It’s mid-February, and that means it’s that time of year again for many red-blooded heterosexual American men — the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is hitting the newsstands. And given the bitterly cold weather we’ve experienced here, I’m sure this special SI is going to be, um, well read.
It’s been a long time since I’ve actually picked up my own copy of this yearly extravaganza — in fact, I think it’s safe to say that my swimsuit-issue purchasing ended right around the time I got involved with Becca. I feel it important to emphasize that I was never once told I couldn’t buy it; I simply thought it immeasurably wise not to. Plus, I’ve got to admit that my attitude toward what once was a must-have February publication has changed as I’ve gotten older.
Being a parent, unsurprisingly, brings an ever-shifting perspective, as my attitudes on moral issues have evolved into being a little more conservative than I’d ever imagined. Having kids today in a society in which, for instance, oversexualized entertainment personalities are seen as idol-worthy is one major challenge. There are “what does this mean?” (“did they really say that?”) song lyrics. There are Disney Channel TV shows geared toward tweens that constantly bring up boyfriends and girlfriends — people that shouldn’t be critical in the lives of 9- and 6-year-olds, but are at least suggestively promoted to be so.
And now, Sports Illustrated has Barbie on the cover of its swimsuit issue. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy duddy … fiddlesticks.
Thanks to a partnership between Mattel and SI, Barbie will feature on a promotional cover-wrap that will appear on 1,000 copies. (So, she’s not really the cover girl this year. She’s a cover girl for collectors — is that better or worse?) She’ll also star in a four-page advertising feature in the issue, along with video outtakes posted online. Additionally, there’s a brand-new Barbie out for this occasion, available at Target. (But can you imagine what Barbie would do with all those credit-card numbers? Talk about a shopping spree!)
To all this I say, “Bah, humbug.” Actually, that’s not sufficient. There’s an excellent online article I read Monday under CNN Living that does an A-plus job at detailing the exceptions I take. The piece mentions a “Mommyish” blog, “The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Will Feature Barbie, So Your Daughter Can Feel Bad Too,” and explains that posts like this “underscore criticism of the partnership for using a children’s toy to promote sexualized images for adults.”
States Alia Salem, a “nonprofit executive,” in the CNN piece: “People who say it (Barbie) is just a doll obviously don’t realize how it shapes thinking while playing house. If the image of what (you’re) imagining yourself as is never attainable and is billed as what to strive for, you’ll always be disappointed.” This is true — as if air-brushed photos of scantily clad women in bikinis weren’t enough, we’ve now got Barbie herself to contribute to a self-esteem crisis.
On top of Barbie’s appearance itself, the entire promotion is being centered upon a single-world slogan, “#unapologetic.” (For those who reside far outside the world of Twitterverse, the hashtag is a Twitter character that allows folks to share tweets on the same subject with one another). Said a Mattel spokeswoman to CNN: “Barbie, for the first time, has an active voice … with her #unapologetic stance. The goal of the campaign is to empower fans to engage and celebrate all that makes them who they are.”
Sure. Say what you will about Barbie’s idealized form of beauty, but at least the dolls have promoted all kinds of different career choices and interests over the years, potentially stimulating similar interests in young girls. Barbie in a swimsuit doesn’t do any of this, as far as I can tell.
Wrote another woman on Twitter, as quoted by CNN: “I am #unapologetic for being grossed out by Mattel’s desperation. Pairing up with Sports Illustrated to put Barbie on a cover mag? #yuck.”
Those comments, to me, are right on. As are these, as shared by a grandmother on Twitter and also cited in the CNN article: “Parents need to remember THEY should be the positive role in their child’s life, not toys or Hollywood or athletes.”
As Charlie Sheen would say, “#winning.”