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OpEd: Barbie’s swimsuit edition illustrates what’s wrong with Mattel

Ad campaign tells our young daughters that they should aspire to be playthings when they grow up.
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Gord Woodward, February 14, 2014 3:28:17 PM

Barbie has made a career out of reinventing herself. She’s had more than 50 vocations over her lifetime, from Doctor Barbie to RCMP Officer Barbie, which is one of the reasons she’s a role model — for Millennials, who can’t keep a job either.

But her latest incarnation may be her most dubious. Inappropriate For Little Girls Barbie, you see, has a large advertising spread in Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit edition.

You know, the one men read for the articles.

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That’s right. “The doll that started it all” has indeed started it all over again — and by that we refer to the debate over how this soul-less plastic toy made by Mattel can even be allowed near our impressionable young daughters, given the objectifying messages she’s sending.

On the one side is Barbie, proudly unapologetic for the ad campaign; on the other, moms and dads of little girls. And like any debate with someone whose head contains nothing but air, this one’s pretty one-sided, in favour of the parents and common sense.

A toy that touts itself as a role model for girls has no place in a magazine that sells out at newsstands largely because it’s the only one featuring naked women that isn’t kept behind the counter. What’s next from the Mattel marketing department, a leaked Barbie sex tape? (That’s highly unlikely, by the way, since Ken, Barbie’s guy, doesn’t have a penis. Which, come to think of it, makes him a role model for the men we’d like to see our daughters marry.)

The promotional campaign is simply indefensible. The readers of the swimsuit edition are, overwhelmingly, men who have zero interest in dolls (unless they’re inflatable) and endless interest in T&A. Barbie certainly isn’t the only female in the magazine to have some manufactured parts, nor to have a body that doesn’t resemble anything we see in the real world. But she is the only one who spends her life as a make-believe companion of young girls; her tremendous influence on them makes her highly unsuitable for sexualization.

Putting her among bikini bods and body-painted boobs is just bad business. And let’s hope it is bad for business. The Barbie brand was already slumping, and all the negative press can only accelerate the slide.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by the ads, though. Sports lllustrated, after all, is pretty simpatico with Barbie: both are icons in North American culture that grate on women for their portrayals of the female gender.

In 2013 the magazine says it produced 113 covers — and a woman appeared on exactly two of them. Both times it was supermodel Kate Upton, whose only connection to sports is the eye-popping stats that make her a male fan’s dream: her measurements. Barbie has nothing in common either with the pro athletes who fill the weekly magazine’s pages, other than her inability to complete a sentence.

Well, this campaign shows us there’s one more incompatible pairing: Barbie and our daughters. Aside from sharing a desire to want to be all grown up, they are in very different worlds so we parents should put a few galaxies of space between them. See Mattel? You’re not the only ones who can be unapologetic.

And as for those marketing wizards at Mattel? They need to follow Barbie’s lead — and find a new job.

Image: AP Photo/Sports Illustrated

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Gord Woodward


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