Barbie scores a ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover

Barbie scores a 'Sports Illustrated' cover thumbnail

Since when do red-blooded male sports fans love playing with dolls?

Or, more bizarrely, who would think it was a good idea to link an iconic little girls’ brand with a men’s magazine that is on the cusp of soft porn?

The publishers of Sports Illustrated seem to think the idea is genius. To celebrate its 50th anniversary Swimsuit Issue Sports Illustrated has teamed up with Mattel to feature Barbie on a limited run cover and a four-page inside spread.


You read that correctly. Barbie as in the doll. On the cover of a men’s magazine full of hyper-sexualised semi-clad babes.

But wait, there’s more. Sports Illustrateds predominantly 30-something male audience can then go and buy an actual Sports Illustrated Barbie doll to…um…er…take home and play with.

Alternatively, a little girl who spots her favourite doll on the front cover of Sports Illustrated and mistakenly thinks it’s appropriate for her, can buy the magazine and get her first tutorial in perfecting her pouty, come-hither look.

Barbie will be joined in the magazine by supermodels past and present such as Tyra Banks, Elsa Benitez, ChristieBrinkley, Rachel Hunter, Kathy Ireland, Heidi Klum and Kate Upton.

According to the press release, [I]t’s the largest one-time gathering of Swimsuit cover models in history.

The only difference, of course, is that unlike the other iconic women, Barbie is a plastic toy.

Am I the only one who thinks that grown men perving on a little girls’ doll is on the wrong side of creepy?

If we assume that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue isn’t purchased for the articles, then seeking ‘entertainment’ from a plastic toy comes perilously close to enjoying the company of a blow up doll.

And while I’m in no position to judge, I suspect that most people would prefer to keep their polymer relations private. After all, the idea of preferring (or resorting to) plastic seems just a little bit pathetic.

Not completely oblivious to the inevitable flack they’re going to receive — not least from their readership who may find themselves looking like dirty pervs, or having to deal with their daughters wanting to take daddy’s magazine to school for show and tell — Sports Illustrated and Mattel launched a sorry-not-sorry preemptive strike with the twitter hashtag #Unapologetic.

‘The doll that started it all! Barbie is joining the ranks of legendary women in @SI_Swimsuit ‪…‪#Unapologetic ‪#SISwim50,’squeals the tweet from @Barbie.

Mattel spokesperson explained: ‘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,’

But perhaps I’ve got this all wrong and Sports Illustrated is just being nostalgic. This, after all is a return to Barbie’s roots.The inspiration for Barbie was Bild Lilli, a 1950’s German sex toy marketed to adults in bars and tobacco shops.

Or perhaps Sports Illustrated is more sophisticated than I’m giving them credit for. I mean, what better way to celebrate half a century of female objectification than with an object rather than a person?

Maybe they’re making a political statement about how ridiculous female beauty standards have become.

Unable to find a real woman — as in one with a pulse — hot enough for the readers of their anniversary edition, Sports Illustrated have thrown in the towel and resorted to a toy that were she alive, would not be able to stand upright.

The cover could be a clever piece of satire that says even with the benefits of expert photography, lighting and Photoshop, the sexiest woman in the world, is well, not a woman at all.

As Swimsuit Editor M. J. Day explains in the Swimsuit Issue press release, he’s merely continuing Sports Illustratedsdecade’s long feminist fight. ‘From its earliest days, Swimsuit has delivered a message of empowerment, strength and beauty and we are delighted that Barbie is celebrating those core values in such a unique manner.’

Sadly for Mr Day, it would appear his insightful campaign for female empowerment is falling on deaf ears. There’s no helping some women.

‘Now when you find your husband gazing adoringly at next week’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, you can be thrilled to know your daughter can also feel just as insecure as you do,’ snarks Eve Vawter on Mommyish.

And other ungrateful women have dared questioned whether ‘unapologetic’ is an appropriate catchphrase for a children’s toy.

Barbie’s implicit sexualisation has been a concern for many parents for years. But the Sports Illustrated-Mattel partnership has now made it explicit and undeniable. And what may have been lost on the blokes in the Sports Illustrated boardroom will probably be quite clear to their daughters.



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