Barbie, the plastic doll made by Mattel and owned by millions of young girls, graces the front cover of the 50th anniversary edition of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which hit newsstands on Feb. 18.
The cover, which features Barbie in a black and white swimsuit reminiscent of the one she wore in her 1959 debut, is part of a larger campaign by the Mattel and Sports Illustrated partnership, which includes a billboard in Times Square, a beach-themed launch party and a limited edition Sports Illustrated Barbie doll.
“Unapologetic” is the theme of the campaign, which promotes a goal to “empower fans to engage and celebrate all that makes them who they are.”
The Mattel/Sports Illustrated alliance has raised eyebrows, as both companies have been subject to criticism regarding their portrayals of women. Barbie’s impossibly perfect figure may present an unrealistic image for young girls, and Sports Illustrated has been criticized for objectifying women.
Bloggers who have taken to analyzing the campaign are unsure of what exactly the term “unapologetic” implies.
“Did we ask them to [apologize]?” questions Claire McCarthy on boston.com. “It’s fine for them to look the way they look. What isn’t fine is when young girls think they need to look the same.”
“It’s easy to be unapologetic about your body when it is considered to be the absolute ideal standard of beauty in the society in which you live,” wrote one commenter on another post about the campaign.
However, some see this publicity ploy as not necessarily negative. Barbie has grown considerably since her launch over half a century ago and now boasts over 150 careers and can be compared to models like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum, who are celebrated as “legends” and businesswomen who got their start in the swimsuit issue.
Still, negative feedback for the cover has been extensive. “Barbie is not a woman, she’s an inanimate object,” says Nicole Rodgers, editor-in-chief of RoleReboot.org. “Juxtaposing her alongside real women as though the two are indistinguishable is dehumanizing, and in a literal sense, objectifying.”
Barbie sales have been down, and Mattel’s sponsoring of this campaign is certainly also an attempt to “reshape” Barbie’s image and revive the dwindling popularity of the doll.