Editorial: Sports Illustrated, Barbie don’t mix


For pushing 55 years old, Barbie’s still got it, and she’ll be flaunting her flawless body in the 50th anniversary edition of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The doll, invented by Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler, will be in a four-page advertisement in the magazine wearing a revamped version of her original 1959 black and white striped swimsuit.

Mattel joined Sports Illustrated for the 50th anniversary issue soon after Barbie unveiled her own marketing campaign called “#Unapologetic,” which aims to celebrate her achievements. This campaign echoes criticism given to young celebrities such as Miley Cyrus who had an unapologetic year in the spotlight for controversial reasons. Last week, Mattel put out a statement about Barbie’s new campaign.

“As a legend herself, and under criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in ‘Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’ gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be unapologetic,” Mattel stated.

Some have said the campaign should be retitled “Sorry, not sorry” since Barbie has been a controversial figure in the past for her perfect body and the message her physical appearance sends to young girls. She isn’t apologetic for the way she looks and isn’t willing to change her image, even if it is unattainable and unrealistic.

Sports Illustrated readers may not give a second thought to Barbie’s body, but the ad’s placement in the magazine alongside models promotes the idea that to be attractive, women have to achieve an impossibly thin physique.

For the girls who may pick up the magazine off someone’s coffee table or off magazine stands, it sends a message that says, “This is beautiful.”

However, this body image issue caused by the plastic doll is nothing new to consumers and certainly didn’t start with the Sports Illustrated ad. Barbie’s body has been under constant criticism for years.

Barbie’s measurements when applied to a life-sized person are approximately a 39-inch bust, an 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips with legs that are about two-thirds of the body. She would also be about seven feet tall.

When compared to the measurements of the 2012 and 2013 Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton — a model who was made famous for her buxom physique — Barbie has a bigger bust, considerably smaller waist and slightly smaller hips. In other words, even today’s models can’t live up to the plastic Barbie standard.

To be like Barbie, they have to keep the curves but cut down on their stomachs, making their curves look a lot more pronounced and a lot less real.

Though the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and Barbie will be close in age, combining the two mixes audiences in the worst way.

Barbie, targeted toward little girls, does not belong in a magazine whose main audience is men who primarily buy Sports Illustrated magazines for sports or to see swimsuit models.

By putting Barbie in a magazine for a male audience, it sexualizes the doll in a way that makes her inappropriate as a young girl’s toy. It also sends confusing signals to male readers who are probably the last target audience who would purchase a Barbie doll in the first place.

If Mattel wants to advertise Barbie, they would do better to put her in a magazine that is meant for a younger female audience who would actually buy the toy.

Then again, with Barbie’s unapologetic stance on beauty and bodily perfection, perhaps Barbie should change her image altogether.