The Ukrainians sure have had a rough February. First their eye-poppingly corrupt president, Viktor Yanukovych, goes missing, then armed soldiers appear in the Crimea airport, then their president reappears in Russia acting like nothing happened, and then "Barbie" automaton Valeria Lukyanova, a Ukrainian lass (actually she was born in Moldava but never mind), announces that she was a breatharian. That’s right. Barbie believes you can live without food and water—and exist on air alone.
While you let that one sink in, let’s pause for a moment to measure the sum of the Nouveau Barbie. Ms. Lukyanova already has done a mighty fine job working the Internets to pump up a uniquely modern type of fame, positioning herself in the weird but ever-expanding mid-zone between self-promotion and self-parody, working the tension of ‘is she kidding or not?’ as expertly as Andy Kaufman.
Her version is made all the more in-the-moment by the possibility that she doesn’t, you know, really exist exactly, but rather is a photoshop of horrors, a simple sleight of some re-positioned pixels. I mean look at her, sitting there near the beach, lifeless as a lump of oatmeal, a plasticine excrescence on the pristine tableau of earth wind and water. Oy.
But the visual Barbie-ness is only part of the story. In her interview six months ago with The Daily Beast, Lukyanova mentioned that she communicates with aliens (not via words of course, but with light, natch), has had many out of body experiences including one that instructed her not to have children in this lifetime, and that she plans to start a singing career soon. Only the last disclosure is truly frightening. This interview of course followed on the heels of her wildly popular YouTube video (4.3 million hits and counting, despite being in Ukrainian), Space Barbie wherein she dishes out tips and taunts and shows off her improbable bod as she marches across a terrain right out of The Phantom Menace.
Having now joined the rest of the world by watching the video almost all the way through and having spent a fair amount of time in Eastern Europe AND being almost named Ken, I feel like I know Barbie-Valeria person pretty well. Of course there is high-volume, scorching human vanity at large here. But hers is not that far afield from a standard-issue post-Communist absurdist sensibility complete with its fascination with American Pop images. Add to this backdrop a twist of downtown performance artist—Space Barbie would do well in next week’s Whitney Biennial—and you have the essence of Ms. Lukyanova, the superstar. I suspect there are many thin enhanced blond Ukrainian and Czech and Russian women who are kicking themselves for not having come up with the conceit sooner.
But breatharianism. Oh man. Referred to by some according to the even-more-ludicrous label of inedia (said to be Latin for “fasting” but also a rock band in Australia with a suddenly well-trafficked website), breatharianism has the following premise: food and water are unnecessary for survival. Rather if a person is sufficiently spiritual, sufficiently independent, fresh air and sunshine will suffice to both nourish and sustain. The esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gall bladder, small intestine, caecum, and large intestine—as well as the teeming army of digestive enzymes—apparently turn out to be only extra parts made due to a manufacturer’s error. All we need to stay on point is skin, nostrils, lungs, heart, and a few blood vessels. Wow—talk about a savings! No more meals! No more trips to the grocery store! We’re free!
The scientific implausibility of this—as well as the fact that it’s so dumb that anyone’s ancient grandmother would suss it out in no time flat—make a point-by-point refutation of the claims not even worth the energy. I mean we are animals on the planet and the rules of engagement are non-negotiable. One of the most basic is that we have to eat and we need water. This is not a weakness, spiritual or otherwise, nor is it a corruption of flesh. It’s just the facts, ma’am. (For those who insist on a more lawyerly consideration, consult the indispensible Skepdic on the subject).
Of course it is attractive to try to wish away the vulgar pressing physical world—people have been trying to pull it off ever since Buddha saw his light 2500 years ago or the Essenes crawled into their caves around Jerusalem 2200 years ago. The ills of modernity were perplexing even then, in 500 BC. But the blockheaded embrace of extreme fasting and self-mortification, literal and figurative, in the pursuit of some sort of spiritual purity is insane as well as dangerous. So come on, Valeria—have a varenyky. After all, even Barbie had a kitchen.