comScore
  1. Mediaite
  2. Gossip Cop
  3. Geekosystem
  4. Styleite
  5. SportsGrid
  6. The Mary Sue
  7. The Maude
  8. The Braiser

What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Great Moments in Advertising

Clickbait IRL: Barbie “Unapologetic” on Sports Illustrated Cover


Mattel has decided to rehabilitate Barbie’s falling image in the toy market (a 13% drop this holiday season over last) by changing nothing, and dismissing criticism of Barbie by talking about her as if she were a real person and not an image entirely created and controlled by a massive toy empire. Also by putting her on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue and starting the hashtag #unapologetic.

It’s so cute, watching a more than half-century old media franchise discover the marketing power of intentionally creating internet outrage while trying to make it look like an accident. I recommend ThinkProgress’ take on the whole deal.

Previously in Barbie

Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?

TAGS: |


  • Richard Wentworth

    Trolling has definitely become “the thing” when it comes to advertising. Bottom line is, advertisers are so desperate to connect in any way with a lukewarm market that they are willing to troll to provoke a response (and get shared). Pretty sad, if fascinating.

  • Anonymous

    My understanding is that while the toy will feature inside the magazine that cover image is just to generate controversy and will not be used

  • Daniel E. Jacobs

    the problem is who buy buys this magazine isn’t going to want to by it for Barbie, and sure as hell isn’t going to buy the dolls. so it’s a bad move on both because it cost them even more sales…

  • Joanna

    I don’t get it… O.o

  • Caitlin

    Wait, did they photoshop her leg? Because I feel like Barbie’s legs were more tapered than that when I played with them…

  • Bryant Francis

    I don’t remember Goldie Blox putting a girl’s doll in a context where they’re explicitly supposed to be stared at in a semi-sexual context by men. (Or gay women, fair’s fair)

  • Bryant Francis

    “Our doll isn’t sexualized at all!”

    *puts doll in one of America’s explicitly understood cultural touchstones of sexualization*

  • https://twitter.com/SeeSome Charley Sumner

    FYI, Barbie isn’t on the actual cover of the SI Swimsuit issue. This photo is of a fake promotional cover they made for the International Toy Fair (you can see it says that at the top of the photo). Apparently, there will be a photo spread of Barbie in the issue, but not on the cover, for whatever that’s worth.

  • Ashe

    Mattel’s a particularly iconic and influential notch in the headboard of America’s beauty standard garbage pile.

    Parents do their best every day and little girls grow up with terrible self-esteem and eating disorders anyway. If you think about it, the word of family versus mainstream media bullshit (literally everywhere you turn) isn’t a fair fight.

  • Ashe

    “it is your choice to look at my sumptuously exposed thigh and bathing suit”

    “i’m such an empowered doll comfortable in her sexuality”

  • Daniel E. Jacobs

    SI is putting it out as a special issue that will have Barbie with a 4 page spread…

  • https://twitter.com/SeeSome Charley Sumner

    Hadn’t seen yet that they were actually publishing it outside of Toy Fair. Thx for the info. Also, according to the NY Times, they’re releasing a Sports Illustrated Barbie at Target (ugh!)

  • https://twitter.com/SeeSome Charley Sumner

    Mattel is also partnering with Target on an exclusive “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Barbie” (Ugh!) You can find it by searching for barbie on the target site.

  • Bryant Francis

    LOOK I HAVE MAGICALLY LANDED IN THE SINGLE UNCOMFORTABLE TWISTY POSE WHICH SHOWS OFF BOOBS AND BUTT

  • Bryant Francis

    Goldie Blox never intended for that controversy to blow up, nor did that controversy have anything to do with what Mattel’s done here.

  • KittySoft Paws Rolufs

    Oh yes, that’s completely the same thing. Sure it is.

  • Charlie

    Anyone who thinks ‘making fun of skinny girls to make fat girls feel better’ is actually a thing has missed the point so far they are in a completely different universe to the point. We need to make everyone feel worth not just those people who meet the current requirements for beautiful.

  • Skol Troll

    Hey, check it out! Someone from Mattel reads this website. The Mary Sue has gone big time!

    (Looks at Barbie sales forecast #’s…)

    Meh, nevermind. Lemme know when someone from LEGO shows up to comment. Then we’ll celebrate.

  • Skol Troll

    As a guy, there is SOOOO much wrong with this, that I can’t even explain it.

    Seriously. I can’t. I’m afraid Chris Hansen will hunt me down.

  • Eztrenk

    Yup. It’s the people complaining who aren’t comfortable with it.

  • Samantha

    Sure they didn’t. By the way, I have a bridge for sale….

  • Samantha

    I just don’t think people give kids enough credit and I do think people blame a doll with there are other factors that cause those problems.

  • Samantha

    Controversy is controversy – just because you like one more than the other, doesn’t make it better.

  • Anonymous

    Why don’t you just take a seat?

  • Charlie

    It’s literally impossible to have a body like a barbie doll. Yet this is a doll we tell little girls to emulate and admire in both attitude and appearance.
    You don’t see anything wrong with that?

