Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition has always objectified women


This year Sports Illustrated is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its annual swimsuit edition. How did the magazine celebrate this milestone? By featuring Barbie on the cover. Yes, the doll.

So, why was it decided that Barbie should be on the cover? According to Mattel, the company that makes the dolls, Barbie is featured alongside supermodels as part of a new campaign called, “Unapologetic.”

“As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, gives Barbie and other legends an opportunity to own who they are,” Mattell said in a statement.

Now, the problem people have with the Barbie issue is that it perpetuates a dangerously unrealistic model of female beauty.  It has been studied that if Barbie’s proportions were scaled to life-size, she would not be able to function as a human being. Her BMI (body mass index) would be 16.24, which is considered anorexic. She would be to thin the bear children and she would even have to walk on all fours due to her proportions. Still sexy?

I am not sure when the world decided that Barbie was beautiful, but I know every girl who ever owned a Barbie wanted to look just like her. Marketing has managed to turn Barbie into an icon. She is advertised as the perfect woman with the perfect body and the perfect life. When young girls realize that they will never be able to look like Barbie, (never mind that it would be physically impossible) self-esteem issues begin to develop.

Mattel hopes that this publicity stunt will deliver a message of empowerment to women and young girls. Sure, it is a nice idea. But it won’t work on the cover of The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

Before I go any further, I would like to point something out: the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition has objectified women for decades. Each winter, Sports Illustrated releases a magazine full of tall, blonde, tan models who are wearing next to nothing. The swimsuit issue is one step away from Playboy magazine. It already sends the wrong message to women. It sends a message that a woman can only be seen as beautiful by taking her clothes off. So now that a plastic doll is on the cover, stripping down to satisfy a male audience is considered empowering?

Despite the year being 2014, Sports Illustrated continues to remind us that in its world, women are still objects to be admired for what they look like, not for what they do. It would be different if the issue featured distinguished female athletes, and perhaps a little blurb next to their pictures describing how they stay in such great shape. But no, that would be ridiculous right? Sports Illustrated has chosen to feature mostly naked, nameless women for the swimsuit edition, produced to titillate an adult male audience. How empowering.

By adding Barbie to the slew of swimsuit models in this year’s issue insults not only female readers but also female athletes. Those women work just as hard as men to give their all for every competition, race, etc., deserve a far better representation than Sports Illustrated. It is extremely unfortunate that the magazine supposedly dedicated to profiling these women’s achievements and skills have chosen to ignore them.