“She’s a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.” Just hearing those words conjures up an image. Thin. Pretty. Busty. Perfect. So it came as no surprise when Mattel (via paid advertising) and the editors of Sports Illustrated opted to feature the classic doll, Barbie, in this year’s 50th anniversary edition. So where’s the controversy?
When Barbie first appeared in 1959, she became an instant rock star. You’d be hard pressed to find a young woman today who didn’t own at least one. She had the best clothes, accessories, car, house and, of course, perfect boyfriend, Ken. I recall happy, carefree memories of packing up Barbie in her special case, clothes hung on hangers, shoes tucked neatly in pull out drawers to walk down the street to my best friend’s house to play dolls for hours. There we would use our imaginations to create scenarios for how our adult, Barbiesqu lives would look – laying by the pool, cooking in our kitchen, going shopping, teaching school, driving in a sports car and, my favorite, donning gorgeous gowns and heels for a night out!
So when my daughters were in early elementary school, it came as no surprise when Barbie appeared in our home. But this time, it began at a much earlier age, my one coveted Barbie was replaced with several and the accessories seemed to reflect today’s career woman – Barbie as a perfectly coiffed, high-heel wearing doctor, businesswoman and a briefcase carrying pilot (yes, Barbie the pilot!).
However, now as an older, wiser woman, I am keenly aware of the subtle and not so subtle messages this doll sends to young girls. To say her body size is unrealistic is a huge understatement. In fact, it’s been noted that if her measurements were translated to a live person, her waist would be so narrow she wouldn’t have room for all her organs, her wrists so tiny she couldn’t carry anything heavy (like her pilot’s case!) and her feet so small, she would have to walk on all fours. No comment on her breasts except to say she would clearly have back pain. Her possessions – clothes, furniture, homes, pools, cars, and boats – are certainly out of reach for most people.
It actually came as no surprise then to hear she would be placed among the unrealistic, “photo-shopped”, one-in-a-million swimsuit models that fill the pages of this sexualized, once-a-year (thankfully) publication. That’s where Barbie belongs.