I’m #Unapologetic About Why I Feel Barbie Doesn’t Belong In The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition

15114529_Alt03_201401231645I 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.”

(Image: SI-Twitter)

(Image: SI-Twitter)

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.

(Image: Target)

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  • emilyg25
    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      I love how some of you readers were quoted *proud*

    • Robotic Arms Dealer

      People read the NYTimes? Wow, who knew?

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  • Maria Guido

    Yeah – I love Barbie and I still think it’s totally creepy a kid’s toy is being sexualized in a men’s magazine. Totally creepy.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      maria you get meeeeeee haha

    • Bethany Ramos

      #lordknows I get you.

    • ted3553

      if I saw my husband reading a magazine with a doll in it that’s supposed to be sexy, we’d be having a long discussion. Barbie is a doll for little girls. This really disturbs me

    • Momma425

      “Hun, have you seen our daughter’s barbie doll?” *opens bathroom door* “Oh my god!”

    • Garett Phalen

      Seriously? Being sexualized in a mans mag?
      Yet it`s ok she`s obviously suffering from a eating disorder really can`t tell her self-worth unless ken lets her know and her entire look and attitude is so outdated kids in the 70s should have complained about it!.. Yup Barbie is a real role model for kids!! .. First off the only people who see sex when Barbie is in a bathing suit is Adults! Not children, if your pre 10 yr old knows what sexual attraction is you may want to see someone about the abuse they are currently receiving then again you could be the abuser so I guess that`s not happening..
      Why Adults feel they need to expose their children to smutty adult tv and sexuality before there 13 is beyond me! Let your god damn kids be kids! stop trying to rush them through their childhoods, once they hit grade 6 it will happen all on it`s own.
      Protect them Guide them give them values to make proper decisions as they grow up and become more independent, but a 10 yr old shouldn`t be out checking out the other 10 year olds thinking oh god ya I gots to hit that! it should be more like hmmm has a weird freckle don`t play with that kid! because that is more inline with the average childs mindset!! but each child is differentand should not be expected to run some predestined childhood by some doctor who`s never had a child of their own or a nanny who has no kids.
      Watching a child for a few hours a day is fine but It doesn`t make you a parent!!

  • Kelly

    That’s cool. I’m #unapologetic about disagreeing with you. I think it’s ok for different people to have different opinions.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      I do too :D

  • Megan Zander

    The body issue ramifications for girls aside (but for the record I agree with Eve) it’s the sexualization here that makes my skin crawl. Flip the script for a second- what if they wanted to put GI Joe in Playgirl? Universally creepy right!? This Barbie alongside Giselle is the same level of ick. Though with her myriad of careers, I think Barbie wins the multitasking contest between the two. I just sudder to think about the conference when all these SI bigwigs stared at a Barbie in a bikini in the middle of the table and were like ” Oh yeah baby, pop that plastic booty” and then decided ” we have GOT to put her in the issue.” Grossgrossgross.

    • Kelly

      I think it would be hilarious to see GI Joe in Playgirl. I’ve never bought an issue of it in my life but I would buy that issue.

    • Alexandra

      I’ve seen GI Joe with his pants off and personally, I think you’d be disappointed. ;)

    • Kelly

      I wouldn’t buy it to masturbate too so it would be fine. I would buy it to frame it and put it on my wall because it would make me laugh. ;)

      And I just realized that a bunch of people who normally would not buy Sports Illustrated are going to run out and buy this issue because Barbie’s in it. Now I understand why the magazine did it.

    • Jessica

      And then have the follow up GI Joe sold at Target, like they are apparently doing with this Barbie… Between that and the 5 pound bag of Jelly Belly’s I buy every time I go to Target, I know the cashier would be side-eyeing me.

  • Armchair Observer

    hmm, She’s actually come full circle as the original Barbie was based on an actual sex doll.

  • Steve Weinstein

    Isn’t Mattel & SI actually making fun of Barbie being sexualized? Somehow, I think you & your readers aren’t getting the point.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      It makes a lot of sense why Mattel would risk their greatest seller on a joke point about the irony of using Barbie as a sexual image.

    • Kelly

      Well, in one of the articles you linked, they flat out say they didn’t sell enough Barbies over the holiday season and they’re trying something different in an attempt to boost sales. For all we know, they could be desperately trying to save the brand.

    • Kay_Sue

      This is a legitimate concern. Barbie’s sales have declined sharply for several years now. Her marketshare is decreasing rapidly. Originally, Mattel attributed this to little girls not playing with dolls as much…but other doll lines, including their own competing lines, are doing better.

      On the flip side of the declining sales, they have a lot of money invested in Barbie. From the molds to create all of her stuff to buying up (technically renting, I guess) whole aisles of toy stores to have her featured with no competition, there’s large chunk of change invested in what they are (I believe) afraid will flop in the next few years after reigning for all of these decades.

