Does Barbie Really Belong in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition?


It’s a match made in Barbie doll heaven.

Each year, in time for summer, Sports Illustrated features in its annual swimsuit edition bikini-clad bombshells with doll-like faces and Barbie-esque proportions. Well, this year the magazine is making waves (pun intended) by modeling in its pages–instead of a real woman–the buxom, blond toy herself.

Naturally, there’s been a bit of a backlash, with many accusing the men’s magazine–which has long been the center of controversy for its objectification of women–of further dehumanizing the female form by substituting it with that of a lifeless doll.

To top it off, on her webpage, Barbie (or, rather, Mattel, the doll company that sponsored the spread) defended her choice to appear in SI, referencing her past controversies and subsequent contributions to the feminist cause:

I, for one, am honored to join the legendary swimsuit models. The word “model,” like the word “Barbie®,” is often dismissed as a poseable plaything with nothing to say. And yet, those featured are women who have broken barriers, established empires, built brands, branched out into careers as varied as authors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They are all great examples of confident and competent women.

Today, truly anything is possible for a girl. Let us place no limitations on her dreams, and that includes being girly if she likes. It’s easy to say the culprit is the color pink or the existence of makeup. That’s easy, and predictable. Neither prevents girls from excelling in their own fashion. Let her grow up not judged by how she dresses, even if it’s in heels; not dismissed for how she looks, even if she’s pretty. Pink isn’t the problem.

We are not convinced. Is this spread, as Barbie claims, a step in the direction of female empowerment? Or does it only further subject little girls to unnatural and unhealthy standards of beauty? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo: Tracheotomy Bob via Flickr

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Rachel SilbersteinRachel Silberstein is a journalist and editor. She has written about politics, crime, health, immigration, religion and parenting. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Tablet Magazine, New York Daily News, Jewcy, Feet In Two Worlds, XOJane, and now, Kveller. She received a BA from Brooklyn College, where she served as editor in chief of the campus weekly, The Kingsman, and won two coveted journalism prizes for her investigative reporting. She lives in Brooklyn with her son and guinea pig.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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