The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition has long been a magazine of pure fantasy for men across America and beyond. The unrealistic depictions of women have graced the cover since its inception, with images of celebrities such as Tyra Banks, Cindy Crawford and Elle McPherson. But SI has gone even farther with its 2014 edition, moving from suggesting women are no more than sexual eye candy to effectively, and most creepily, putting Barbie on the coveted cover.
Why, oh why, would Mattel, which has owned the rights to Barbie since 1964, think putting the doll on the cover of SI is a good idea? Perhaps it was an effort to increase their declining Barbie sales? They’ve been down the last two quarters. That might explain the hashtag that accompanied Barbie on the cover — #unapologetic.
Whether #unapologetic was meant for Mattel or SI is cloudy, but its message toward women is crystal clear: We put hot women on the cover and Barbie is hot and we’re not going to apologize for either of those things. But Barbie is not a person. It’s a bloodless mass produced doll, a child’s play toy, and has no business being on the cover of a magazine men leer at from the age of 12 till death.
Mattel has fought a long hard battle against mothers and activists who argue the doll’s figure is unrealistic and, more importantly, unattainable for women.
According to a study done by Yale University, if Barbie’s proportions were put into human form, the woman would be at least 7 feet 2 inches tall, and unable to stand straight because the weight of her breasts would throw off her center of gravity. She would also have a neck length of 3.2 inches, and a waist measurement six inches smaller than the national average for women.
With these proportions, Barbie would not have the necessary body fat to produce a menstrual cycle.
This focus on body image and its negative impact on young girls sends a dangerous message that not even Photoshopped perfection meets the standards of what men deem attractive. Women just don’t make the cut anymore so we are going to put artificial women on the cover. #unapologetic objectification.
Trying to market a child’s play thing on a magazine cover meant for men goes far beyond objectifying women, it’s a bad business move for Mattel. I can’t imagine a lot of mothers changing their minds or being open to buying for their daughters a toy that graces the cover of a magazine men use for long showers and as beer cave wall décor.
Instead of launching a positive image campaign, which could address the issues that have caused sales to decline in the first place, Mattel markets the doll on the cover of a magazine that has nothing to do with kids. So the question must be asked: To whom is Mattel is really marketing? It’s not to daughters, wives, sisters or mothers. It’s being marketed to men. But last I checked, men weren’t big spenders in the Barbie doll-buying pool, so I can’t see how it will help save Barbie from low-sales doom.
And what message does it send to a son whose dad or big brother buys a magazine with an inanimate object on its cover promoting an unattainable physical appearance for women? It says that white, blonde, thin and big busted is what makes the cover. It says that what puts a woman on top and makes her successful — instead of hard work, a good attitude, and the ability to have an intellectual conversation – is looks.
The photographer who did the photo shoot for Barbie said the doll was the best model he ever worked with because it just took direction and “didn’t ask any questions.”
It all comes down to SI and Mattel being #unapologetic for marketing something completely impossible. If anything, they owe society an apology for false advertising. Sorry SI and Mattel. #notbuyingit.