Flawless? Give me a Break

Sarah Orbuch, Sports Editor

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, the magazine is going plastic. Last week, Mattel and Sports Illustrated announced that they’d collaborate to put Barbie on the cover and place a four-page advertising feature inside the magazine. Their campaign is titled Barbie #Unapologetic.

Mattel dubbed the campaign #Unapologetic after Sports Illustrated received criticism for featuring an inanimate object on its cover. Barbie is “unapologetic” for her star-studded life, which began in 1959. Since her creation, Barbie has worked hundreds of jobs— from paratrooper, ambassador for world peace, princess, hairdresser to McDonald’s cashier. Now, she can add Sports Illustrated swimsuit model to her résumé.

While Mattel claims that this campaign “gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are and celebrate what they have done,” when I see a doll in a swimsuit, with perfectly formed boobs to match an impeccably sculpted butt; I wonder what workout routine she follows.

The idea that there is a plastic toy pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated is a little creepy, but at least there was no complaining at the photo shoot. Swimsuit issue fans can also sleep soundly knowing that Barbie’s photos were not retouched. The amazon is as perfect on camera as she is in real life.

Although I have never been a huge fan of Sports Illustrated or their swimsuit issue, I’ve never taken issue with their choice of models. For instance, Alex Morgan is one of my favorite soccer players on the United States women’s national team, and her photo spread in this year’s swimsuit edition did not prompt me to discredit her abilities on the pitch.

But Barbie is not Alex Morgan, who is a living and breathing human and has proven to be a positive role model for many young, aspiring soccer players. Unlike the cover’s false heroine, Morgan started playing club soccer when she was 14 years old, much later than most elite soccer players and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley a semester early with a degree in political economy. While she may not have as extensive a résumé as Barbie, Morgan has imparted more valuable lessons to young athletes than the doll who beat her out for the cover— something Sports Illustrated should have considered when it dedicated its highly visible swimsuit edition cover to a physiological anomaly.

Barbie has no physical flaws. She has long legs, sculpted arms and an even tan. Her makeup and hair are always done, and her outfits always match. She is a toy with an unrealistic body, not a role model. Nicole Rodgers, editor-in-chief of Role/Reboot, an online magazine that focuses on gender roles, said it best: “featuring a plastic doll as an object of admiration and desire feels like a slap in the face.”

Humans are not plastic. Young girls should not look at Barbie on the cover of Sports Illustrated and aspire to achieve her unattainable paradigm of perfection. The swimsuit issue has come under fire for promoting unrealistic standards of beauty, but featuring a toy on the cover is one step too far.

Not only is this unhealthy because it is impossible, but also because beauty comes in many less boring forms. Barbie’s “perfect” body is modeled after one specific standard of beauty that we should not all strive to achieve. Instead of epitomizing Barbie’s traditional and fake beauty, Sports Illustrated should move towards celebrating the various incarnations of beauty.