      While I may not personally agree with featuring her, I have to say, I do totally understand why they are doing it. I have no doubt it’s the adult market they are pushing for–not only collectors, but adults that may have played with or been exposed to Barbie as children, who may then be encouraged to start purchasing her again for their own kids.

    • Rachel Sea

      Pfft. I could tell them why Barbies aren’t selling: they’re goddamn expensive. It doesn’t help when they do stuff like this, further turning off women who had been on the fence about whether Barbie’s message is girl-positive.

    • Kay_Sue

      Yeah, you’d think they’d get a clue, but this is a struggle they’ve had for years. They just can’t put their finger on why people don’t want to buy Barbie anymore. When I worked for a large toy store, they’d started using a dedicated to rep to set displays to try to entice kids to buy them, and it was a topic we consistently revisited since we weren’t getting the sales per foot we needed to justify that much space for one line.

    • Kelly

      That seems so weird to me. I’m always glad when I’m going to the birthday party of a little girl who likes Barbie because the dolls are so cheap. I wonder where people are buying them that they’re expensive because they are dirt cheap at Target.

  • Ashie

    I played with and had a ton of barbies and not once did it ever give me self esteem issues. I do have to say I get perplexed as to why a doll would cause girls to have issues with body image, I just don’t get it. As with barbie being in Sports Illustrated it doesn’t really make any sense. ( I think a man (or woman) would much rather look at a half naked woman than a doll). Im indifferent to barbie being put into the magazine and being used as a sexual image because uhhh its an adult magazine, why would a child even be looking at it??

  • elle

    Not gonna lie at first I was like man Eve is being such a drama llama about this but then I really started thinking about it and yeah….it’s creepy. Sexualizing a doll is creepy. Sexualizinge a doll in a borderline pornographic magazine geared toward adult males is creepy. And before anybody asks no I don’t have a problem with porn or the SI swimsuit edition, just with a doll being in it.

    • Momma425

      Next year, American Girl dolls and Cabage Patch babies. Ooh la la!

  • CMJ

    I just don’t understand the reasoning for putting Barbie in the Swimsuit issue. It doesn’t make any sense.

    • Kelly

      To increase sales. Men who buy the magazine for jerk off material aren’t going to stop buying it just because they stuck a doll in it. They’ll just skip the doll pictures.
      Barbie collectors and fanatics and some people who are just curious but normally wouldn’t buy the magazine will buy it because Barbie’s in it.

      As for why Mattel would do it, they’ve already said they’re having problems with low sales numbers. They’re desperate to increase them.

      From a business standpoint, it makes perfect sense.

    • Momma425

      Not really.
      As a parent, I am not going to buy the SI swimsuit edition for my young daughter/son who is interested in the dolls.
      As a consumer, I don’t respect a pornography product for my child. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me- but our home is a porn free household- it is not something we support or watch or view. Since Mattel has decided that barbie is “sexy” and belongs in a porno magazine- I probably won’t be running out to purchace babrie for my daughter to play with anytime soon.
      Essentially, some colelctors might buy the magazine, and might buy the doll. But parents who are opposed to the whole thing may just put the nail in barbie’s coffin by choosing not to buy the doll anymore.

  • chickadee

    I totally agree…huge difference between having issues with the doll as a toy (I don’t) and SI putting her in an issue next to hypersexual images of women in swimsuit (or out of them). And again–whatever. You want to look at them, go right ahead.

    BUT. As I said yesterday, think of the subtext. Barbie is now the equivalent of human sexy ladies? Or human sexy ladies are the equivalent of Barbie? Both options are pretty disturbing to me, since I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of a toy that supposedly encourages gender equality (or pays lip service to the idea) has added ‘centerfold’ to her cv. Again–many people have no problem with that. I wouldn’t want it for my daughters, but everyone gets to choose, you know? But Mattel is changing her image again, and putting her on the same level as actual women makes a stronger statement than they perhaps realized.

  • Momma425

    So I get to be at the store, in the check out line, arguing with my 4 year old girl about why we are not buying the “barbie” magazine.
    Thanks SI!

  • Elisa Probert

    I do agree that Barbie should probably not be in the Swimsuit edition, but then again, neither should anybody else, I guess I just don’t see her as ONLY a child’s toy. Probably due to the fact that I am an adult and collect them, if I view Barbie as just a child’s toy that makes me creepy. Well, I AM creepy but for other reasons.

    As far as what to say to a child asking about it…Barbie has no identity of her own. The reason she can have all those jobs and different looks and everything is because she is whatever you want her to be. Someone high up in the company decided he wanted his doll to be a swimsuit model. So that’s what she is. Your doll doesn’t have to be.

  • koreander

    While I’m fine with the pictures on principle, that video really creeped me out. Describing Barbie as the “perfect model” because she doesn’t move or speak or express emotions like a real person and lets herself be manipulated by the producers in whatever way they please is just… how do you call it when something makes you feel angry and disgusted at the same time? There must be a GIF for that.
    Plus, by speaking of her like that, they’re basically telling the other models in this shoot – real, living human beings with minds and feelings who are putting a ton of work into their career – that they’re being outdone by a piece of plastic. That, to me, is what’s truly insulting to women here.

