— Barbie (@Barbie) February 12, 2014
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Swimsuit Issue – which hits stands Feb. 18 — Sports Illustrated thought it’d be cool to feature Barbie (a plastic doll that has come to symbolize unattainable beauty standards) alongside models Christie Brinkley and Brooklyn Decker (living, breathing human women) in a promotional cover wrap as part of a campaign dubbed #Unapologetic.
What. In. The. Actual. Fuck.
Turns out, it’s all part of a marketing initiative spearheaded by Barbie’s makers, Mattel, to rehabilitate Barbie’s image and push back against the haters (who are, like, just going to hate, you know?)
“In essence, Barbie is always asked to apologize for what she looks like. And the message there is to be unapologetic,” Mattel spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni is quoted as saying in a Time blog post titled “In Defense of Barbie: Why She Might Be the Most Feminist Doll Around.” (UGH STOP TROLLING ME EVERYONE.)
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor MJ Day is also buying into the Barbie-As-Feminist notion.
According to the Associated Press, he said Barbie fits in with the swimsuit issue’s “message of empowerment” for women. (Oh, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, that ol’ bastion of women’s empowerment.)
In the Time piece, Charlotte Alter, argues:
The great irony of the Barbie debate is that we spend so much time talking about how she looks and so little time talking about her careers — all 150 of them. She represents beauty and materialism, sure, but she also represents mutability, imagination and professional possibilities. If we took her work life half as seriously as we took her waist measurement, we could use Barbie as a way to talk to girls about the jobs they want, not the bodies they want. Barbie knows how to ask for a promotion, you can give her that.
(I wonder what kind of qualifications one needs to pursue one’s dream of being Totally Hair Barbie?)
Here’s the thing, though: those glass ceilings Barbie’s so busily smashing with her painfully perma-arched feet?
They’re much easier to bust through for a woman who has access to all the privilege that comes with being a white, thin, young, conventionally attractive, blonde, blue-eyed woman WHO IS ALWAYS SMILING.
To be a woman is to constantly apologize for what you look like.
Being #unapologetic about living in (and loving) a body that society — a society that venerates Barbie dolls — has othered, has deemed less than, has called worthless, is a radical act.
Being #unapologetic for looking like Barbie? Check your privilege, Barbs. My heart weeps for you and your struggle.
Besides, if Mattel was really, truly interested in rerouting the conversation away from Barbie’s looks, maybe it wouldn’t, I don’t know, buy her way into the fucking Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?
All of this is moot, though, because Barbie is NOT A REAL PERSON.
She is a child’s plaything. We don’t need to be concerned about Barbie’s feelings, nor do we need to be concerned about a corporation’s feelings.
What we need to be concerned about is the fact that a hunk of plastic is sharing the same space as living, breathing, thinking, feeling women — and being discussed as such in Time blogs.
• • •
I am a recovering Barbie girl.
I have about 150 dolls in my parents’ basement that, in their playtime heyday, used to star in some pretty steamy scenarios straight outta Days Of Our Lives.
Not coincidentally, when I was five, I used to be singularly obsessed with having straight, blonde hair.
Specifically, I used to fantasize about having a swishy, golden ponytail that I could toss nonchalantly over my shoulder. (Hot, right?)
Instead, my ponytail was more of a pigtail: a singular brown ringlet that barely cleared a (purely decorative) scrunchie.
I was not permitted to dye my hair because I had parents but, occasionally, I would successfully talk my mom into using her ‘flat iron’ — which, back then, consisted of two squares of hot metal that took MY WHOLE LIFE to heat up — to flatten out said little curl into a crispy, Dep-slathered tuft that protruded straight from the back of my head, like I was permanently walking into a gale-force wind.
When the mirror would inevitably reveal a reality didn’t match my fantasy, I would do what any rational five year old with highly evolved sartorial standards would do: I would scream at my mom to “make it longer.”
In summation, BARBIE RUINS LIVES.