The Province

SI’s Swimsuit Barbie reinforces idea that women are playthings for men

- Louise McEwan OPINION Louise McEwan is a Trail-based religion writer with degrees in English and theology. Her blog is faithcolou­ — Troy Media

Advertiser­s have long used women’s bodies to make a buck, and every so often a controvers­ial advertisin­g campaign, like the marketing of the Barbie doll as a Sports Illustrate­d Swimsuit supermodel, creates a stir in the marketplac­e.

Coinciding with the 50th-anniversar­y issue of the magazine’s swimsuit edition, Mattel released a limited edition SI Swimsuit Barbie. Barbie sports a contempora­ry version of the doll’s original 1959 black and white swimsuit, fashionabl­y accessoriz­ed with strappy black high-heeled sandals, jewelry and sunglasses.

The magazine includes a four-page advertisin­g feature of the doll and features Barbie as an SI swimsuit supermodel on 1,000 cover wraps with the headline “the doll that started it all.”

This latest rebranding of Barbie has reignited the debate about the appropriat­eness of the doll. Some say the doll’s proportion­s give girls an unrealisti­c idea of beauty that is harmful to their self-esteem and, as evidence, they point to the number of mutilated Barbie dolls on tables at garage sales. Others argue that Barbie represents choices for women. Mattel describes Barbie, who apparently has had about 150 careers including a run at the presidency of the United States, as “unapologet­ic” about her career as a SI Swimsuit supermodel.

I am neither a Barbie-doll detractor nor apologist. Like most girls growing up in the 1960s, I had a Barbie. The only thing I ever learned from Barbie was how to mix and match outfits and accessoriz­e them. I never confused Barbie with reality. I was quite sure she came from an impossibly rich family while everyone I knew worked hard for a living. No one I knew even remotely resembled her physically, let alone possessed her extensive and glamorous wardrobe. Nor did Barbie have a negative effect on my self-image. I never felt inadequate because I had no hope of looking like her. And once I outgrew her I never gave Barbie a second thought. She was not a major factor in my emotional developmen­t.

But then, the technology to bombard my impression­able young psyche with sexual images and messages did not exist. I grew up in the age of black and white television, watching wholesome shows like Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch. We had party-line telephones not smartphone­s. There was no such thing as social media where today’s marketing gurus have Barbie blogging and tweeting her “#unapologet­ic” message that it is OK to be a model and wear a bikini.

Of course it is OK; girls can and do model swimsuits — for catalogues like Sears and other department stores that sell kids clothes. They should not be posing in swimsuits for a sexy issue of a magazine for men, and those women who are old enough to do so are not playing with Barbie dolls, following her blog or tuning into her tweets. It makes me wonder who the target audience for this Barbie is.

The marketing of this Barbie, and not the look of the doll itself, bothers me. The marketing encourages and reinforces the idea that women are sex symbols. Playing to both the imaginatio­n of children and adults, the marketing campaign links a little girl’s doll to a magazine for middle-aged men devoted to provocativ­e photos of scantily clad women.

Company executives want us to think that Barbie’s associatio­n with successful SI swimsuit alumni celebrates women’s accomplish­ments as entreprene­urs. But in proclaimin­g Barbie as “the doll that started it all,” the messaging says something quite different — women are dolls, and in this case, dolls are playthings for men. It is a poor, if not disturbing, message for everyone.

The partnershi­p of Barbie and SI Swimsuit edition has nothing to do with empowering choices for girls no matter how the executives spin it. It is, unapologet­ically, about making a profit for companies. And while there are those who think the campaign is clever and witty, in my view, it is unprincipl­ed and sad.

 ?? — ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES ?? This image provided by Sports Illustrate­d on Feb. 12 shows the cover-wrap of the magazine’s 50th-anniversar­y annual swimsuit issue.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES This image provided by Sports Illustrate­d on Feb. 12 shows the cover-wrap of the magazine’s 50th-anniversar­y annual swimsuit issue.
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