Pending the vote on Syria in Congress, which has been delayed while Barack Obama considers other, more diplomatic options, the topic of this blog is a certain Ukrainian YouTuber known as the “real-life Barbie” or as Vice has crowned her: “Space Barbie.”
Valeria Lukyanova (Space Barbie) has made somewhat of a name for herself online by posting dreamy YouTube videos where she is dressed and made up as a Barbie doll. Using sophisticated make-up artistry and bright blue contact lenses she is able to make her eyes appear much larger and doll-like, as well as tightly cinching in her waist and emphasising her large, perhaps cosmetically enhanced, bosom with low-cut shirts, perfectly imitating the top-heavy Barbie aesthetic.
It is the uncanny in the fullest sense of the word: not quite human and not exactly beautiful.
Although she has been accused of “pulverising” her body in order to look like Barbie, Lukyanova denies having had any surgery, other than breast implants. In fact, she says, she only uses her looks to gain publicity for her “spiritual views”, which are explored more deeply by Vice in the documentary Space Barbie, a fascinating insight into appearance and reality on the internet.
The makers of the doc were apparently only able to gain access to Lukyanova if they promised to focus on her rather wan spiritualism, which she incoherently mixes with her “real-life Barbie” image. At various points in the film, she talks about her past lives, other dimensions and her ability, using astral projection, to visit those dimensions. She also dresses up as her bearded alter ego “Amatue” an interplanetary creature of indeterminate gender composed of multiple personalities, and films herself channelling these various beings and imparting their cosmic wisdom. She claims to be a higher being, sent to planet Earth to teach us about love.
In other, less surreal, scenes we see the everyday Lukyanova, an extraordinarily beautiful woman, talented – both a trained architect and opera singer — with her friends and family and in the home she shares with her husband, where she opens up a bit more about herself and her online persona. Even though her features are heavily exaggerated, it doesn’t appear that she uses anything other than make-up to enhance them. Much of the criticism she has received has been from those who perceive her to be shallow, narcissistic and maybe even mentally ill for transforming herself into a Barbie look-alike. Numerous “hate blogs” have sprung up online, created solely for the purpose of antagonising Lukyanova and intricately dissecting every aspect of her appearance.
Lukyanova herself is blasé about this and says that she must have been an “energy vampire” in one of her past lives because she “consciously absorbed their negative reactions and enjoyed it”. She even attempted to provoke them more in YouTube videos designed to irk her critics. An energy vampire maybe, but in modern internet parlance, we might call her “a troll”.
This behaviour does seem, however, at odds with her so-called “enlightened, spiritual” belief system. And though she professes not to care what others think and say about her, the filmmakers are cleverly able to contrast the soaring rhetoric with the more prosaic reality, by showing scenes in which she obsesses over her waist appearing “tiny” in the film and worrying what people will say online if they see it looking wider than usual – she creates the slim waist effect by wearing a corset-type belt, forgetting to put it on while filming causes a mini-crisis.
We also see her and her friends at a séance trying hard to appear deep and mystical with dim lighting, candles and haunting music, but also bickering among themselves and engaging in decidedly non-spiritual banter.
These “outtakes” provide a bit more context in an online world, which is thoroughly decontextualised, and where someone as ordinary as Lukyanova can take on an almost mythical villainous status, someone upon who our own prejudices are intensely projected. We see her not as she is, but as we are. Because we really don’t know her and we’ve never met her before. She is an illusion, partly of her own creation and partly of ours.
As for Lukyanova herself, she is more lucid than many of her detractors perceive her to be. Much of what she does appears to be some kind of performance art, how well-executed it is, open to discussion, but as strange as some of her beliefs may sound, there seems to be little evidence (from this film at least) that she is truly mentally disturbed. In many ways she enjoys the charade and the character she has created for herself online.
Which is something we all do. We all play games online, as people not quite ourselves, maybe wittier, more adversarial, friendlier and more outgoing than we are in “real life”.
Cyberspace: a house of mirrors.