One sure sign that spring is just around the corner: I again missed the arrival of this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. I shouldn’t be surprised.
The sight of lithesome young women writhing on the beach while wearing what appear to be three Post-It notes held in place by dental floss stopped titillating me around 1960. That was “The Year the Mystery Died.” The year I began “borrowing” my brother’s Playboy magazines.
What drew my attention to the current swimsuit edition was the furor over the appearance of Barbie® on an “ad overwrap” that makes her seem to be the cover girl. The overwrap appeared on only 1,000 of the nearly 6 million copies the issue is projected to sell.
But it was savvy marketing by Mattel, Barbie’s manufacturer, which is offering a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition Barbie that retails for $29.95. Little girls are not SI’s target audience, but Mattel likely anticipated the press coverage the cover garnered.
“So what?” you say. SI’s swimsuit issue is already filled with plastic women. Why get all huffy over the addition of one more? But to rational beings of both sexes, Barbie and her impossibly sculpted body perpetuate stereotypes. This is not a new observation.
Complaints of this sort began almost immediately after Barbie debuted in 1959. Even in that “Mad Men” era of rampant female objectification, women quickly pointed out that there was something wrong with Barbie’s vital statistics.
Barbie stands 11.5 inches tall and measures 5.5-2.75-5.25. Using the Secret Barbie Multiplier of 6.55, I have determined that in the real world, these figures translate to 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 36-18-34.
Never mind how I calculated this. Let’s just say that the image of a grown man hunched over a Barbie doll, a cloth tape measure in hand, is not one I want to appear on my Facebook page.
These are not unrealistic numbers, but women seldom achieve them in real life. Disclaimer: I once dated a Barbie-like young woman who had an 18-inch waist. Yes, she was slim and blonde, had closetsful of clothes and walked on tiptoes. Yes, she left me for a guy named Ken. Need I say more?
Despite my experience, and Mattel’s attempts over the years to make Barbie a role model for girls by introducing Astronaut Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie and even Episcopal Priest Barbie, women remain upset. I understand. Because I hate Ken.
Barbie’s boyfriend appeared in 1961 yet is impervious to the ravages of time. When did you last run across a real 53-year-old man who looks like Ken, dressed in the latest fashions, disgustingly ripped and being foisted upon young boys as a role model?
Mattel, it’s time to get real. Ken 2014 should reflect the true state of most 53-year-old males.
Introducing Beer Gut Ken. An understated “Git–R-Done” baseball cap first draws our attention and leads the eyes slowly downward past an eight-day growth of beard to a red-and-black plaid flannel shirt, tucked into and spilling over the elasticized waistband of faded denim boot-cut jeans, which break over the top of immaculate white New Balance cross trainers. Accessories include “Just for Ken” hair coloring, a tiny tube of testosterone-boosting cream and, in the Dream House medicine chest, an itty-bitty bottle of Barbie-turates to help him cope with the success of his plastic paramour. The bottle’s safety cap is missing because Ken’s nonarticulated fingers never did work so well.
I envision a Ken-based magazine ad-overwrap campaign next spring targeting female readers.
A Guns & Ammo swimsuit edition, maybe.