Valeria Lukyanova has been turning heads, both in the streets and online. Her most recent flash of fame is thanks to her insistence that she has never had any kind of plastic surgery. This woman has got me all kinds of flummoxed.
Before I jump on Jezebel’s ‘burn the plastic witch’ wagon, I should say, I do not think Lukyanova is as surgically altered as she might seem. Having said that, the girl is a complete loon if she expects us to believe she’s 100%, Grade-A ‘Real Woman’. Of course, the more I read about her Human Barbie-ness, the less I’m sure that is what she expects, or more to the point, what she wants.
Lukyanova makes no secret about the effort she puts into her appearance. In fact, you can watch her transformation from ‘blah’ to Barbie on any number of YouTube videos.If tall, rubbery and blonde is not exactly your type, you could check out Lukyanova’s friend Anastasiya Shpagina, the Real Life Anime Girl.
In any one of the videos posted by these interesting ladies, you could learn extensive makeup tips, the importance of the right contact lenses, or how to tilt your head just so. I personally tuned into Anastasiya’s ‘Flower Fairy Makeup Tutorial’ to watch six whole minutes of eye shadow application, blending, gluing and smudging. That was on one eye… one!
The thing is, when you really start to crack into Lukyanova’s or Shpagina’s beauty routines, you find very little difference between what they do and what seems to be common practice in Hollywood or on the runway. Lukyanova ‘maintains her figure’ by eating only honeydew. This is alarming. Of course, how different is this from the notorious ‘diet’ regimes practiced by Victoria’s Secret models? Sure, the Angels get extra boosts from acai powders and pinches of flax seed but as far as I understand it, water has no nutritional value. Yet more than half the Victoria Secret diet consists of gulping down hot water in all its myriad forms.
Lukyanova and Shpagina spend hours shading their faces such that their noses become cartoonishly slender and up-turned, whilst their eyes bleed onto their faces and become liquidy, blue saucers. Gawd, you’re thinking, how fake! Hmm. And yet beauty magazines the world over ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over Kim Kardashian’s marvelous bone structure. ‘She’s got great cheekbones’. Oh yeah? Ahem.
What Makes a Woman "Real"?
Some years ago, companies like Dove began running campaigns that avoided the use of your average super model and instead, featured ‘real women’. While this appeared to be a giant step in the direction of eradicating the poisonous body ‘norms’ created by the beauty and fashion industries, we quickly learned that making the distinction, between ‘real women’ and models, was dehumanizing to say the very least. We were suddenly having to take serious the question of what is a woman. Models may be without a traceable BMI, but they still have brains, feelings, vaginas, etc.
I find Lukyanova compelling because of what her presence does to the debate surrounding ‘real women’. What do we do with women who aren’t interested in being ‘real’ and in fact, endeavor to embody ‘fake’ to the very best of their abilities? The more I’ve thought about this, the stronger I feel about the ways in which we need to take Lukyanova seriously, rather than simply making room for her in the ‘Sideshow’ tent.
My home girl, Judith Butler, developed a lot of really sparkly theories regarding gender constructions but my very favorite is her work on performativity. Butler suggests that gender—to be a man, to be a woman—is not something we are born with, rather it is a construction assigned to us that we perform over and over through the course of our lives, such that it seems ‘normal’ and ‘natural’.
Little girls aren’t born liking pink; they are provided with pink baby crap, and then pink toddler crap, and then pink bicycles. Pink is so embedded in what it means to be a ‘girl’, that a little girl growing up believes it to be perfectly normal and natural to love all things pink. (I know not everyone loves pink, don’t get caught up in the details of my oversimplified example, just stay with me).
These performances are so powerful, and become so ‘real’ to us that largely, we do not recognize them as performances. Butler says that when we are forced to see the constructedness of our gender, we often experience anxiety. She uses drag as an example. When you see a chick walking in front of you in the underground—her pretty long hair, her cute riding boots—you feel nothing out of the ordinary. When ‘she’ turns around and reveals herself to be a ‘he’, you inevitably feel shock and bewilderment because ‘her’ performance seemed ‘normal’ but ‘his’ biology violates what you know about ‘woman’.
We accept Victoria’s Secret models’ extreme diets, or Kim’s painted face because these performances uphold and maintain the ‘norms’ for ‘woman’. These acts are no more natural than those of Lukyanova and Shpagina, yet they are performed so as to reinforce the construction of a ‘normal woman’.
Lukyanova’s and Shpagina’s performances fall outside what we understand a ‘woman’ to be, they are performances we are forced to reckon with, rather than ones which conceal their own constructedness. We know that Lukyanova and Shpagina are constructed, and I would suggest that their extreme adoption of ‘traditional’ or ‘normative’ beauty methods to achieve these performances is precisely what bothers us.
That we have to face the facts that what we still consider ‘woman’ to be is in fact constructed makes us feel a bit pukey. Lukyanova says in response to people who call her fake, ‘I’m happy I seem unreal to them, it means I’m doing my job’. Girl’s got a point.
Photo from FreddyCat1's Flickr