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IUPUI Expert: Sports Illustrated issue concedes Barbie’s inescapable sexual symbolism


For Immediate Release

INDIANAPOLIS — next week, Barbie — yes, the doll — will join the ranks of the likes of Kate Upton, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Beyonce Knowles, Christie Brinkley and Kathy Ireland.

The 11.5 inch plastic blond bombshell, dressed in an updated version of her trademark black-and-white striped swimsuit, will appear in the 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue on store shelves Tuesday, Feb. 18. Barbie will also grace a cover wrap on 1,000 of the issues distributed at the New York Toy Fair.

Cultural anthropologist Paul R. Mullins of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is available for comments on Barbie and the Sports Illustrated issue.

Mullins, chair of the Department of Anthropology in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, is a long-time observer of the cultural attraction associated with the soon-to-be 55 fashion doll.

“Barbie in SI’s swimsuit issue represents a significant shift in Mattel’s long-term evasion of Barbie’s sexuality.  Mattel recently unveiled the ‘unapologetic‘ campaign for Barbie, a break from painting Barbie as a sort of ‘ blank slate’ onto which children project their aspirations,” Mullins said.

“The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue now places her alongside flesh-and-blood models and concedes Barbie’s inescapable sexual symbolism that has always been a key dimension of the doll’s compelling play possibilities . . . Once reluctant to be ensnared in charged discussions of Barbie’s sexuality, Mattel has now apparently embraced the doll’s sexuality as one dimension of her ‘unapologetic’ attitude. 

 ”Barbie is compelling because she is all about gender and sexuality, the essential dimensions of all our experiences and key factors for the pre-adolescents consuming the doll.”

To contact Mullins directly for an interview, email or call 317-274-9847.  For further assistance from IU Communications, contact Diane Brown, 317-274-2195; 317-371-0437 (cell); or email

For Mullins’ recent blog on Barbie and the swimsuit edition, go to:

Mullins and his wife, Marlys Pearson, co-authored “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology,”  published in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology in 1999; and more recently consulted on the extremely successful 2010-2012 Barbie: The Fashion Experience exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.