This year, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue turns 50, which means that plenty of SI Swim Legends will be popping up to pay tribute to this all-American institution. But among the Kates and Heidis and Christies, there’s one unexpected name making an appearance in this year’s issue: Barbie. Yes, that Barbie.
For the first time, the Mattel fashion doll will be the star of an editorial feature inside the magazine, shot by longtime SI photographer Walter Iooss Jr. (He’s the man behind such iconic images as Cheryl Tiegs’ infamous fishnet bathing suit photo and Kate Upton’s 2012 cover.) In one shot, readers will see the original 1959 Barbie in her black-and-white striped one-piece alongside the new 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Barbie (on Target shelves this month) wearing a modern interpretation of the outfit. Another photo features a group of Barbie dolls modeled after the SI Swim “Legends” appearing in the issue.
Along with the editorial spread, Mattel and SI are also collaborating on an advertorial component around Barbie’s new “#unapologetic” campaign, which celebrates Barbie’s (sometimes divisive) role in society. “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.” A billboard teasing the campaign (and Barbie's involvement in the Swimsuit Issue) made its debut in Times Square earlier this month.
Including Barbie in the über-sexualized Swimsuit Issue may come as a surprise to some readers, but according to Mattel, the collaboration is about featuring Barbie as cultural icon and boundary-breaking woman (to be fair, she has had more than 150 careers), not as a kids’ toy. Nor is it specifically targeted at young girls. “Barbie is an iconic brand that is always speaking to multiple audiences—girls, moms and society,” said the spokesperson. “This program is about maintaining relevance and having a point of view on a societal conversation that has surrounded Barbie and women for years.”
The 2014 Swimsuit Issue officially debuts on Feb. 18. The night before, Barbie and SI will host a “Barbie Beach House Party” (complete with a “pink carpet”) in New York celebrating the Swimsuit Issue legends and the issue’s 50th anniversary.