Barbie's New Purpose: To Make Men Hot #unapologetic

Barbie, a doll that little girls (and boys) play with, is on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, all grown up and ready to give men boners. The companies behind the campaign, Mattel and Sports Illustrated, say the theme of the campaign is “unapologetic.” I call it a bucketful of sleaze.

barbieHow did this creepy campaign come about? Mattel and Sports Illustrated decided to team up to celebrate 50 years of giving men an easy way to…um…relieve some tension before going to bed. In their sock. Or perhaps in a tissue.

Oh, wait. I’m sorry. 50 years of unapologetically celebrating the strength of women and our bodies, which were created for something other than serving the sexual needs of men.

Obviously. How silly of me.

So why put Barbie on the cover?

1- Mom vs. Mom

Mattel figured out a while ago that they could never convince moms like me that Barbie is good for our girls. So they’ve decided, “F*ck it, we don’t need them anyway.”

Instead, Mattel is going on the offensive and framing Barbie on the cover of Sports Illustrated as an anti-bullying campaign. "Don’t be intimidated by women trying to make you feel ashamed for looking good!" they're implying. Being hot is your prerogative.

By shifting the debate to a woman's right to be pretty, Mattel is essentially let off the hook. Now we fight each other, rather than focusing on the unhealthy body images products like Barbie perpetuate. It's sadly brilliant.

2- Virality

This is what really disgusts me. Mattel and SI are trying to reap the benefits of conflict, such as what we saw with the Cheerios campaign. They are actually hoping women get pissed off enough to write about it.

Why? Because controversy = clicks and clicks = more exposure and more sales. Remember, this isn’t about convincing women that Barbie and the swimsuit issue are good or even benign for girls and women. This campaign is about making women who may purchase Barbies or like the swimsuit issue feel under attack.

So now we're screwed. Say something and we're vilifying other women and feeding into Mattel and SI's pathetic ploy. Say nothing and the media continues to objectify women.

3- Desperation

Let’s be honest, not many people even give a shit about Barbie these days. Sales of this outdated toy have declined five out of the last six quarters with “sales falling 13 percent in the most recent quarter.” Can Barbie say, “Last ditch effort to stay relevant?”

In the vein of the Millionaire Matchmaker Patty Stanger (and pretty much every other show on Bravo), SI and Mattel are tacitly telling women they should want to be beautiful to men and that those who speak out against Barbie are nothing more than angry bullies.

What bullshit. Especially when you consider how many men masturbate while flipping through the swimsuit issue. Why would you put a child’s toy on the cover of a magazine issue men use to fantasize about women performing sexual acts on them or someone else?

Like Mattel has done for years, this campaign simply reinforces the link between Barbie and an over-idealized form of beauty, and shows how we continue to hyper-sexualize young girls and put pressure on them to be alluring. In just one photo, Mattel and SI also illustrate how low two companies are willing to go to stir up some controversy in order to garner attention and sales.

Rather than write Mattel and SI letters, I’m focusing instead on Target, which plans to sell (exclusively) a limited-edition Sports Illustrated Barbie. Feel free to pen your own or use mine. You can send it to them via Twitter @Target or through their email,

Dear Target,

I like your company and decided to stick by you, even after the security breach over the holidays that wreaked havoc on millions of your customers. But now we have a problem.

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which comes out next week, features Barbie on the cover. Yep, a child’s toy is on the cover of a magazine issue that is used mostly to encourage men to ogle women and masturbate. While I celebrate women’s bodies as much as the next gal, I believe placing Barbie on the cover is revolting and tells our girls that their bodies are for sale. Is that the message you want to be sending to all of the families that shop at your store?

I am requesting that you refrain from selling the limited-edition Sports Illustrated Barbie at Target. In doing so, you will win the love and loyalty of parents trying to foster an environment in which girls are celebrated for who they are, not their ability to turn men on.


Wendy Widom

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Filed under: In the Loop

Tags: sex, Target, women

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