The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Another side of Ukraine: The woman known as the ‘Human Barbie Doll’

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Sifting through Valeria Lukyanova’s social media presence, which spills across thousands of YouTube videos, photographs and tweets, a realization strikes. This isn’t a joke. This is real. This is a real person. And though everything about her — hair, waistline, eyes, lips — looks exactly like a Barbie doll, she’s deadly serious in her self-promotion.

Let’s start with the makeup. According to online videos — each of which has thousands if not millions of clicks — the routine begins with Clarins SPF 10 foundation. Lukyanova slathers it on her face until it turns a chalky white. Next up are eyebrows, which she silently, slowly darkens. She paints on eyeshadow, first sapphire, then charcoal. Then, her signature: fake contact lenses.

She looks into the camera lens. And this face looks back.

Who is this woman, and is she okay?

Yes and no. For Lukyanova, a Barbie doll is the perfect embodiment of beauty. And regardless of what one thinks of her — and many think the worst — she more than looks the part. But how Lukyanova got to Barbie is a story of sadness, according to this GQ profile, which provides a glimpse into a side of Ukraine that’s rarely seen.

Lukyanova was born in 1985 in Tiraspol, Moldova, home to many who long for the former Soviet republic to rejoin Russia. As a child, Lukyanova was enamored of dolls and mysticism. At age 13, she dyed her hair platinum. Then, at 16, she moved to Odessa, Ukraine.

“Whatever ideas of beauty and identity she had had before,” GQ’s Michael Idov writes, “Odessa would warp further.”

Lukyanova, who accelerated her transformation in 2010 according to her Facebook profile, is far from alone. For some impoverished women in Odessa, Ukrainian feminist Anna Hutsol says, much rides on attracting a rich Westerner. The Web sites of businesses known as “marriage agencies” promise Western men traditional wives.

“It is considered that a Russian woman can become a perfect wife,” one such site says. “When a husband comes home in the evening he finds his house clean, the food prepared for him and a beautiful loving woman playing with children. Isn’t it a dream?”

The women appear fragile, docile. They look exactly like Lukyanova.

“It has everything to do with the desperate desire to get married,” Hutsol told GQ. “A woman here is brought up for two things, marriage and motherhood. Valeria is the ultimate demonstration of what a Ukrainian woman is willing to do to herself. I bet she is exactly what men dream about.”

The radical appearance Lukyanova has adopted is matched by her extremist ideology. “Everyone wants a slim figure,” she told GQ. “Everyone gets breasts done. Everyone fixes up their face if it’s not ideal, you know? Everyone strives for the golden mean. It’s global now.”

To Lukyanova, the arch nemesis of beauty is “race-mixing.”

“Ethnicities are mixing now, so there’s degeneration, and it didn’t used to be like that,” she said. “Remember how many beautiful women there were in the 1950s and 1960s, without any surgery? And now, thanks to degeneration, we have this. I love the Nordic image myself. I have white skin; I am a Nordic type.”

She’s gotten loads of attention recently — both good and bad — which appears to be the whole point. The stranger her antics, the closer she mimics Barbie, the more celebrity she obtains.

Earlier this year, for example, she told reporters she had started a diet called “breatharianism,” adherents of which claim they can survive purely on light and air.

Lukyanova also calls herself  a “teacher at the School of Out-of-Body Travel,” according to an interview she gave V Magazine. “It’s 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. I know that this is the future of mankind and that it has huge potential. Hidden reserves will be tapped soon.”