  • Robotic Arms Dealer

    You people bash Barbie all the time because of her unrealistic proportions… but what about Jessie? She creates an even more impossible image for girls


    I mean, who the hell has a head that big?????

  • Dee

    I don’t believe that Barbie has any place appearing in the usually sticky pages of the SI swimsuit edition. I think her time as a little girl’s toy is over. At this rate the next Barbie release is going to be the blow up version!


    Agree. I’m not sure how Barbie fits in on the cover of this magazine…

    This got me thinking. I always played with Barbies growing up, but I never once thought I was supposed to look like one. However, I always (and still do!) compared myself to the other girls/women around me. I would actually get sad when I realized there were some beautiful girls I’d never look like.

    I was thinking about how it seems like it’s gotten so much worse for girls–that girls are comparing themselves to others and trying to live up to an unattainable standard of beauty more than ever before. I was wondering, why? Why is it so much worse now?

    Then, I realized something. I’m a high school teacher, and I have seen so many girls freak out over things they see on Twitter or Instagram. I’ve seen the stuff the girls themselves put on social media– selfies after selfies after selfies. Skimpy outfit after skimpy outfit. This is beyond self-empowerment or girl power– this is the idea that people think they can totally curate their life, their image, and essentially, their brand, online. People put the image out there on social media that they want people to think is actually who they are– and in this case, for teenage girls, that’s perfectly proportioned, perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect body. Everyone SEEMS perfect, so we think we need to live up to that. And because social media is instantaneous, it is right there, right in our faces, 24/7. Where, as a teen, I used to have like two or three girls I was insanely jealous of, girls now instantly see hundreds of thousands of faces and bodies–a day–of girls their age that they think they need to look like.

    End rant. Sorry. Off topic too. Clearly I’m getting old…and I’ve had too much wine tonight…

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      I think about this stuff constantly, and it’s true, it’s like the branding of the teenage girl, ugh

    • MERKIN

      I am SO GLAD I wasn’t a teenager when social media existed. I would have hated life.

  • Nick

    You are right on an my thoughts exactly. Do you think Mattell feels Barbie’s historical significance will justify a feature in Playboy? As a toy maker they have a responsibility to children, not their own legacy. The truth is they had 13% decline in sales from Q4 2012 and are looking to make a splash regardless of their core consumer. And they are totally #unapologetic about it.

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  • MelZ

    I just checked the comments on you tube. Eewww.

  • OhioSportzfan

    My question for Time Warner ,the NCAA and college administrations regarding the SI website is how can they include soft porn images of college-aged (or younger, many “rookies” are 18 and could be high school aged) sexualized women who are half-naked or naked (with body paint) and also be permitted to display licensed college logos when the website content clearly violates Title IX and its sexual harassment policy and violates the NCAA criteria for sexual harassment? Makes you wonder who is monitoring these things and the legality of it. Allowing licensed college logos gives the appearance that college administrations and the NCAA sanction the content of the website. If Sports Illustrated wants to run a porn site, they need to separate it from any inference that colleges participate in the content. It is an insult to women’s collegiate sports programs and considering the high instances of sexual assault on college campuses, committed by a high proportion of male athletes, it becomes even more offensive. Here is the link to the NCAA policy on sexual harassment, which clearly states “posting of sexually suggestive pictures,” which is what the swimsuit franchise is. http://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/S%2BHarassment%2BBrochure.pdf

  • Garett Phalen

    The True cover has very little in the way of swimsuit just call it Sports Illustrated : Jerk it off edition it`s trash nothing to do with sports even if they stick athletes in Bathing suits NOTHING TO DO WITH SPORTS let playboy or hustler do this garbage! in this day and age where they are trying to reduce images like this all air brushed and Photo shopped to perfection, Real Women do not look like this, scrawny ass thin women do not look like this. Other than that what’s left the blonde freak weightlifter woo hoo bring it on! just stick to sports your days as a “Gentlemen’s” Magazine are long gone.
    As a Adult male I have yet to buy a regular edition of Sports Illustrated even when it hit it`s height of popularity in the 80s! since then its just gone downhill!!!!

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  • Jenny

    I’ve been on the fence about Barbie, figuring I had some time before my 2 year old daughter would be interested in her. But Mattel has pushed me off the fence (not in their favor) as their stance on girls, beauty, and childhood has become loud and clear! Barbie in their eyes is a sex object and now unapologetically marketed as one. At least it’s now clear what the future of Barbie will look like– she’s jumped markets, formerly for children now for adults. I wonder if a life sizes doll (a la Lars and the Real Girl) is in production.

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  • MJ

    This is completely ridiculous, and I wrote about it here: http://asinnerspsalm.blogspot.com/2014/06/barbie-and-sports-illustrated.html

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