So when the two brands announced they were teaming up for the magazine’s 50th anniversary edition, an eruption of criticism was no surprise.
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."
Ranging from support, to disgust, outrage and confusion, an outpouring of online debate has flooded blogs, social media and comment boards across the Web.
“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.”