In case you haven’t heard the latest word, Sports Illustrated (SI) infamous for it’s yearly Swimsuit Issue (SI) announced that along with the real life human models that are airbrushed and photo shopped in order to look like perfect Barbie Dolls, they are including a swimsuit photo spread using “real life” (plastic) Barbies. Take a moment and let that soak in.
According to an article in The New York Times, one of the motivations for Mattel, the toy company that is behind the Barbie Empire, has had a significant slump in sales lately. Sagging sales in this business is as unacceptable as sagging breasts and butts in the swimsuit industry so I figure that Mattel knew that SI would say, “Si Si” to the concept. And that is what happened. Along with paying Sports Illustrated an undisclosed amount of money for placement in the 50th anniversary issue, they have dressed the campaign in the strident feminist-ish theme of Unapologetic Barbie. NBC news labeled her as Defiant Barbie, CNN points out that Mattel is saying she is a legend and a role model, and Barbie, it seems, has nothing to apologize for. She is who she is flaws and all! That could be a great message to women…if it wasn’t coming from a doll that is…well….A DOLL!!!! But why do I find this so disturbing? After all, in some ways, this is much more honest than publishing pictures of real women that don’t really look the way the photos make them look. You don’t have to airbrush a Barbie Doll. No make up needed, no implants, no stretch marks, no cellulite…just pure honest to goodness plastic perfection! It is no skin off of my teeth (Ewww, I just really thought about that expression…it’s kinda gross!) who they put in their Swimsuit Issue. I never purchase it, never see it, and who am I to judge those who enjoy the annual ritual of ogling the photo spread’s collection of unattainable women?
But here’s the thing…the amount of body dissatisfaction reinforcement that events like this provide is huge. Not dissimilar to the Victoria’s Secret Angel Fashion Show, if you read the tweets and comments about the “Angels” and or SI’s swimsuit models they range from mild envy, to declarations of self loathing that border on suicidal. I know, it’s “their own fault,” they are adults who know what’s coming and no one is forcing them to watch or read any of it. But hidden there in that sentence is one word that is the catalyst for my really hating this Barbie Doll SI SI thing.
But the target audience for selling Barbie Dolls is little girls, not adults. And now that, for some reason, more girls are saying, “Adios Barbie!” Mattel needed a booster shot. The publicity they are getting for making this decision (and by writing this I too am guilty of giving them attention) is enormous! Dozens of newspapers and Good Morning America are bringing this topic out in the open for all to discuss. The juxtaposition of the Barbie Doll along side photos of human models that in some people’s eyes are considered over-sexualized is also up for debate. What meta-message is being sent with this cover photo on the Anniversary Issue?
The Chicago Tribune presents both sides of the story, quite effectively, and includes a quote that really resonates with me.
“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,” Eve Vawter, editor of the blog Mommyish, wrote in a post Wednesday. “Barbie is no longer just a doll. She is a sex doll.”
One of my favorite quotes about selling women self-hate and then capitalizing on them by selling them supposed cures for the self-hate is written by John Berger in The Ways of Seeing. Berger writes,
“The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself.”
Clearly, SI has determined that there is no age restriction on selling body hate and unattainable goals for physical beauty and perfection. You are never too young to start hating yourself and wishing you looked like a Barbie. And I have a problem with this. Do you think I am being too sensitive? Do you think I should have a more live and let live attitude, let it be, and trust that parents will say, “No No” to the SI SI when the kids see it at the grocery store check out line and want to look at the Barbie!!?
I have written quite candidly over the years about body image from a self-proclaimed, loosely defined, feminist perspective. And I am the first person to suggest that I may have some bias from having grown up in the 60’s. But these are not rhetorical questions. I am really open to respectful debate on this. What do you think?
***Remember the last week of February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week! If you purchase a copy of Dr. Deah’s Calmanac from my website during the month of February, I will send you a free refrigerator magnet or bumper sticker with the sassy slogan, “My only weight problem is YOUR problem with MY weight.” I am also thrilled to announce that you can support your local bookstore (and still receive the free gift) by purchasing Dr. Deah’s Calmanac at the following locations in California.
Just take a selfie at the bookstore with The Calmanac and your gift will be in the mail!!