  • Charlotte Van Zee

    I think it’s important to remember there are two markets for Barbie, adult collectors and children. Given the icon status of Swimsuit Barbie, this one strikes me as being more for adults than kids. She has none of the cool accessories that regular Barbies have. Honestly I must have feminist failitis because I can’t understand the venom that Barbie and Mattel receive sine Math Is Hard Barbie. I played with carry her kidneys in a bag Barbie, my kids will probably play with Barbie. I think people assign a child’s doll far more importantance than she actually has.

  • Charlie

    Would it be so hard to have a similar doll with healthy realistic proportions instead?

  • Bryant Francis

    Really? You think a company whose entire marketing shtick from the launch of their crowdfunding campaign was ‘subvert toy expectations and make girls want to be engineers’ wanted to sidelined by a lawsuit that made them look like the bad guys because they took on a beloved band? I’m sad for you if you think so little of people trying to do good in this world.

  • Iqeret

    I’m still trying to figure out exactly what they’re trying to accomplish here. People who buy Barbies are still going to buy them. People who are disgusted by them are going to fuss—and still not buy them. Anyone who isn’t aware of Barbie is probably living somewhere that doesn’t have SI, either. And the audience? Teen boys aren’t going to care. Non-parental men aren’t going to care. And I can’t think of anything that would throw icier water over a perv session than being reminded that your little daughter is playing a few doors down the hall.

  • Charlotte Van Zee

    The point of Barbie’s body is to make it easier to take on and off clothes for small hands while still being overtly feminine. I played with Barbie in the 80s who had even more unrealistic proportions. It was always very clear to me that she was nothing more than a fantasy figure and not something one could naturally have. Would it be so hard for parents to talk with their children about how bodies come in all shapes and sizes and none are bad? Take them to a swimming pool or a beach and see all the differences on display? To teach them that Barbie is pretty much as real as a unicorn?

  • Charlie

    I’m sure a lot of parents do that, but when the entire media and toy industry is going against that message I’m sure it makes it a lot harder to sink in.
    As for the easier to dress thing? It’s funny that in the 1960′s slumber party barbie was sold with a diet book that had two words inside ‘Don’t eat’
    When you think about that I’m pretty sure Barbie’s proportions weren’t anything to do with dressing her.

  • Skol Troll

    No, you don’t. It’s MY bridge now. Been living under it for years. I have squatter’s rights.

  • Charlotte Van Zee

    I don’t see what Slumber Party Barbie’s reading choices in 1965 have anything to do with today. It’s terrible, but that isn’t advice that today’s Barbie would give, and you won’t see kids playing with a 1965 Barbie. Barbie’s roots are in pinups (Bild Lilli) and inspiration doll was intended for adults. Mattel has never denied this. Barbie was one of the first dolls to be shaped after adult though; Ruth Handler (who bought the Bild Lilli dolls for her daughters and brought it to Mattel) wanted Barbie to be an alternative to the far more common baby dolls of the period, giving her daughters more options than just playing Mommy. There is always room for improvement, but I don’t think she deserves the thrashing she gets. The dolls Barbie is losing out to have even more absurd figures (Monster High also manufactured by Mattel is currently outselling Barbie). They’re more rooted in fantasy, sure, but Barbie doesn’t even have the craziest figure on the block any more. Blaming Barbie for society’s ills seems more and more old meme.

  • Charlie

    Maybe it doesn’t say much about the intentions of modern Barbie but it sure as hell shows the attitudes of the people who invented her and why her proportions were chosen in the first place.
    I’m not hating on Barbie I just don’t understand why, seeing scientific studies and current problems with eating disorders, the makers of the most popular doll on the market can’t see their way to promoting positive body image.
    I remember someone made a Barbie with ‘real proportions’ and there were constant comments of ‘she looks fat’ ‘she’s ugly.’ It proves that people have a skewed idea of what ‘normal’ is and that they see a Barbie doll as having desirable proportions when in fact at over 6ft and 110lbs she represents a severely underweight woman.

  • Charlotte Van Zee

    There’s been a big shift in the last 50 years in how we talk about bodies to young women since 1965. I’m relatively sure that ‘don’t eat’ was meant more tongue in cheek than as literal dieting advice, especially since herself Barbie can’t eat. Show me a scientific study that directly links Barbie to eating disorders, instead of just ‘the media’. The bigger issue in my mind is how parents model body acceptance to their kids versus a doll — my mother’s yoyo dieting had a much bigger impact on me at 5 than My First Ballerina Barbie.

  • Charlie

    http://www.willettsurvey.org/TMSTN/Gender/DoesBarbieMakeGirlsWantToBeThin.pdf

    ‘Girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape than girls in the other exposure’

    But what do scientists know right?

    That said it’s not just Barbie, it’s Barbie on top of all the other pressures.

