Valeria Lukyanova is inhumanly beautiful. I mean that in every sense of the word — she barely looks human. Staring at her pictures you’d think you were looking at a life-size plastic sex toy, but under her artificial exterior beats a very real heart. As hard as it is to believe this woman is real, she has garnered a massive following from people who celebrate her transformation into living dollhood. It begs the question, is Valeria a reflection of our superficial culture, or a product of it?
As someone who grew up watching Pinocchio and Toy Story, a part of me has always wanted to see my toys come to life. To be perfectly honest, I suppose the other side of the fantasy was to be able to join my action figures in imaginative worlds of adventure. So to some degree, I sympathize with Valeria’s self-proclaimed desire to resemble her favorite childhood Barbie doll.
She’s put in a lot more effort, money and self-sacrifice than I ever would to make her childhood fantasies come true — undergoing massive amounts of plastic surgery, surviving on a liquid-only diet to maintain her insane figure and barely ever going out in public without carefully crafted make-up or large glassy contact lenses. To some degree, she’s striving to be as perfect in real life, as many people do through their impeccably posed Instagram pictures — she’s just more committed to the lie.
In defense of her lifestyle, Valeria has shared some choice gems of wisdom: "Many people say bad things about people who want to perfect themselves … but I don't take them seriously. I'm even flattered! It's what success is like. I'm happy I seem unreal to them, it means I'm doing a good job … I always try to perfect myself further both inside and out, because I think perfection has no limits."
Perhaps strangest of all, is her desire to transform the liquid diet she’s maintained for a year, into subsisting on "air and light alone." Her extreme lifestyle, philosophy and appearance, has garnered her a following of millions of fans who see her as a spiritual leader. She frequently talks about meditation, travelling to her astral body and occasionally gives lectures on "being sincere with oneself." She rejects women who criticize her as "unhappy with their lives … they sit at home making soup. I feel sorry for them."
It’s clear that Valeria wants to believe in her flawlessness, and she constantly claims that her exterior perfection is a reflection of her true inner self. The painful irony is, that she may be absolutely right. If your inner self is so insecure, self-aware and socially conscious — that you have to fabricate a permanent mask of adoration to wear, connecting with the masses in the form of idolatry, perhaps your inner and outer selves are perfectly in sync.
In Valeria’s extreme example, we see that sometimes our greatest sources of pride, are a reflection of our deepest fears. The Peter Pan complex of wanting to hold onto youth’s simple beauty, is a reminder of the dreaded responsibilities and realities of adulthood.
Valeria isn’t the rock bottom epitome of our superficial culture, but rather a sad victim of the manner in which we measure self worth. Even at the height of our global recession, billions of dollars were being spent on plastic surgeries. As we continue to export our culture and social lives online, everyone strives to make sure their pictures tell an entertaining, envious and unique story. We portray ourselves as outgoing adventurers and perpetually happy party animals — when most of our days are spent facing some form of electronic screen in a zombie like stare.
In Valeria's "before and after" pictures, we can see that same divide between our real selves, and the "self" we try to present to others.
Having lived in a few countries, I sometimes find it strange being in a city like New York. Almost everyone on this jampacked little island came from somewhere else — leaving a familiar but less-than-fulfilling life to reinvent and redefine themselves. It's a bustling ant hive, and everyone moves with the pace of certainty and purpose. But most of the 8 million people who share these streets won’t interact with each other beyond a passing glance. And in that passing glance we make a lot of judgments: clothes, expression, gait, and mood — all tell a quick story about what kind of life these fellow New Yorkers may lead.
Whether consciously, or passively, we all put on the flags of our persona whenever we get dressed in the morning. So how is Valeria different in her efforts to maintain such a perfectly presentable flag? Is she showing us her true self, and how she wishes to be seen? Or is she running away from a fear of imperfection — painting her Dorian Gray image directly onto her face?
Perhaps the only way to escape this trap of social judgment is to find your own token way of saying: "I don't give a f*ck"