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Does Barbie Belong on the Cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition?

The annual swimsuit issue and the ‘doll who started it all’ team up for an #unapologetic 50th anniversary (not everyone is happy about it).

Barbie and the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue have faced controversy for decades.

So when the two brands announced they were teaming up for the magazine’s 50th anniversary edition, an eruption of criticism was no surprise.

Mattel and SI have launched an aptly named #unapologetic campaign to promote the issue, which hits newsstands Tuesday.

It’s also an opportunity to reframe the conversation about Barbie’s constantly attacked proportions.

“As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing … gives Barbie … and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are,” explains Lisa McKnight, Mattel’s senior vice president of marketing.

While some argue the doll (and the magazine) are not positive role models for girls, SI Editor MJ Day told AP that Barbie fits the swimsuit issue's "message of empowerment.”

Often bashed for promoting unrealistic body image ideals, the iconic doll has lost popularity in recent years (fourth quarter sales fell 13 percent). Those involved with the project insist the SI cover is not about sex appeal and beauty, but celebrating accomplished women.

A post on the Barbie Twitter feed quotes Mattel Co-Founder Ruth Handler: “Barbie has always represented that a woman has choices,” she says.

Barbie will join the ranks of supermodels including Tyra Banks, Christie Brinkley, Kathy Ireland and Heidi Klum, who have all established impressive careers as entrepreneurs (according to McKnight, Barbie has seen more than 150 careers from nurse to astronaut to a player in the WNBA).

The doll will pose for a cover wrap on at least 1,000 copies of the issue wearing the same black-and-white bathing suit she debuted in 1959.

A billboard in Times Square plus a Monday-night beach party in Lower Manhattan and an SI Barbie doll sold exclusively at Target.com round out Mattel's #unapologetic marketing blitz, according to the New York Times.

The company hopes to modernize Barbie’s image but many think it’s a mismatch that further objectifies women and reflects warped beauty standards.

"The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is one step away from Playboy magazine," Allen Adamson, a brand expert, told AP. "It is potentially sending the wrong message to girls."

Barbie Backlash

Ranging from support, to disgust, outrage and confusion, an outpouring of online debate has flooded blogs, social media and comment boards across the Web.

“The #SportsIllustrated Swimsuit Issue Will Feature Barbie, So Your Daughter Can Feel Bad Too,” tweeted mommmyish.com blogger Eve Vawter.

“Now when you find your husband gazing adoringly at next week’s Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, you can be thrilled to know your daughter can also feel just as insecure as you do,” she writes in her post.

Public radio’s Marketplace raised a question on more than a few people’s minds: “Let's start with the obvious. Why does Mattel want to put a doll for little girls in a magazine for grown men?”

A blog post on Time.com shared a complimentary perspective, “In Defense of Barbie: Why She Might Be the Most Feminist Doll Around.”

Blogger Charlotte Alter says she “feels sorry” for the doll and draws comparisons to “sluttier” counterparts on the market. “She’s broken more glass ceilings than Sheryl Sandberg,” Alter writes.

According to the New York Times, Mattel paid to be part of the SI commemorative collaboration. Neither company would comment on details of the deal.

We want to know what you think! Does Barbie belong on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue? Are critics taking the doll's placement in SI too seriously or does it send mixed signals that are degrading to women? Sound off in the comments, head over to our boards or start a Patch blog.

K.J. Dolney February 15, 2014 at 03:58 PM
Sports Illustrated treats Barbie with more respect than they do their live models, she at least gets to 'model' her swimsuit. In the real “War on Women,” most Barbie’s are forced to live dismal lives in the clutches of young, short-attention span, pre-teen ‘women’, and who severely abuse them. They are often found headless and naked, suffering endless tongue-baths, covered in sticky slobber by household 'stalkers' and forced to sleep in the dog’s toy box. EEE-yew! Still, even headless, millions of stoic 'Barbie's' have managed to carry themselves with more dignity than Miley Cyrus, before they make their last stop at the dumpster retirement home.
southernbelle February 16, 2014 at 11:25 PM
@KJ--funniest post ever!!! hahaha @Mike-STFU--you damn well better look like a Calvin Klein model if you expect me to look like a Barbie! On;y there's been lot of hubbub in the media about Barbie vs NOT WOMEN--but actually young girls these days. Our youth are suffering at epidemic proportions--eating disorders--because of all the hoopla about "being skinny." I'm sure Babrie is not the cause-but some group has decided she is iconic for being the "measure" girls they they ought to "unrealistically" be. That's why there are so many articles that show if Barbie was an actual person her proportions would be absurd and impossible. But yes--good grief--she is just a doll, and not only sporting a modest suit her but her poses in no where near what SI requires of their models. I personally think it was a publicity stunt--Barbie sales have probably fallen off since all the proportion hoopla, so this was an in your face shout out. @Bob-- does that dull-witted line ever get old with you ppl who use it for everything???
Becky February 17, 2014 at 01:38 AM
Barbie has to be skinny, because fabric is so bulky. The fabric her clothes are made of is woven with a thread-count like human-sized fabric. Logistically, they can't get it to drape like it would on a to-scale human model. So they make her legs and waist really skinny, otherwise it would look like she was wearing a hot-dog-bun. It would be like you dressing in bubble wrap.
Creeky February 17, 2014 at 08:07 AM
Wow Becky, brilliant.
Becky February 17, 2014 at 10:54 AM
Thanks.

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