I love Barbie. Growing up I owned many Barbies. I purchase and encourage my own daughter, who is nine-years-old, to play with Barbie. I probably spend a bit more time than average explaining to my child why Barbie is not an attainable standard of beauty for my own kid to aspire to.
Barbie is problematic for many reasons. She is tall and beautiful and amazingly thin. She is perfect. For a plastic doll she is perfect. For an iconic image of female beauty she is perfect. She is also plastic. And she was created for young girls to play with. Which is why placing her in the Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Swimsuit edition is also problematic.
Barbie is iconic. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is also iconic. It features some of the most gorgeous women in the world in sexually provocative poses, and has become standard around the world for an example of “sexiness.” It’s exemplifies what many people in the world consider “sexy.”
Which is why an 11.5 inch tall plastic toy that a lot of our young daughters (and sons) play with has no business being alongside actual human women, many of who have gone to extreme measures to attain a standard of beauty that many of us will never be able to.
Barbie in itself is problematic in many ways, but I believe most girls can understand the issues behind why she is problematic. I have faith that most parents talk to their daughters about self-esteem, about inner-beauty, about how their own imperfections make them lovely and about how they should never compare themselves to a plastic doll, or a magazine cover, or an actual human woman who makes her living by meeting a specific standard of beauty. Our girls are smart. Why is why it is so insulting and so wrong that Barbie be put alongside actual human women in a swimsuit anniversary issue.
Here’s the thing, I get that The SI Swimsuit issue isn’t for “the children” – even thought it could be argued that many men also share this issue with their sons, with a wink and a sly remark about the content that lies within. But just as the Swimsuit Issue isn’t for the kids, Barbie isn’t for the grownups either. Sure, there are many adult collectors of Barbie, and it can be argued that Barbie is for everyone, the young and old. But in essence, and I’m sure statistically, Barbie’s main audience is children, specifically young girls. Which is why in the following video when the photographers call her “Hot” it is exceptionally repulsive.
Barbie is a toy. Barbie is a doll.
I’m almost expecting there to be a Victoria’s Secret fashion show appearance by Barbie next. Or perhaps she can be featured in the next Pirelli calendar. These are other things that are considered “sexy.” Why stop with the Swimsuit Issue?
My kid is nine. She plays with Barbie. At this age she isn’t too concerned with what is considered “sexy” out there in the great big world, as it should be. She should be allowed to just think Barbie is pretty or fashionable and play with her as a toy, which is what she is. Our girls are only so young for such a very short time, and taking one of her toys and putting it alongside sexualized and dehumanized images of women to fall under the male gaze is wrong on so many levels. It’s bad enough this toy is sexualized as much as it is, and by sticking her in with other women in a sexy photo spread we are making no doubt about it.
Barbie is no longer just a doll. She is a sex doll. Think about that the next time your daughter wants one in the toy aisle.