Throughout her illustrious career as the world's most famous doll, Mattel's Barbie doll has been through a fair share of different and challenging career opportunities, ranging from air stewardess to doctor to architect and even presidential candidate for the USA. Barbie's latest gig though, as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model has attracted an unusual number of comments, articles and posts, in an equally wide number of reactions.
Mattel and Sports Illustrated collaborated this year for the magazine's annual Swimsuit Issue that includes a special editorial spread shot by legendary sports photographer Walter Iooss Jr. featuring 22 Barbie dolls. It also includes photos of Barbies dressed like former SI Swimsuit models of years past and a cover wrap that will appear on 1,000 copies of the issue, declaring Barbie to be “The Doll That Started It All”. So why this and why now? The Sports Illustrated feature is part of Barbie's "Unapologetic" campaign, an effort on behalf of Mattel to counter criticism that the doll's unrealistic figure gives young girls the wrong image about how their bodies should look. Sports Illustrated supposedly presents Barbie as an empowered woman who is unashamed of her appearance or actions. Mattel also released a Swimsuit Issue Barbie, now available for purchase exclusively on Target.com.
It is very ironic that these two powerhouses, targets of complaints about their depictions of women, are joining forces to become “unapologetic” about who they are. Barbie as a doll-size version of the magazine’s supermodels like Tyra Banks and Christie Brinkley, is not something new - she was always centred on fashion and even has a body type (there are multiple body types for the different Barbies out there) called Model Muse. Mattel said in a statement that posing in the issue “gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be #unapologetic.” There's an op-ed from Barbie herself too.
Mattel has been trying hard for a while by connecting Barbie to other brands to help its efforts aimed at redefining the doll's image, making it more appealing to contemporary consumers while also fighting back concerns about the unrealistic attitudes about the female body that Barbie promotes. “We’re always challenging ourselves to think differently about Barbie and how we can continue to keep her relevant,” said Lisa McKnight, senior vice president of marketing for North America at Mattel. Of course it all comes down to business. Mattel's reshaping of Barbie’s image tries to counter bad sales results during the past holiday season, falling short of expectations among investors and corporate management. “The reality is, we just didn't sell enough Barbie dolls,” Bryan G. Stockton, chief executive, said in a conference call with analysts on Jan. 31. Barbie sales fell 13 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012.
John Joannides, associate publisher at Sports Illustrated in New York, published by the Time Inc. division of Time Warner, said: that this event was “a very exciting creative collaboration, one icon to another.” A section of the Sports Illustrated website will feature related content as well as a blog, Swim Daily. Mattel paid for the opportunity to integrate Barbie into the commemoration of the magazine's 50th anniversary but no amount has been disclosed so far. Below are a couple of videos with the doll from SI