Barbie has made headlines that lately; as we continue to push toy companies towards a doll that includes more diverse body types, ethnicities, careers, and lifestyles, some groundbreaking artists have reworked and re-appropriated the toy to challenge expectations and sexist assumptions. My personal favorite of these artists, Margaux Lange, shared a recent Barbie tidbit with her social media network this morning: the doll is going to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
A Mattel spokesperson explains of the new campaign, â€śBarbie is a legend in her own right, with more than 150 careers and a brand valued at $3 billion [â€¦] She is in great company with the other legends such as Heidi Klum and Christie Brinkley, to name a few.â€ť Mattel goes on to reason that like these women, Barbie has â€ścome under criticism about her body and how she looks,â€ť explaining that this is Barbieâ€™s chance to â€ścelebrateâ€ť and to â€śbe unapologetic.â€ť The Swimsuit Editor M. J. Day agrees that the use of the doll is a positive step for women: "From its earliest days, Swimsuit has delivered a message of empowerment, strength and beauty.â€ť Alright, then.
Itâ€™s a bit of a stretch for me to see 1959 swimsuit Barbie as a representation of empowered female sensuality. Barbie is purchasable, eternally youthful, and lacks nipples despite her perfectly perky bosom; whatâ€™s more, 1950s-1960s Barbieâ€™s activities were limited to cleaning her house and reading diet books. Alternately, Heidi Klum, Christie Brinkley, and other live, human women of all shapes and ethnicities have lived in a real womanâ€™s body, aged, developed, matured. A womanâ€”or human beingâ€” should never have to â€śapologizeâ€ť for her body, but Mattelâ€™s choice to use the tagline #UNAPOLOGETIC for a plastic dollâ€”one that feminists have repeatedly evidenced as promoting unrealistic body standards to young womenâ€” seems less empowering than aggressive.
The Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated has come under a similar sort of attack in the last years, accused of objectifying the female body in order to sell a product. The choice to use a literal object as their model in no way promotes the idea that women can be powerful, confident, active participants in the world. The photographer's jokes, "She takes instruction almost silently; that's why she's the best model I've ever worked with" and "fortunately, I don't have to deal with any personality problems" says it all.
As suggested by Mommyishâ€™s Eve Vawter, Barbie is also a childrenâ€™s toy, and placing her within an overtly sexualizedâ€” and arguably objectifyingâ€” context sends confusing signals to growing girls. Iâ€™m not buying Sports Illustrated or Mattelâ€™s line about empowerment, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments!