Beauty Redefined Blog

#Unapologetic: Barbie and Sports Illustrated Teach Sexual Objectification for all Ages



If you were an evil mastermind that wanted to convince the world that girls and women were only on earth as decorative ornaments to be looked at and lusted over, what would you do? How would you convince as many people as possible – both men and women, girls and boys – that females were only valuable for their sexual appeal?

You might start by becoming a major media powerholder that owns hundreds of companies to sell your sexist, objectified messages to people at every angle — TV, magazines, the internet, billboards, etc. You’d also want to get in the business of making toys for little girls to drill these unattainable beauty ideals into their heads from the time they are born. If people hesitated to buy into your messages, you’d work hard to convince everyone you were doing it to empower girls and women. She’s just a doll! Look how many jobs she has! 

barbie-spread-02-2014On February 18, 2014, this kind of sinister plan will come to fruition when Barbie, the iconic children’s doll, teams up with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, where 200 pages a year are devoted to naked and near-naked women in pornographic poses, Photoshopped as usual, and embodying one very narrowly defined idea of “beauty.” This special issue of the otherwise sports-centered magazine is owned by Time Warner, which will promote the blatant objectification of women across their companies that include AOL, CNN, HBO, Cartoon  Network, Time Inc., Warner Bros., and hundreds of others. Barbie is featured in a big spread in the annual SI issue that will be seen by hundreds of millions of people, and a special “SI Swimsuit Issue” Barbie will debut the same day at Target for little girls worldwide. Barbie is even promoting the Swimsuit Issue with two massive billboards in NYC with the hashtag #unapologetic, a Barbie “beach party” and much more.

“From its earliest days, [Sports Illustrated] Swimsuit has delivered a message of empowerment, strength and beauty and we are delighted that Barbie is celebrating those core values in such a unique manner,” Swimsuit issue editor MJ Day said in a press release. Empowerment, huh? Way to sell it. Sports Illustrated is all about women’s power and abilities, right? Oh wait, they couldn’t care less about women unless they look like their swimsuit models, take their clothes (and often their swimsuits) off, and pose as suggestively as the man behind the camera directs.

“As with Barbie, every year the Swimsuit edition sparks conversations about women and body image, and Sports Illustrated stands unapologetically behind this issue that women, in reality, love,” a Mattel spokesperson told Adweek. “Unapologetic is a rally cry to embrace who you are and to never have to apologize for it.”

Barbie and Sports Illustrated are certainly unapologetic. They’re unapologetic for selling full-blown, pornographic sexual objectification under the guise of “empowerment.” They’re unapologetic for constantly defending Barbie as harmless for decades — just an iconic doll that doesn’t communicate anything about beauty or body ideals. Now they’re unapologetically blowing that argument out of the water in favor of a highly sexualized promotional platform for this toy. Just a doll? Not a chance. Mattel and SI have solidified Barbie’s role as a tool for teaching girls and women that they are sex objects, first and foremost. Barbie has officially rebranded itself (or at least admitted to what many of us recognized all along) as a vehicle for teaching sexual objectification. And they’re teaming with one of the most notoriously sexist, objectifying mediums to do it. 

Mattel and SI want your daughters to know that girls and women are to be looked at above all else — and must fit certain highly unattainable beauty ideals to be worthy of positive attention in any area of life, including the most popular sports magazine. Athletic prowess certainly won’t do it, unless you’re willing to strip and pose. In a world where advertising-fueled media is inescapable, where the pornography industry has infiltrated all aspects of pop culture, and sexualized female bodies sell everything from children’s toys to deodorant, it’s easy to feel like sex appeal is all women can/should offer. So what? Why does any of this matter? Can’t you just not buy it if you don’t like it? Not quite. The truth is, this rampant sexual objectification inspires shame, anxiety, and lost potential at every turn for girls and women.

Swimsuit Issue Cover 2014 Beauty Redefined

The 2014 cover features 3 nude women and is begging for you to slap our sticky notes on it wherever you see it publicly displayed! Get yours by clicking this image.

Dozens of studies show girls and women suffer in very literal ways when sexualized female bodies inundate our media landscape: adolescent girls with a more objectified view of their bodies have diminished sexual health, measured by decreased condom use and diminished sexual assertiveness, and in a particularly insidious consequence of self-objectification, research proves undue attention to physical appearance leaves fewer cognitive resources available for other mental and physical activities, including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills, and athletic performance.* We know the dangerous and normalized act of female self-objectification works as a harmful tool to keep girls “in their place” as objects of sexual appeal and beauty, which seriously limits their ability to think freely and understand their value in a world so in need of their unique contributions and insight.

