For over half a century, critics of Mattel’s Barbie doll have sung a tireless tune: Barbie is unrealistic. No real woman could achieve such dramatic proportions, such lush blond locks, such wide sparkling eyes, such flawless skin. We’ve even been told Barbie is so unreal that if she were real, she would most likely be more “mutant” than human: her neck too long and slender to support her head, her chest so buxom she would be forced to crawl on all fours rather than walk upright!

Last month, she began posting make-up free selfies. Amid the stream of professional, “dolled-up” photos of Valeria lounging in impossibly-blue surf in neon bikinis, suddenly we were seeing Valeria at the gym, jogging on the boardwalk, relaxing with a drink.So, with this sub-human image of what a real life Barbie might look like in mind, you can imagine everyone’s surprise when in 2012 Ukranian model Valeria Lukyanova bebopped her perfectly-coiffed, toned, and cosmetically- and surgically-enhanced image all over the Internet looking exactly like Barbie. Though not the only woman to attempt Barbie status, she is certainly the most convincing likeness and the first to build such a large fan base. Early criticism resonated predictably: Makeup! Photoshop! And yet, her appearance in a Vice documentary and in-person interviews like one with GQ where it was noted that “In the flesh…Valeria looks almost exactly like Barbie” confirmed the impossible: Human Barbie—against all odds—appeared to be walking the streets.

Which is why it surprised us perhaps even more that—two years into her Internet-stardom—Lukyanova suddenly decided to pop her perfectly-bubble-gum-pink bubble: Last month, she began posting make-up free selfies. Amid the stream of professional, “dolled-up” photos of Valeria lounging in impossibly-blue surf in neon bikinis, suddenly we were seeing Valeria at the gym, jogging on the boardwalk, relaxing with a drink. There she was in her kitchen, on her patio, in the bathroom shooting selfies in the mirror like the rest of the world. She allowed us into her personal life as well: we learned she has a husband (Dimitri, not Ken), an equally doll-like mother, some unique spiritual and dietary practices, and affinities for Angelina Jolie, hiking, and pop music. Barbie, for all intents and purposes, had stepped down from her pedestal.

The popularity Lukyanova held before these revelations was nothing compared to the attention she’s now garnering. We are obsessed with this moment in her narrative—an obsession indicated by a near endless stream of new articles and equally-endless likes, shares, and comments posted in response—a moment which tells us as much about us as it does her. Though there is certainly much that could be written-off in terms of the “importance” of such a pop storyline, there are several rather profound human tendencies that might be observed here, tendencies which strikingly reveal our inherent spiritual needs as well as clues to why the Christian Gospel appeals to and satisfies so powerfully:

1. We are obsessed with the power of illusion.

In browsing Lukyanova’s Facebook page, I can’t help but obsessively scrutinize her photos: I zoom in, brighten my screen, search for airbrush lines, wonder if that’s a shadow or if her waist is really that thin. In an age of flawless photo editing capabilities, it is usually impossible to tell. Indeed, a large element of Lukyanova’s rise to fame depended on this illusion of flawlessness. And the fascination with Lukyanova as a real life Barbie is just the tip of the iceberg. We fawn over images of impossibility: the perfection of Jennifer Aniston’s hair, Heidi Klum’s legs (insured for over $2 million!), Channing Tatum’s abs, etc.

The irony, of course, is that, in the midst of this fascination, we recognize that what we are ogling is the product of artifice and manipulation: that Lukyanova has breast implants, Aniston pays nearly a thousand dollars for every trip to the salon, and celebrities regularly hemorrhage cash for procedures, cosmetics, trainers and nutritionists to create their “look.” We are fascinated by the ability to craft illusion because, in our own small-seeming lives, we create similar illusion, layers of fantasy that are not truly us but that allow us to appear just slightly more perfect: sepia-tinged Instagram photos; Twitter feeds cultivating our persona as “intellectual,” “master of sarcasm,” “funny mom”; expensive wardrobes, cars, and houses we go into debt for. The Internet has made it infinitely easy to devise, project, update, and revise our masks far and wide. It is a power trip that is compelling but that rarely satisfies deeply. In fact, it can often be exhausting.

2. We seek out the crumbling masks.

It is no coincidence that when Lukyanova began to expose her “real” self, her popularity exploded. There are entire image databases online preserving the flaws of celebrities: celebrities caught with stretch marks, saggy knees, weird toes, you name the “flaw,” we have sought it out and preserved it. When Kate Middleton dared to reveal the grey roots of her revered chestnut locks, it was a cover story. When Tyra Banks gained weight, Jennifer Love Hewitt exposed cellulite, and poor pop tart Britney Spears had her infamous nervous breakdown in public, we were there.

And while the temptation to write such interest off to voyeuristic tendencies is strong, what this interest also speaks to is our deep-rooted desire to be known fully. When we see the flaws of others, we are validated in having our own flaws; we feel “okay,” safe in the acknowledgment that the perfection in others is no more than appearance. The vulnerability of being known deeply—not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, in the midst of all of our ugly thoughts, ugly acts, ugly pasts and mistakes and sins—is something we crave. We are cruel towards images of perfection—critiquing Lukyanova and other “too perfect” celebrities like her—because we are so intimately aware of our own flaws and yearn so deeply for these flaws to be seen and to be accepted.

3. We desire transformation.

The desire to be known thoroughly and without judgment and the sense that there is a greater—a more perfect—way of existence out there are at the heart of the needs that the gospel fills. When we see Lukyanova’s apparent perfection, we are intimidated and critical because it nudges our awareness that there is a more wondrous life available, one that extends beyond the purely physical form. When we see Lukyanova’s “flaws,” we are fascinated because we too want our flaws to be exposed.

Simultaneously, we find ourselves left wanting as we realize that behind each carefully crafted layer there is another: behind the makeup there is plastic surgery, behind the plastic surgery there is Photoshop. Behind that are the internal flaws, the spiritual flaws, the sin that may never be revealed. We are ultimately dissatisfied with her self revelations because they are not enough, and they remind us of the impossibility of being fully known and fully loved without judgment, at least in this life. We crave transformation that is authentic. Transformation that is pure, transparent, immaterial, thorough. The many lesser efforts at transformation that surround us—new wardrobes, new vehicles, new careers, new spouses or love interests, new ideologies and worldviews, new hobbies and distractions—too frequently serve as reminders of what is missing.

The instincts revealed in our response to the Human Barbie narrative are the very ones that point humanity to the gospel. Stories like this tempt responses of criticism and condemnation, both for Lukyanova and her fans who might be perceived as shallow. There is a take-away, though: the reminder to love this woman at the center of the narrative who is, in ways far beyond what Facebook photos and videos show, deeply human; and to appreciate the human interest in transformation that her story arouses. If seen in the right light, it is an evangelistic moment. A moment both to show and receive grace, a moment to praise God for the way He plants His seeds, even in—perhaps especially in—the most seemingly silly soil of glittery, sensationalist, D-list fairy tales.

img via Freddycat1