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Why is Barbie on the Cover of Sports Illustrated?

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By now you've probably heard about the unlikely and controversial pairing that is Mattel and Sports Illustrated. The annual Swimsuit Edition, which hits newsstands on Tuesday, always aims to get people talking, but the campaign featuring Barbie on the cover wrap (only 1,000 copies of the limited-edition will be sold exclusively at, arguably the world's most unrealistic-looking model in the world, has people buzzing—and not in a positive, "unapologetic" way.

We could expound for days on the potential body-image issues of putting a child's play toy on the cover wrap of a magazine aimed at grown men. “Women are made to feel bad about their bodies from just about every angle possible," argues Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., an L.A.-based clinical psychologist. "And yes, it starts young with Barbie and Disney princesses. It's harder than ever to eat right and find time to exercise—and girls are developing body image issues younger and younger,” she says. [Tweet this fact!]

Body-image issues aside, this isn't a fight just for moms and dads. There is something super unsettling and creepy about a publication that makes a direct and totally inappropriate correlation between sex and little girls' toys, but Mattel and SI are making a bigger statement. Problematic or not, realistic or not, real women and girls line up every day hoping to make the cover of SI's iconic Swimsuit Edition. Women like Christie Brinkley and Tyra Banks, who have been celebrated then and now, not only for their swimsuit shoots but also their success as entrepreneurs, have all starred on the cover. Real women—made of flesh and blood—work hard every day to fit impossibly high standards so they can have a chance to be seen by millions around the world (and it should be noted that SI reaches around 17 million women). Is SI saying they've all been outdone by a plastic doll who never ages? What exactly are they trying to say? Who are they trying to reach?

While Barbie is "unapologetic" as Mattel's advertising campaign touts in the issue—which features doll-size versions of Tyra Banks and Christie Brinkley wearing a black-and-white one-piece like the outfit Barbie wore for her 1959 debut (pictured above)—we're not buying this marketing strategy. What do you think about seeing Barbie in Sports Illustrated? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet us @Shape_Magazine!


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