If any part of you feels icky about Barbie’s latest venture into the world of sex object for adult male viewing pleasure, here’s what we recommend: Don’t buy the SI Swimsuit Issue. If you want to spend your money in a more positive place, you can buy our nonprofit’s sticky notes to slap on the magazine instead. Don’t buy the SI Swimsuit Barbie doll. Don’t buy any Barbies to send Mattel the message that girls and women are capable of much more than being looked at. It’s time to shout that from the rooftops. If you feel like your body image has been negatively affected by sexually objectifying media, you can harness your power in these four areas to take back beauty and help others do the same: 

  • Increasing our media literacy (understanding how and why media is engineered the way it is — see our entire “recognize” category of blog posts)
  • Critical thinking about beauty and health ideals (skin colorbody sizeageBMIfitspiration)
  • Critical self-reflection about our own beliefs and choices
  • Making conscious decisions about the media we consume and cutting out what is harmful (start with a media fast)

Social Power:

Physical Power:

  • Using our bodies as instruments rather than objects (setting and achieving fitness goals)
  • Redefining health for ourselves according to internal indicators and how we feel — not how we look

Spiritual Power:

  • Understanding that you are more than just a body and tapping into that higher-level thinking in whatever way suits you
  • “There exists a positive relationship between spirituality, mental and physical health, life satisfaction, and wellness. It follows that if a woman draws her sense of meaning from a spiritual force that goes beyond herself and that provides coherence and purpose to the universe, she will find less need to focus on her weight, shape, and appearance in an attempt to find happiness or life satisfaction” (Choate, 2007, p. 323).

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

Fredrickson et al. 1998; Fredrickson & Harrison, 2004; Gapinski, Brownell, & LaFrance, 2003; Harter, 1998; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004; Impett, Schooler, and Tolman, 2006; Major, Barr, & Zubek, 1999; McConnell, 2001; Polce-Lynch, Myers, & Kilmartin, 1998; Roberts & Gettman, 2004; Slater and Tiggemann, 2002; Strelan & Hargreaves, 2005.


  1. Maggz

    I like how this article asks the obvious question about just not buying the doll, then actually doesn’t answer it. Stop blaming companies and start blaming the people who buy this stuff. And how on earth would young girls get a hold of a Sports Ilustrated magazine?

    Young girls don’t buy barbie dolls, their parents do.

    • Gerry Dorrian
      Gerry Dorrian02-14-2014

      Maggz, I once bought a Barbie dentists’ nurse doll for my (very) young daughter. When it was delivered my wife and I were shocked – the Barbie doll was wearing high heels and a minidress the colour of a nurse’s uniform. There is definitely something sinister about the way Barbie is presented in many of her guises.

    • Lauren

      From the post:
      “Don’t buy the SI Swimsuit Issue… Don’t buy the SI Swimsuit Barbie doll. Don’t buy any Barbies to send Mattel the message that girls and women are capable of much more than being looked at.”

      I think they answered the question :)

  2. Elisabeth Dale (@TheBreastLife)
    Elisabeth Dale (@TheBreastLife)02-18-2014

    You are not alone. My recent post on the SI Swimsuit issue asks if 50 years isn’t enough. There are many other reasons why it’s time for a change:

  3. Steven

    What about not making men feel guilty about being attracted to beautiful women? When the models or pornstars start complaining about being objectified by men, then let’s talk. These women aren’t being forced into do anything. The media isn’t to blame for women having body issues, it’s a lack of parenting and teaching children to love themselves. It comes from children’s peers while growing up and being teased and picked on. Barbie isn’t to blame.

    • Liz

      You really dont understand. Its the freakin models fault! 100% i dont know why your on their side… But it seems that you just care bout “looks” than power and personality. I hope you never get a wife. If u do have one, what a shame! I would never allow my bf or husband to look at those prostitutes. If he would, i’ll just break up with him. What a shame to you… Take your comment somewhere else… Theres only women models… Where are the guy models, seriously????

    • Jomm

      @Steven Your guilt is your own problem, and infinitely less important than forcing women to live in a society surrounded by a sea of images that tell them that being attractive is the only way to make money or be valuable. And even if you don’t buy the magazines, you can’t escape seeing them at grocery stores, drug stores, or similar images on TV, including the news! You’d have to stay at home, and shut off all media to avoid it. So yeah. Women are forced to confront this crap. Some feel they have to go along with it. Those who don’t want to put up with it have every right to complain and do what is necessary to change it.

  4. Jenn

    WARNING: choking hazard – small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs.
    View our return policy.
    Prices, promotions, styles and availability may vary by store and online.

    ^ Nope.

    “WARNING: social hazard – oversexualized, dehumanized body parts. Not for children or adults of any age.

    There is no return policy on the psychological effects of placing a children’s toy in the context of a pornographic magazine.

    Prices, promotions, styles and availability may vary by store and online, but each doll comes with a guarantee that more little girls will view themselves as objects to be looked at and taken advantage of rather than thinking, feeling, human beings who can do greater things than alter their appearance to satisfy others who want to use them.”

  5. Alessandra Martellacci
    Alessandra Martellacci03-31-2014

    Lol Barbie was inspired by the Lilli doll (1955, though Lilli herself was an older character from a German magazine comic), which was meant as a male masturbatory aide. They were common gifts at bachelor parties. It was an American (Ruth Handler, of Mattel fame) on holiday in Switzerland that looked at the lewd thing and thought it would make a good toy for her daughter. It looks like Barbie has made it full circle and is now a male masturbatory aide again. Goody…

  6. Clive

    Sports Illustrated had a very ironic pot-calling-the-kettle-black moment on its homepage today. Pathetic. The screen grab is here:

  7. Madison

    I wrote about this same issue here:

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