Thank you for your letter explaining the decision to put you in Sports Illustrated wearing your zebra stripe bathing suit.
As the mother of three young daughters, I have some issues with your letter I want to address.
My bathing suit now hangs beside a Presidential power suit, Pastry Chef hat, and Astronaut gear in a wardrobe reflecting the more than 150 careers I’ve pursued to illustrate for girls that they can achieve anything for which they aim. And yet, I am still seen as just a pretty face. It’s simpler to keep me in a box—and since I am a doll—chances are that’s where I’ll stay.
The problem is that while my daughters, in their short lives, have already seen thousands of women celebrated in magazines for how “beautiful” they look in a bathing suit, they have yet to see a woman grace the cover– or “promotional overlap”– of a magazine for being president of the USA. Of course, that’s because there has never been a female president in this country.
As far as the pastry chef hat, celebrating great female cooks in the media is also lacking. Just one recent example, in Time Magazine’s recent “Gods of Food” story, there are zero women.
Female astronauts? The Mars Explorer Barbie is described:
Mars Explorer Barbie® doll launches the first “one-doll” mission to Mars. Ready to add her signature pink splash to the “red planet,” Barbie® doll is outfitted in a stylish space suit with pink reflective accents, helmet, space pack and signature pink space boots.
Do you think “adding a signature pink splash” is the best way to inspire our daughters to become astronauts? Barbie’s professions aren’t defined by much more than what she wears. The emphasis is still on her outfit. The message to girls is that how they look is the most important thing about them.
Next in your letter, you write:
Every year, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit drums up conversation and controversy. Upon the launch of this year’s 50th anniversary issue, there will again be buzz and debate over the validity of the women in the magazine, questioning if posing in it is a blow to female equality and self-image. In 2014, does any woman in the issue seriously need permission to appear there?
A woman doesn’t need permission to be in SI, but you, as the opening sentence of your letter states, are a doll, a doll made “for girls.” So when you’re in a magazine created for adults, and girls see your picture, they’ll think that this magazine is for them. They’ll want to flip through the pages, and if they do, they’ll see picture after picture of mostly naked adult women in sexual poses. When I blogged about Barbie in SI earlier, someone made this comment:
To me this just proves Barbies are NOT really children’s toys at all! Maybe that’s what they are “unapologetic” about? As in “Haha, suckers! You’ve been buying your daughters miniature sex dolls for 50+ years!”
If you’re coming out a sex doll, that’s Mattel’s choice, but the rest of the company’s advertising should reflect a consistent message. Stop trying to appeal to children, because that’s confusing, and confusing kids and sex is dangerous: one out five girls is sexually abused. When a culture is accustomed to seeing girls sexualized, we stay apathetic towards identifying it and taking action towards stopping this epidemic. In case you’re not familiar with sexualization, it’s different that healthy sexuality. Sexualization is when girls understand sexuality as performance, when its not connected to real feelings or desire. Sexualization happens when girls are exposed to adult sexuality too early. Here’s the definition of sexualization from the the American Psychological Association:
There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when
- a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
- a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
- a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
- sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.
In your letter, you go on to defend models as more than pretty faces, claiming you want them to be recognized for their other achievements as authors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. But if you want more recognition for these professions, why showcase Barbie in her bathing suit?
Models choosing to pose in a bikini aren’t the problem.
How much “choice” is really involved when modeling is one of the only professions where women outearn men? How much choice is involved when ever since women were girls, they’ve seen women repeatedly celebrated on the cover of magazines– not so much for being authors, entrepreneurs or philanthropists– but for how they look in bathing suits? When female writers are relegated to chicklit, when the female CEO of General Motors earns half of her male predecessor’s salary, and when women hold 1% of the world’s wealth, making the “choice” to be a model may seem like the best way to success among such limited, sexist options.
There’s nothing innovative about Barbie in Sports Illustrated. This magazine has let a woman on the cover of a non-swimsuit issue only 66 times. That’s about once a year. These pictures are the same old, same old except for one thing: Barbie is taking the sexualizing of girlhood to an offensive and dangerous new low.