Maybe you’ve heard about this year’s Sports Illustrated cover girl?
Even if you haven’t, you’ve heard of her. Or should that be it?
Because the model on the cover of SI’s 50th Anniversary over-wrap isn’t a woman. It isn’t even a person. It’s a doll – Barbie, to be precise.
Now there are a lot of different ways to parse this – this selection of a piece of plastic instead of an actual breathing living woman. The complete unattainability of this physique by actual humans. The placement of what is supposed to be a child’s toy in a position that is traditionally highly sexualized and specifically marketed for men to oogle. Even as a teaching moment.*
The campaign – which includes a commemorative doll which will be sold in the pink aisles at Target and a dedicated #unapologetic Twitter hashtag – is trying to play itself as empowerment with an undeniably positive message – girls and women can be both pretty and successful. I’m not sure I’m buying the mechanism, though.
The whole weird creepy implications that this has for childhood sexualization definitely bother me – particularly the image of what is marketed primarily as a toy for little girls, and which will be sold to them as a special edition through a mass market retailer (as opposed to, say, high end collector sites) – also gracing a magazine issue that is pretty widely acknowledged as being a…less than progressive and enlightened in its portrayal of women. But I’m much more struck by the message that a plastic toy, however iconic, is a reasonable stand-in for a human woman. It’s like they said, well, hey, fuck this objectification of women with enhanced breasts and sexy poses and photoshop, let’s just go for an actual object. And that, my friends, is much more creepy to me. It’s like they said, “why bother with the expense of flying actual beautiful successful women to the beach and dealing with the fuss and muss of hair and makeup and trailers and computer artists when we can slap a cute stripey piece of fabric smaller than a Post-it note on a plastic doll and stick her in a sandbox and say we’re celebrating, with deep #unapologetic sorry not sorry attitude, actual living beautiful successful women.”
Except really, not. After giving this lots of thought and reading lots of responses, I’m back where I started with my first reaction, which is “Wow. At least we know what they really think of cover models now.” And it’s really not very pretty.
Featured image via newsstands everywhere.
* For the record, although I’m a little conflicted about it, my daughter does have a couple of Barbie dolls, both of which are currently dressed in astronaut outfits somewhere in a pile of toys that includes dinosaurs, stuffed animals and goodness knows what else.