Barbie Poses for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. So Wrong

Barbie has had over 130 careers from astronaut to aerobics instructor, but her latest is the best fit of all: On February 18, the doll will be featured as a model for the 50th Anniversary of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue. It's a match made in publicity heaven, and begs the question, "What took them so long?"

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The doll's SI debut is part of an advertising scheme dubbed "Unapologetic" that was launched earlier this month with a Twitter tour and billboard in Times Square. Barbie's hashtag #Unapologetic initially seemed sassy and clever in a "haters gonna hate" kind of way, obviously inspired by provocative young stars like Miley Cyrus and Rhianna (whose 2012 album was also titled "Unapologetic").

"Style icons come and ago," Barbie tweeted on February 5, "Well, some of them go."

Now, paired with the announcement of the doll's appearance in Sports Illustrated's annual skin fest, it just seems cynical. Especially when Mattel is rolling out statements like this one that appeared in AdAge, "As a legend herself, and under criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in 'Sports Illustrated Swimsuit' gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done, and be unapologetic." Yes, Mattel is actually claiming that Barbie, the plastic figurine with the human scale measurements of 36-18-33 has body image issues. A more appropriate hashtag for the Twitter campaign would be "shameless."

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But there is good news. For all those moms and (dads) out there who have asked themselves over the decades, "Is Barbie an appropriate plaything for young girls or is she a sex object?" you finally have your definitive answer. Barbie is a sex object. It's a relief in a way that the brand is just telling it like it is.

A promotional video posted on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Blog on Wednesday, underscores that message. Photographer Walter Iooss, a SI veteran who shot Kate Upton's 2012 cover among many other, shall we say, memorable, bathing suit images, enthuses, "Barbie's hot. She takes instruction almost silently." Christopher Hercik, Sports Illustrated's Creative Director adds, "She's in some ways the perfect model. She doesn't blink, she doesn't smile, she takes direction"- just in case you didn't get that these guys prefer a woman who looks sexy and keeps her mouth shut. (While Sports Illustrated is clearly on board and promoting the collaboration, according to New York Times, Mattel paid the magazine for featuring Barbie. The corporate arm of the magazine has been shut mouthed saying only, it is a "very exciting collaboration, one icon to another.")

The blog Mommyish points out that part of what feels so unholy about this particular so-called "iconic" alliance is that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue isn't for little girls and that Barbie isn't for adults. Mashing up the two makes the whole thing so queasy. "I'm almost expecting there to be a Victoria's Secret fashion show appearance by Barbie next," writes blogger Eve Vawter. "Or perhaps she can be featured in the next 'Pirelli calendar'. These are other things that are considered 'sexy.' Why stop with the Swimsuit Issue?" Target has signed on to sell a limited edition of the SI branded bathing suit-clad doll, so there's another question, "In what section, the kid's?"

As creepy as it is, Barbie's swimsuit modeling stint happens to be an unintentional nod back to her origins. M.G. Lord's Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll details how the first Barbie, created by Ruth Handler in 1959, was a carbon copy of a sultry German toy called "Lilli" that was sold in smoke shops to men which she discovered on a trip to Europe. Mattel bought out the rights to Lilli in 1964 and ceased production, but apparently, she's baaaaack.

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