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Should Barbie and Sports Illustrated be #unapologetic?

Posted by Alex Pearlman  February 13, 2014 11:01 AM

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Finally, Sports Illustrated has found someone more plastic than a supermodel! For the 50th anniversary of its swimsuit issue, the magazine is devoting a spread to...Barbie.

Yes, that Barbie, in a big-splash public relations move that merges two controversial brands (Mattel is issuing a commemorative doll) and tosses another firebomb into the ongoing conversation about body image and the media. To promote the move, both brands are using the hashtag #unapologetic, and Mattel is arguing that Barbie is a victim. "Under criticism about her body and how she looks," says a company statement, "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.”

Have you been concerned about Barbie's self-esteem? Angry about persistent body image pressure? Add your thoughts to the comments, or tweet us @BostonComment.

Wrong hashtag sentiment

Too sexy for my kid

IMG_0102.JPGI’m almost expecting there to be a Victoria’s Secret fashion show appearance by Barbie next. Or perhaps she can be featured in the next Pirelli calendar. These are other things that are considered “sexy.” Why stop with the Swimsuit Issue? My kid is nine. She plays with Barbie. At this age she isn’t too concerned with what is considered “sexy” out there in the great big world, as it should be. She should be allowed to just think Barbie is pretty or fashionable and play with her as a toy, which is what she is. Our girls are only so young for such a very short time, and taking one of her toys and putting it alongside sexualized and dehumanized images of women to fall under the male gaze is wrong on so many levels. It’s bad enough this toy is sexualized as much as it is, and by sticking her in with other women in a sexy photo spread we are making no doubt about it. Barbie is no longer just a doll. She is a sex doll. Think about that the next time your daughter wants one in the toy aisle.
Eve Vawter, @evevawter
Editor of

Back off and give the girl some credit

headshot 100x100.jpegLike most of the other faces that have graced the cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue over the past 50 years, Barbie is a model. Her main occupation is to wear trendy clothing and pose with a big smile. But unlike some other SI cover girls, Barbie has proven her mettle in numerous other careers as well, from public teaching to politics, to space exploration, to the United States Marine Corps. Manufacturer Mattel has also taken Barbie's critics into consideration as trends have shifted away from Pamela Anderson-esque breasts and impossible waistlines. Today's Barbie is still slim, blonde, and unrealistic. But she's got more positive traits these days than negative ones, and one look at her new and improved shape is enough to inspire a nod of approval from concerned moms. Barbie will always be a healthy role model for girls and young women, and as a person who grew up with her and admires her courage both on the basketball court and in the board room, I'm glad her longevity and passion is recognized by SI.
Alex Pearlman, @lexikon1
Producer, Boston.comment

‘Unapologetic’ And Uninspired

d1c833e37f946c4adaa2fdafec32e9e2.jpegMattel seems to be trying to deflect criticism that it promotes unrealistic standards of body image by suggesting that discussions of Barbie’s physique are equivalent to shaming people who are heavier or who have different proportions than she does. Even Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, which primarily targets men with its images of scantily clad women, gets to be part of this unapologetic, embattled group. Mattel is choosing to simply ignore the increasingly urgent need to re-think Barbie’s model for the modern world. Even Barbie’s Sports Illustrated cover emphasizes the doll’s heritage, not her future.
Aviva Shen, @avivash

How do you define 'legendary'?

amyjussel-120x160.jpgIf SI truly wanted to cover legendary women in sports instead of ogle fests, they'd show women ripping up the slopes vs. ripping off the clothes. Otherwise, their swimsuit issue is yet another body-over-success positioning that diminishes athletes' credibility compared to boy-toy male gaze perusal. Vapid..and horrifically wrong given that a TOY is now owning this 'pinnacle of success' depiction of women's worth. It saddens me that they can't connect the dots and see how this is fouling up kids' healthy sexuality when girls are narrowcast into role of hottie, and boys are expected to behave in a predatory, drool-pool manner of lewd and lascivious commentary.
Amy Jussel, @ShapingYouth
Founder and executive director,


Sports Illustrated produced a backstage video about the cover shoot that focuses on Barbie's experience.

See what they forced Kate Upton to live through. At least Barbie got a soundstage!

Bigger problems?

More funny than infuriating

578314c300e3a4886ed0b77c560fb4ac.jpegIt's hard to think of a pop culture phenomenon that has given more
feminists ulcers than Barbie dolls or the SI swimsuit issue. The combination of the two, combined with the #unapologetic hashtag, is super-obnoxious, totally juvenile.... and absolutely hilarious. We repeatedly call on companies to be honest about their ornegative practices. By putting together a package designed to anger a good chunk of American society, Sports Illustrated has done just that. Put aside your feelings about both brands for a moment and admit that Sports Illustrated is being honest about its product. The controversy over the cover is certainly worth a giggle.
Noah Guiney, @noahguiney
Boston Globe editorial board

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weiss.jpegBoston.comment is an exchange for ideas about Boston and beyond, brought to you by the Boston Globe editorial page and edited by Globe columnist Joanna Weiss. We're the sponsor of's #LabDebates and the creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure mayoral game.

Our producer is Alex Pearlman, with contributions (and sea monsters) from Noah Guiney. To join the conversation, post a comment, tweet with our daily hashtag, or follow us on Twitter @BostonComment.

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