Barbie the brave

Who knew that Barbie's debut in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue would unleash a Noreaster of vitriol and condemnation, along with some passionate First Amendment-for-Dolls-style support?

Barbie's a doll. We know that. Many of us played with her. (This writer did. So did her daughters). Many of us know someone who plays with her.  Millions of little girls are playing with her as you read this.

But who knew that Barbie's debut in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue would unleash a Noreaster of vitriol and condemnation, along with some passionate First Amendment-for-Dolls-style support?

Mattel knew. 

“#Unapologetic,” brazenly stamped under Barbie's image on the Times Square billboard that went up last week, has been the rallying cry for years inside the walls of Barbie HQ. Let's face it, she's the only global fashion icon who is regularly attacked for having the same body type and wardrobe preferences as a garden-variety Academy Award nominee. And as mystifying as it is that we idolize legions of juice-cleansing, workout-addicted Hollywood starlets and question the doll, the controversy exists, the discussion continues. 

(Weber Shandwick is the creative and digital partner for the Barbie brand and creator of the #unapologetic campaign).

That's what makes Barbie's appearance in the swimsuit issue so triumphant. Getting her there — alongside  veterans like Christie Brinkley and Brooklyn Decker — is a simple idea, but a brave one. Brave because it defies the conventions of pulchritude and messes with the heads of those who grab the issue expecting well-oiled flesh in bikinis only to find a small plastic woman in a one-piece from 1959. Brave because it asks us to take sides: Barbie as standard of beauty or Barbie as the doll whose many careers, outfits, and proto-Blahnik stilettos have inspired billions of hours of creative play. And, mostly, brave because it ignites the conversation that boils under the surface, the one that fuels playgroup scuttlebutt and draws mommy blogger battle lines. 

Brave ideas incite the hard conversations and the rewarding ones. Brave ideas are the toughest ones to have, the most gratifying to see through, and the ones that linger in our minds the longest. Finding brave ideas is the quest we're on. 

And Barbie — bravely owning who she is for 55 years – is right there with us. In a vintage crocheted halter tank.

Gail Heimann is president of Weber Shandwick

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