performed in random locations.
I discovered Venus when I watched this British TV interview in which, frankly, I think Helen Fospero is an absolute closed-minded bitch. Mesmerised and intrigued by Venus’s unique style and odd methods of self-promotion, I decided to send Venus an email to ask her my own questions.
“My look is inspired by Japanese inspired Victorian fashion with a touch of retro and early Hollywood,” Venus explains. Rather than actively trying to look doll-like, it seems that the ‘doll’ label just kind of stuck to her. After posting videos of herself singing and dancing to Japanese songs online, Venus’ Asian audience started making comparisons between her and a doll. “They also often said “Is this girl real? She looks like an android!” and I did not wear makeup. I was just natural.” As she got a bit older, and started buying makeup, it was merely to enhance her natural features. “I thought that it was easy for me to look like a doll so I started first with clothes, makeup, then hair.”
Venus has slowly developed a fan base over time, and now has over 68,000 YouTube subscribers. But as we all know, YouTube is prime troll territory, and Venus has suffered her fair share of abuse over the internet. Nevertheless, she doesn’t seem phased by it. “There are some who like to spend their time hating and ‘trolling’ because,” she tells me, “they’re bored, jealous, and probably should do their homework for once”. If only I had such great self-esteem at 15!
And that’s just it. Venus, above all, has confidence. It is her goal to empower other young girls to embrace their differences, to not expressing themselves freely, and not be afraid of criticism by their peers. Venus’s honest and warm-hearted values are genuine, and her use of the internet as a means of self-promotion seems only natural to a teen of her generation. “Reading and creating blogs helps teenagers to discover other societies, cultures, trends, styles, etc.” she tells me, “The idea that the internet has a bad effect on teens is silly. Certain teenagers might be predispositioned to bad stuff and those are the ones that will want to be part of the ‘bad’ kids on the web.”
Now, and you’ve all probably been thinking about it since I mentioned that Daybreak interview–it appears that many are highlighting something that perhaps Venus, in her naivety, has failed to realise. Undertones of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and the hushed sexualisation of female youth in Japan hover under the media’s noses like a bad smell, and it’s no surprise that many have jumped to conclusions about what exactly Venus’s intentions are. “The case of Venus Angelic is uncomfortably exploitative, as there is clearly a sexual undertone to what she is doing,” Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD, a Harvard sociologist, told Yahoo!. “In general, young girls on YouTube is a disturbing, growing trend.”
It’s a strange territory to delve into–often a large portion of these girls’ fan bases consists of similarly young teenage girls who simply like their style. However, it’s more than likely that Venus Angelic also has fans who aren’t the sort of people you would want anywhere near a 15-year-old girl. Due to the nature of her look and her mannerisms, it doesn’t seem surprising that older men regularly pop up to chat to her on the Japanese website Nico Nico Douga (“Basically the Japanese YouTube”, Venus tells me)–where she first began posting her videos. If you are, or ever have been a teenage girl and have any experience of using the internet, I’m sure this won’t be anything new to you. What does seem bizarre, however, is that Venus’ mother is there, in shot, on the webcam, chatting alongside her daughter. So either we’re all just getting too paranoid for our own good, or Venus’ mother is completely deluded.
Sigh. But at the end of the day, Venus is expressing herself, and in my eyes that’s all that matters. If young girls stopped themselves doing anything that any man might ever find at all attractive, well–they’d be pretty dull little creatures. And the truth is that Venus does have amazingly reassuring values. When I ask her how she feels about being grouped together with Dakota Rose, Valeria Lukyanova and Anastasiya Shpagina, she agrees that “They are very different from eachother and from me. What makes me different is that I try to teach my fans that you can be cute, and that you don’t need things like plastic surgery. I’m 15, I’ve never had plastic surgery and will never do it. I want to be a fashion icon, a good person and an example; exactly 90% of my viewers are girls 13-19. I don’t like it when people see me as weird doll freak shown around in the media circus.”
What really gets to me is how unwilling some people are to just step back and accept. Even some friends of mine, have seen videos or photos of Venus, only to throw back comments such as ‘weird’ and ‘disturbing’. Anything besides the norm, it seems, is too hard for some people to process, and is immediately dismissed as ‘wrong’ or ‘strange’. But at the end of the day, we are all human beings who enjoy different things. Variety is the spice of life – so you do your thing, and I’ll do mine.
Venus ends the interview with perhaps the best line I could have picked. So I will leave you on this note–
“Be creative and have fun, don’t think about what other people think about you while they’re not even thinking about you, YOU are thinking about them!”