I first heard about Barbie being on the cover of the newest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in one of the local daily papers. Then I read this article and this article. My initial response to the first article was, “I think I shouldn’t let any more Barbies into our house.”
A few years ago, I had debated whether we’d let Barbie into our daughter’s life. Barbie does present an unrealistic body size to young children. That in itself wouldn’t necessarily be a horrible thing. However, as I’ve said before, combined with the many other homogeneous messages girls and women get from the culture, it is a problem. I was also conscerned about Barbie for environmental reasons. Barbie is made of PVC which, when made, unleashes a human carcinogen. Not to mention the fact that old Barbies which aren’t sold at garage sales or customized to give them new life or which are damaged end up in landfills. The final issue I have with her is one of social import. Mattel has faced controversies over the use of sweatshops.
During the time of this debating, I researched alternatives to Barbie and eventually got some of them for my daughter. These alternatives included Lottie doll and Only Hearts Club dolls. These two brands present dolls with children’s bodies. However, both still LOVE the colour pink and adhere to other gender stereotypes. Another alternative I quite like is the Mixi doll line; unfortunately, this doll line adheres to the idea that all women LOVE fashion and shopping.
In the end, I decided we could let Barbie into my daughter’s life so long as she also had dolls in a variety of sizes and styles. (I really wish I could find a 12″ doll with a realistic or even overweight body size.)
After some thinking about the Barbie Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue a bit, my second thought was, “Why doesn’t Mattel just put Barbie on the cover of Playboy Magazine and have done with it?”
Barbie aside, what does the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue have to do with sports? Nothing. Sure, some sports require swimsuits, but not the kind of swimsuits featured in that issue. The swimsuits in that issue are for one purpose: to sexually arouse the issue’s assumed-male (and, by extension, heterosexual) readers. I know women look at the magazine, too. Some look out of aesthetics; some may look to see what’s hot in swimsuits. However, the main audience the publishers seem to be trying to lure are heterosexual men who enjoy seeing the same stereotypical, sexualized objectification of women.
Does it make sense to put a doll on the cover of such a magazine? However “iconic,” however loved and collected by both children and adults she is, does it make sense to put this doll on the cover or in the pages of said magazine?
Well, sort of. A doll is an object. It rather goes along with the magazine’s seeming view of women. Also, Mattel’s sales are lagging. They need to get Barbie front and center in people’s minds. There are several ways to do this; however, one sure-fire way to do this is to do something controversial or shocking. (There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as the proverb goes.) Get everyone talking about Barbie. Sure, it could back-fire. However, it also could be just the kick in the pants that their sales need. That kind of thinking leads me to this conclusion: I’m not playing that game (other than blogging about the incident and, thereby, creating more publicity. Darn it.) They won’t be getting any more of my money any time soon, despite my recent interest in making doll crafts.
Some could argue that the Barbie spread in the swimsuit issue is geared more towards the adult collectors. After all, they are making a doll to tie in with the magazine spread. However, they are making a doll to tie in with the magazine spread. So even though the magazine isn’t geared towards kids, kids will get an idea of what’s going on by there being a doll based on it all.
Other people in the articles I linked early on in this blog have mentioned the fact that the attitude of this campaign is repugnant. “Unapologetic.” You want your doll to be more fully equated with stereotypes, oversexualization and objectification of women? That’s your choice, Mattel. I have the choice to send you a letter and give you a piece of my mind; however, given your attempt to obviate criticism [“As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in (the issue)… gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be #unapologetic”], I don’t think you’d listen. I also have the choice not to accept your view and not to buy your products. I, too, can be “unapologetic.”