Barbie, 55, ‘unapologetically’ bids for revival as swimsuit cover girl


After 50 years of debate over her unattainably perfect figure, Barbie is now unapologetic about her tiny waist and endless legs.

The doll, made by Mattel, is flaunting her slender frame in Sports Illustrated’s 50th anniversary swimsuit issue, which will hit U.S. newsstands Tuesday. She will be featured alongside supermodels like Christie Brinkley and Brooklyn Decker as part of a campaign titled “unapologetic.”

“As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing . . . gives Barbie . . . and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are,” Mattel said.

The campaign is a departure for the 55-year-old doll, which for decades has been both beloved as a plaything and criticized as embodying an unrealistic standard of beauty.

In fact, Barbie has faced scrutiny for everything from her chiseled facial features and disproportionately small waist to her “life choices.” And last year, an artist renewed controversy over Barbie’s effect on body image by posting pictures of the more meaty physique the doll would have if she possessed the figure of an average 19-year-old.

Mattel has tried to change Barbie to move with the times. The doll has gone through several reinventions, including 150 careers, from architect to lifeguard, and a brief publicity-stunt breakup with her boyfriend, Ken.

But this latest move — which once again has triggered online debate over body-image issues — comes as Mattel tries to revive interest in the iconic doll. Barbie is worth an estimated $1.3 billion in sales for the toy maker, and she is the No. 1 toy brand.

But Barbie has lost some of her popularity in recent years to edgier toys like Mattel’s Monster High dolls, which have tattoos and neon-colored hair. In fact, Barbie has suffered from declining sales in five of the last six quarters, with a drop of 13 percent in the most recent quarter.

Mattel hopes the “unapologetic” campaign will boost Barbie’s image. As part of the campaign, there will be a collector’s edition Sports Illustrated Barbie doll, a billboard in New York’s Times Square and @Barbie tweets with the hashtag “unapologetic” on Twitter. Barbie will also appear on the cover of 1,000 Sports Illustrated issues in an advertising “cover wrap” for the New York Toy Fair.

“Unapologetic” is a word that Mattel executives use internally, said Lisa McKnight, the senior vice president at Mattel. But she said this is the first time the company is “engaging in a conversation publicly.”

Sports Illustrated swimsuit editor M.J. Day said Barbie fits in with the swimsuit issues’ “message of empowerment” for women.

But Allen Adamson, a branding expert, said: “The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is one step away from Playboy magazine. It is potentially sending the wrong message to girls.”