Move over, Barbie, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is here

Sports Illustrated’s special annual issue saluting The Swimsuit Industry hits the stands Tuesday and, this year, there was a bit more controversy than usual surrounding it.

It had nothing to do with the choice to de-emphasize breasts in favor of backsides on the cover or about how little swimsuits actually have to do with the annual skinfest. Instead, it concerns a nearly 55-year-old known for an iconic black-and-white swimsuit and a physique that put the bod in bodacious decades ago. Yep, we’re talking Barbie, who, it should be noted, isn’t a real person.

Still, it can be argued that the combination of the swimsuit issue and the iconic doll is a natural. Swimsuits (and unrealistic body images) were never the same after the first doll rolled off the assembly line in 1959 and this is, after all, Sports Illustrated’s 50th anniversary swimsuit issue. There are magazines and toys to be sold, which made for a seemingly logical “ad wrap” for the issue. Never mind that distribution was limited. That didn’t tamp down the outrage.


This image provided by Sports Illustrated on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2014, shows the cover-wrap of the magazine’s 50th anniversary annual swimsuit issue. (AP Photo/Sports Illustrated)

“The swimsuit issue is fine,” Eve Vawter of Mommyish.com writes. “If you don’t want to see it, don’t look at it, don’t buy it, whatever. But adding Barbie to the lineup of impossibly gorgeous, airbrushed beauties doesn’t do a lot for the self-esteem of young girls. It just doesn’t.”

Susan Schoech wrote of her “disappointment” in a New York Times piece. “I suppose I don’t like Barbie in the SI swimsuit issue because I don’t like the SI swimsuit issue much. The women who pose in it are beautiful, and certainly they are three-dimensional in their real lives. But in the magazine, their images are static and commercial. The photos reduce each woman to part billboard, part sex object. They don’t generate much more than a purchase or feelings of lust (and possibly some envy — have you seen Christie Brinkley at 60?), and surely no spiraling narratives that last the length of a childhood.”

(James Macari for Sports Illustrated / Courtesy Sports Illustrated)
(James Macari for Sports Illustrated / Courtesy Sports Illustrated)

Mattel, Barbie’s maker, responded with #unapologetic and now the controversy has given way to the mag itself, with this year’s cover ending Kate Upton’s bid for a trifecta after landing the last two. Rather than going with Upton, SI chose three models — Nina Agdal, Lily Aldridge, and Chrissy Teigen.

Elsewhere in the issue, there are “veteran” models Christie Brinkley, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Brooklyn Decker, who have gone on to other careers.

“We’re focusing on the legendary women of Sports Illustrated who, like Barbie, launched their careers in a swimsuit,” Lisa McKnight, Mattel’s senior vice president of marketing for North America, told the New York Times, adding that Barbie has had 150 careers.

Barbie herself — and again we emphasize that she isn’t a real person — weighed in with a blog post Monday:

So the Swimsuit issue is out, and there’s bound to be a conversation or two about the women in it. Ask yourself, isn’t it time we teach girls to celebrate who they are? Isn’t there room for capable and captivating? It’s time to stop boxing in potential. Be free to launch a career in a swimsuit, lead a company while gorgeous, or wear pink to an interview at MIT. The reality of today is that girls can go anywhere and be anything. They should celebrate who they are and never have to apologize for it.

Athletes also grace the issue, which is live on the web, mobile, tablets and newsstands Tuesday.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren · February 18