Does Barbie on the Cover of Sports Illustrated Harm Girls?

50th anniversary Annual Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated Cover-Wrap (AP Photo/Sports Illustrated)
50th Anniversary Annual Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated

Barbie, Barbie, Barbie!  Yup, she is at it again, stirring up (and/or manufacturing) more Barbie-centric controversy, as Mattel and Sports Illustrated teamed up to put ol’ Barbs on the cover of a limited number of SI’s 50th anniversary swimsuit issues. This time as “the doll that started it all,” is standing tall with her “#unapologetic” campaign, proudly adding one more achievement to her resumé,

Barbie has been considered a cultural icon, appealing to females for decades as a symbol of adventure, fashion, independence, femininity and endless possibilities! There is a mindset out there, however, that considers Barbie as doing a great disservice to females, by implicitly projecting a high standard of beauty of unobtainable proportions.  Now, she is under scrutiny by teaming up with a magazine that clearly glorifies women as sex kittens. Innocuous to some, disappointing to others.

Branding expert Allen Adamson shares that Barbie’s made a mistake. “The SI swimsuit issue is one step away from Playboy magazine,” he said. “It is potentially sending the wrong message to girls.” Many think Adamson makes a good point, especially since Barbie has been marketed, primarily, as a kid’s toy.

Barbie’s Legacy

So, do you think less of Barbie, given that she chose to be on the cover of a magazine that, for years, has married female sexuality with – hemmm – sports (a.k.a. recreation that appeals to men)!? Undeniably, Barbie has broken boundaries for not just girls, but for women, alike, as beyond her role as a toy doll, we must admit, she does have an impressive record of having over 150 careers (top that!)!  Barbie seems to consider the modeling opportunity an honor, as have many well-known industry models before her, including Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Kate Upton and Cheryl Tiegs, and many others.  So, does this mean Barbie is making a political statement?

“Having Barbie, a little girl’s toy on the front cover, only serves to further the sexualization of girls [and] further the objectification of women.” ~ Nicole Clark, former model and director of the documentary “Cover Girl Culture.”

I would like to suggest that perhaps Barbie was never intended to be confined merely to kids’ toy boxes and that she was designed to symbolize more than just a dolly for young girls. Barbie has always represented female beauty, which inherently does embrace sensuality, and also important to grasp is that she stimulates fantasy, above all, and while seemingly larger-than-life, she is ultimately a tool (don’t tell her that, though!) for pop-culture consumerism! The magazine is not intended for kids (even though it is quite accessible to them), so I don’t see this choice as equivalent to a Miley Cyrus cross-over stunt, but, at the same time, perhaps Barbie might be a better fit for Cosmo or for a magazine, say, for entrepreneurs, because YES, people, that is her next move! Barbie-preneur (not sure if that is what she is dubbed) is sure to have all the best gear and accessories (iPhone, etc.) for her new journey; I can say that much!

“I agree with Sports Illustrated and Mattel that she is a legend. She doesn’t have to apologize for being chosen to be on the cover and embracing that opportunity.” ~ Carissa Pelletier, editor-in-chief of Grown Ups Magazine

“… swimwear is associated with swimming: a sport. And somewhere in between, it must make sense to the male consumer.” ~ John Morin

Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Swimsuit Edition, February 2014
Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Swimsuit Edition, February 2014

Different Perspectives

This brings to mind messages of some of my So Cal blogger colleagues’ perspectives about the topic of media’s depiction of female sexuality. San Diego-based blogger and editor Laura Willard effectively paints the picture of media’s common practices of sharing unrealistic images of physical perfection.  I also appreciate LA-based blogger Jessica Gottieb, who has a true gift for tackling thought-provoking concerns such as this one. Suzette Valle, founder of Mamarazzi Knows Best and author at The, a Hollywood online publication, perhaps breaks down controversies to the level that resonate most with me (being that I am a mom to an 11yo), reminding readers that we are smart to not rely on traditional and social media moguls to be partners in parenting!

“I’m completely in line with Nicole Clark. I have daughters and sons and this is a horrific and blatant show of the middle finger by Mattel and Sports Illustrated.” ~ Jen Lang, blogger and freelancer

“Sports Illustrated is a magazine that more often than not has half-naked women on their cover and these women are all photoshopped to appear as though they have a Barbie doll figure. So what’s the difference?”  ~ Marina Oros, founder of, and  young mom of 3

Media is No Co-Parent

We, as parents, are far more influential than we will ever admit or assume credit for. While I am adamant about girls fostering good self-images and not growing not up before their time (as shared in my sexy pre-teen lingerie post), I also contend that sex will always sell and envelopes pushed (clearly SI is becoming more porn-like), but how we allow that to define our identity as females and how we discuss these issues with our children has a far greater an impact and influence than how much cleavage Barbie, or anyone else, for that matter, might or might not bare on the cover of a magazine intended for adults.

“Whether it’s Barbie, a physically unrealistic doll, or photo-shopped supermodels, our children are constantly bombarded by warped images of reality, especially relating to the beautiful form of the female body.  While it’s important to speak out about these things, as parents we must do 2 things: First we must raise our children with a strong inner sense of self, of beauty, of individuality.  Secondly,  we must have active dialogue with our children as well – we must show them the viral videos of models being photoshopped, we must model our own sense of security of our own body image, and refrain from discussing our weight, other people’s weight, etc.  We can’t control the insane amount of images out there – so we need to parent our children in such a way as to maximize their inner sense of self, based on values, their heart, their soul – and NOT external measures such as what we look like.”  Erika Elmuts, Founder of

What say you?

Does seeing your kid’s toy “gracing the cover” evoke the same sentiment as those with almost-naked ladies cupping their goods with their hands, or are they two totally separate issues (the topic, that is-lol)?  Do you think that women baring so much skin for magazines, in general, is inherently wrong (or harmful to young minds)? Should we toss our beautiful dolls because they set unrealistic symbols of female beauty? Should SI Swimsuit edition be accessible to all ages in the store magazine? How important to you is taking up this conversation with your kids?

We  welcome your thoughts.


  1. honestly – i think you should just keep sports illustrated swim suit editions away from kids. Barbie or humans on it – I think having a sexy woman half dressed on the cover teaches boys & girls that women are objects – it also tells men that women are objects – which is the reason why it simply isnt allowed in our home at all. Nobody needs that message. I don’t care if they put a toy on the cover, it’s all inappropriate with no redeeming value in my opinion anyway 😉

  2. It is shameful that people in important positions to make such decisions have such little concern for how this is detrimental. Money seems to be more important. And media attention. Look at the buzz this cover has generated. When is the last time that SI got this much dialogue in mainstream media? Perhaps we fell right into the trap of just providing yet another way to get their name top of mind by sharing our opinions on their awful choice.
    Stacey, did you see Elizabeth Bruno’s post about Barbie?
    Thank you for giving us moms a forum to purge our feelings about these hot topics!

    • Thank you! I have mixed feelings on the topic. My thoughts are that Barbie is an icon that will be portrayed in various ways – hopefully tasteful ways. The three ladies on the true cover were the real hot sex bunnies, but Barbie gets all the heat! Should not be within kids’ reach on shelves IMHO.

  3. Even if children aren’t reading SI, they will still see it. Those magazine are in the aisles of the grocery store and Barbie is sure to stand out. Maybe it was the magazine’s way of being “cheeky” without actually showing cheeks, like in the past. It just seems to be inappropriate to put Barbie on the cover and a bit of a creepy comparison, honestly. The Barbie debate goes deep and is multi-faceted for sure, I wrote my own piece debating a very different reason to just say no to the Queen of Careers.

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