If 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:
“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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