Maybe Barbie Should Apologize

Reality and PerceptionIf you haven’t heard, Mattel – the maker’s of the Barbie doll – have paid Sports Illustrated to put Barbie in their Swimsuit Issue.  The move has been criticized, including by those who have pointed out that studies show that Barbie hurts the body image and self esteem of girls with her completely unrealistic and unattainable body. Mattel is shocked – shocked I tell you – at the body shaming of Barbie:

AdAge reports:

“Barbie is a legend in her own right, with more than 150 careers and a brand valued at $3 billion,” a Mattel spokeswoman said. “She is in great company with the other legends such as Heidi Klum and Christie Brinkley, to name a few.”

“As a legend herself, and under criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in ‘Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’ gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done, and be unapologetic,” the spokeswoman added.

Sports Illustrated also argues that the Swimsuit Issue celebrates women in a positive way. “From its earliest days, Swimsuit has delivered a message of empowerment, strength and beauty,” Swimsuit Editor M. J. Day said in a statement, “and we are delighted that Barbie is celebrating those core values in such a unique manner.”

First of all, when we talk about women and the core values of Sports Illustrated, let’s remember that Barbie’s lack of realistic proportions and humanity (and Mattel’s money) have allowed her in Sports Illustrated that few actual female athletes will ever get, especially female athletes of color. 

Let’s also be clear that Barbie isn’t so much “unapologetic” as she is inanimate. Mattel is pretending that Barbie is a real person with feelings and paralleling the criticism of a very profitable toy that has been shown to make girls more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own bodies as they grow older, with the body shaming that actual women experience (including the shaming done by those who are judging us for not looking like Barbie).  Mattel seems to be taking a page from Special K and half the haters who e-mail me, thinking it’s clever to take the tools of Size Acceptance activists and use them for the exact opposite effect.

I can’t say for sure that Barbie actually makes girls less satisfied for their bodies, I’m sure that there are women who weren’t/aren’t negatively impacted by Barbie, but studies show it’s certainly possible, Knowing that, I’m not that inclined to care about Barbie’s feelings of empowerment, or how apologetic she may or may not be.  As far as I’m concerned, when you find out that the children’s toy you manufacture might hurt children, the responsible thing to do is make a change, not double down, get defensive,  and act like those pointing out the issues should be ashamed of ourselves for hurting a doll’s fee fees.

Body shaming is a real thing, and it sucks no matter who is getting shamed.  It’s also not the same thing as industries that profit by creating unrealistic and unattainable ideals of beauty.  I can talk about the issues with the very specific types of bodies that Sports Illustrated chooses for their Swimsuit Issues – like why the women on the cover are so often models and so rarely athletes despite the fact that it’s a sports magazine – and the way that those bodies are photoshopped to create not just a rarely unattainable, but a completely unattainable standard of beauty.  And I can, and I feel I should, talk about that without ever once body shaming the models who were chosen by Sports Illustrated.

Maybe if Barbie was a real girl who could speak for herself, she would be apologetic.  Maybe she would apologize for the way that Mattel has used her for profitability, not just ignoring the fact that she may be harming girls but suggesting that those who point that out should be shamed for criticizing her, as if she is real. How dare we put the feelings of a plastic toy ahead of the positive body image of us and our kids – what are we thinking?  Thank god Mattel and Sports Illustrated are here to show us what’s truly important and in our best interest.

I for one will be showing them what I think is truly important and in my best interest by not buying their products.

EDITED to correct the fact that Barbie is going to be in the magazine but not on the cover.

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33 thoughts on “Maybe Barbie Should Apologize

  1. good points, thank you. Personally, though, my family didn’t have money growing up, and when my sisters and I got new dolls they were the shorter FRANCIE dolls. Rich peoples issues!

    1. Yeah when I heard “Sports Illustrated” and “empowerment” in the same sentence I would have laughed if it hadn’t been so enragingly ridiculous. There’s some double-speak for ya right there.

  2. hmmmmm, a plastic doll on the cover of sports illustrated?… they don’t have to ‘pay’ a person… in fact, they get paid to do it by the toy company. I’m concerned about sexualizing a doll that is played with by thousands of little girls.. it this maybe an inappropriate link to sexualizing those little girls, too?.. maybe I’m way out of the park on this, but if they wanted to put a ‘doll’ on the cover.. why not a blow up doll.. it would be more fitting.

  3. Barbie seems like the inevitable culmination of the whole ridiculous “swimsuit issue” thing. The weak pretense that it’s about female athletes is long gone; the question of whether they are even being viewed as human beings is now apparently being answered!

  4. The truly silly part of this is that it’s a gimmick Mattel is using to try to garner sales, which have been hurting. They saw a significant decline in 4th quarter sales, and this is the campaign they’ve come up with to try to stop that decline.

    Yeah, because so many little girls subscribe to Sports Illustrated, you know.

  5. Yes, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is soooooo empowering to actual women that the best representation to put there is… a plastic doll with body proportions that wouldn’t allow her to walk upright, if she was real, let alone participate in sports.

    I can’t recall a single time since I’ve been aware of its existence that the swimsuit edition has featured even one athlete. They’ve all been top-flight fashion models, and the swimsuits featured are rarely ones a woman could go swimming in. Its raison d’être has always been about softcore porn that daddy can pretend is sports journalism.

    If Sports Illustrated wants to empower women so damn much, maybe they could support actual women athletes by writing more cover stories about them.

    And Mattel seriously needs to unbunch their panties.

    Not that I’m the Underpants Overlord, or anything, but sheesh!

