Unapologetic Barbie girl

Life in plastic is fantastic, according to Barbie. But now she’s extending her reign beyond the childish world of toys and onto the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. So move over, ‘Kate Uptons’ of the industry. You’ve got some competition…from a plastic doll.

For it’s 50th anniversary, Sports Illustrated is using a Barbie as its cover model, a result of Mattel and Sports Illustrated’s latest team up.  (Get a sneak peak here: Barbie on SI cover) So yes, a skinny, unrealistic, objectified model is now being replaced with an even skinnier, more unrealistic, more objectified doll. The human factor is completely gone. And the big issue that comes up is the message being promoted — is ‘fake’ the new ideal? Over time, the modeling industry has already gone through major changes with thinner women and extreme Photoshop — for many, it defines the standard of beauty, and that standard is pretty much unattainable. Unless you’re a plastic Barbie. And replacing a human with a fake doll just looks like the ultimate destination of where this trend was headed.

So when I heard about all this, my first reaction was: How dare they? As a female, of course it pains me to see two huge brands, already controversial in regards to body-image and portrayal of women, combine. It’s poison to the millions of girls already drowning in a materialistic, judgmental, ‘looks-obsessed’ society. What are they suggesting? Models need to be even more fake? Or that the innocent doll needs to be more ‘mature’? Both are dangerous extremes.

I took a step back and decided that Barbie isn’t to blame. As I remembered my childhood, filled with treasured Barbie dolls, I thought about my own feelings as a kid. Sure, now I realize the illogicality of Barbie’s figure, but back then I never felt body-conscious looking at the doll. It was just a toy, and frankly I had more important things to worry about, like completing my Dream House collection. Plus her hair was pretty stiff and difficult to brush. No sir, as a naive five-year-old — and even now — I had and have no desire to be a Barbie. Whether on the cover of Sports Illustrated or not, I don’t think Barbie enforces the negative body-image perception. It’s the people that make a big deal out of the tiny-waist-long-legs -perfect-features and consequently harm the ears of younger girls — when really, the most important thing is to remember and remind that it’s just a toy. And that ‘perfect,’ of course, has no one singular definition.

With that being said, the Barbie about to be plastered on as the face of Sports Illustrated is stirring quite a debate, even within my own head. The mix itself is so odd. A children’s toy just doesn’t seem to have a justified place in an issue targeted towards men. According to The New York Times’ latest article on the story, apparently both brands are looking to strike some major marketing genius, by calling this campaign ‘Unapologetic.’ By doing so, they acknowledged the critics that often say Barbie isn’t a good female role model and that Sports Illustrated objectifies women. And I guess rather than tone down the SI swim editions or add a little weight and more real proportions to Barbie (which obviously would never happen), they want to radically join forces and tell the world, ‘We don’t care.’ Or more diplomatically, “they are proudly ‘unapologetic’ about who they are,” as The NY Times stated.

Even with that pride, both Mattel and Sports Illustrated say they want to improve their reputations and refute the negative perceptions against their brands. They’re churning Barbie into a more legendary female model as ‘The doll that started it all.’ Of course they didn’t give into the ‘positivity’ aspect easily. They must have have turned to it because the negative complaints hit them where it hurts the most — their wallets.

 The NY Times eloquently said, “The efforts at Mattel to reshape Barbie’s image may be taking on added urgency after sales results during the crucial holiday shopping season, which fell short of expectations among investors and corporate management. ‘The reality is, we just didn’t sell enough Barbie dolls,’ Bryan G. Stockton, chief executive, said.”

Whether this partnership was a desperate image-makeover to increase sales or a carefully selected creative choice, it’s almost as if both brands are fighting fire with fire. Let’s combine the negative stereotypes of two companies and mesh them…a negative times negative does make a positive, after all. That rule works under the law of mathematics, but will it function in this latest social debate?

The discussion has already begun. Let’s find out how the effects and consequences start to take shape once the SI issue comes out on Tuesday, when Barbie makes her first official swimsuit modeling debut.

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