  • http://adyon.deviantart.com/ Aaron Foster

    I agree that Barbie is an idealized, sexualized trope. None-the-less, I think she has a point there that we over-emphasize the effects of Barbie and under-emphasize how much individuals affect children as they grow.

    Hear me out. We don’t focus enough on what words and emotions actually do, not just imagery. How much older men constantly make comments to young girls about, “watching thier weight if they want to grow up pretty” or other patriarchal BS. What’s worse is the media’s constant verbal bashing of anyone that happens to be heavy and glamorization of who looks better than someone else. Barbie is a response to sell to a society that promotes thin, and simply focusing on the Barbie’s image alone isn’t the way to go about it.

    Mattel won’t risk randomly playing around with Barbie’s established image unless society changes. That’d be like McDonald’s turning into a health food place while so many people want to eat horrible, incredibly unhealthy food. It would be unlikely to bring in that many new sales to make up for the losses they’d take, which would make “experts” even more cemented in the idea of non-change. Instead it’s better to build up and promote a new company, like what’s being done with GoldieBlox. Granted, Mattel could have a new doll brand if they were smart, but that’s another matter than focusing on the continued specific bashing of Barbie’s image.

    In this case, I’m not sure how to feel about what Mattel is doing, other than they’re stupid and want to hurt their sales more, but I don’t feel the initial hate on Barbie was rightly placed. It should be on the overall message, not one thing.

  • Charlie

    I’m not sure how it’s productive to yell ‘stop hating on Barbie’ at me. I don’t hate Barbie, I’m not angry with Mattel. But I am concerned that she’s just another straw on the camels back.
    She is yet another bad influence on little girls.
    I’m not ‘bashing Barbie’ I’m bashing promoting an unhealthy image to little girls. You say McDonalds has ‘horrible unhealthy food’ which is true, I just don’t understand why you are okay with ‘bashing’ them while a doll encouraging an unhealthy body image is apparently not to be frowned upon.

  • Beth Smith

    Oh really, Mattel? The “heritage” of Barbie needs to be preserved, but to hell with the classic American Girls dolls, right? Hypocrites!

  • http://adornyourhearts.tumblr.com Xomyx

    Next up, Playboy Barbie with Hugh Hefner Ken.

  • http://adornyourhearts.tumblr.com Xomyx

    This, and its also important to remember that Barbie is more than just a doll, she had a tv show I grew up with and from what I understand, lots of movies currently which are pretty popular with young girls. The thing has a media empire!

  • Ashe

    You’re right, on that regard: it’s not JUST a doll that causes these problems. The doll is one of many issues that add up together.

  • http://adyon.deviantart.com/ Aaron Foster

    Haha, well, don’t be too upset…I wasn’t yelling by any means, and most certainly not at you. I just typed WAY too much.
    Maybe it’s that I’m touchy, but I feel the bashing of Barbie instead of propping up new icons feels too similar to the way we bash thin models themselves alongside the culture that drives them, like they have no feelings. (In this case…It’s a doll and doesn’t.)

    I think I’m just more sensitive to this overlooked side of the argument due to my wife, who has constantly dealt with being the object of negative comments about how “skinny” she is, when she does nothing to try to be skinny. When she reads things like this, it can feel like indirect condemnation of people like her, because the negativity is often focused on Barbie, not Mattel. (This article in particular is better than others at addressing Mattel though.)

  • Charlie

    Like I said in another comment here everyone needs to be able to feel worth skinny or chubby.
    However we shouldn’t be encouraging little girls to look like Barbie because she is so underweight she wouldn’t be able to walk in real life. It’s as bad as telling them to eat until they can’t move.
    Being ‘severly underweight’ like Barbie is as unhealthy as being obese.

  • http://adyon.deviantart.com/ Aaron Foster

    Agreed. Encouraging people to look like anything they’re not is bad. Thinner, bigger, just be who you are, though preferably healthy.

    And yeah, Barbie the doll isn’t very realistic and definitely not average. Even my wife has always been 5’6″ and about 115 lbs since I met her 10 years ago. (I think the highest she got during college was 120 when we were eating free pizza every night…and I put on 40 pounds.) However based on that, I’d argue Barbie’s proportions probably make her close to 100 lbs or less if she’s 6′+.

    I’m actually on board that Barbie’s unrealistic for children. I just agreed with the first poster a bit that playing with the doll itself wouldn’t be much of a big deal if the society wasn’t there glamorizing the doll’s weight. I’ve known several girls who were anorexic and almost all of them was either from trying to fit in with a group of peers or had an adult that had more-or-less verbally abused them about watching their weight.

  • Charlie

    Oh I agree that it’s on top of other issues, it’s not just one doll that is doing this.
    But I don’t think Barbie, who is officially 6ft plus and 110lbs, is helping any.

  • Lorewise

    I think that’s an oversimplification of the issue. It’s not Barbie, it’s Barbie within a context, the context being everything that’s marketed to children. Barbie is just the most iconic representation of the actual problem.

  • jmc

    The internet has gone backwards with its notions of sexuality vs. physical beauty vs. nude bodies.