  6. Ragen, I agree with your general points about Barbie and about who is and isn’t on the Sports Illustrated cover, but I think what we’re also seeing is Sports Illustrated committing suicide.

    Granting that a lot of magazines are driven by advertising, I can’t see any reason to think men generally want to see a picture of Barbie rather than a picture of a woman, even if that picture of a woman is highly manipulated. I’ve never heard of a magazine showing so much contempt for its customer base.

    1. Exactly this! Why would they ever think men – who I am going to go ahead and assume is the primary target market of Sports Illustrated – would want to see a plastic doll on the cover? Especially when they are used to seeing scantily clad supermodels on the front of this issue. It’s strange in so many ways.

      1. There’s a joke that, given enough time, every organization appears to be led by the agents of its enemies.

        I think a lot of people (on both the left and right) have a gut-level belief that large businesses are competent at maximizing profits.

        However, motivation at the top can falter, the interests of executives can diverge from the interests of the business, and people can just ;plain get things wrong.

        This being said, Barbie on Sports Illustrated is just plain weird. Satirists cannot work under these conditions!

        My tentative theory is that executives at SI figure the magazine was doomed, so take some money from Mattel when you can. Or maybe Mattel bribed them.

    1. Best comment here. This situation is so absurd that I almost think something good might come of it. I always saw sports as a way to define myself against the prevailing standard of beauty. Sports weren’t about having to be sexy in the ways that society demanded. I’ve always thought the athletes that have appeared in SI-Swimsuit Issue were selling out, not to an ideal of athleticism but to boys/men who wanted to fap off. Cheapening themselves and detracting from their accomplishments. Dare I hope that this awakens people?

      1. TBH, I don’t think that many female athletes have appeared in these issues. Aren’t the “stars” primarily supermodels?

        Even so, I feel uncomfortable saying that an athlete is “cheapening herself” if by some chance she wears a bikini in a men’s magazine. It’s bad enough that men demand that women display themselves this way for positive attention (or to make money) even as they belittle us for doing so. I’d rather not add to the belittling, personally.

        1. This leaves me with a number of meta analysis questions about the constructs that lead women to pose.

          What are the values and norms that undergird their choice?

          What social constructs helped form those values and norms? How are women, sex, and sexuality viewed in their culture and family of origin?

          If it’s a question of empowerment, what leads them to think that this choice is an empowering one? Where did those beliefs come from?

          Is this a proactive choice, or a response to some internal or external stimuli?

          I’m not inclined to take a lot of things at face value, and this is one of them. I’m not judging anyone, but I’m curious about motivation and what makes us tick.

        2. Are you saying that it’s not demeaning? Or that if an action can be perceived as demeaning, we shouldn’t discuss that?

          1. No, I’m not saying that at all. For personal reasons, I just really, really dislike the idea that a woman athlete in a bikini “cheapens herself,” as if her decision to do so is made in a vacuum where no other issues other than her personal decision to dress (or undress) are in play. It’s not a woman’s body in and of itself that’s “cheap.” It’s the stereotypical idea that she’s only the sum of her body’s appearance; that in male eyes it’s made to blot out any other considerations about her life, intellect, skills, and what not that’s the problem, to me at least.

            Also, we’re still speaking hypothetically, aren’t we? As I said above, it’s news to me if actual athletes are appearing in SI‘s swimsuit issue. Has that even happened?

  7. I have sent an emailed comment to Sports Illustrated Kids suggesting to parents that they reconsider the images that their children are being socialized into given this action by the main Sports Illustrated company.
    (in that reading SI Kids is subtly socializing them to accept what is in SI for adults.) Now if I can find a contact for the regular SI magazine I will write to them. It’s just that the kids one popped up with a contact and I feel strongly about images that are unattainable by either dieting or sports and in fact, by both.

  8. And now that I think of it, it is not only women who suffer but men who are exposed to such unrealistic expectations are less likely to find real women satisfactory and thus more doomed to an unfulfilling quest.

  9. Just another reason to be glad I’m not a parent: I have happy memories of playing with Barbies as a little kid, but as a grumpy middle-aged woman and “fashion dissident” with body issues to spare… Ugh.

    I leaf through SI in the lounge at work sometimes and even their regular issues have only a tiny fraction of their pages devoted to women athletes. They’re a dinosaur and they can go kaput tomorrow for all I care.

  10. Oh, and now that I think about it: Things could be worse. At least the cover wasn’t awarded to that “What’s *Your* Excuse?” jackass whose stupid name I’ve already forgotten. :p

    1. I’m sick of people hijacking the word in an attempt to veil harmful, demeaning things under the guise of ’empowerment’.

  11. Am I the only one not surprised Mattel would hire age regressed women with the talent to talk about Barbie exactly like a ten year old would? You really have to be lacking in shame to be a grown adult and cry to people with valid criticisms of Barbie, “WWAAHHH! YOU HURT BARBIE’S FEELINGS!”

  12. Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    Someone is actually concerned that a plastic doll is under criticism about her body and how she looks?
    I bet the same fool that wrote this criticizes larger women every day for their bodies and how they look.
    I am gob-smacked.

  13. Barbie isn’t on every cover of this issue, just a certain percentage of them, and it’s on a wrap-around, not the cover itself. The actual cover features 3 bikini bottom-clad bra-less models arm-in-arm on a beach.

    I never owned one, myself. We couldn’t afford it. I got the rip-off Tammy doll. She was a different size than Barbie, a little bigger, so none of the Barbie clothes my friends had fit my doll so we couldn’t swap or share. All that taught me was that even my doll was too fat to be accepted or wanted by my friends, not just me.

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