By Karen Brooks
AUSTIN, Texas, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Red-blooded beauties, step aside: a plastic Barbie doll will join a generation of iconic stunners next week in the Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Swimsuit edition.
Striking a pose in the black-and-white swimsuit she wore for her debut in 1959, Barbie takes her place alongside a host of legendary SI Swimsuit alumni as part of a new promotional campaign with the magazine, Mattel officials said.
"Barbie is a legend in her own right, with more than 150 careers and a brand valued at $3 billion," Mattel spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni said. "She is in great company with the other legends, such as (actress-models) Heidi Klum and Christie Brinkley, to name a few."
The cover will be unveiled on the late-night TV talk show "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on Thursday, according to show representatives. The magazine is due to hit newsstands on Tuesday.
The campaign refers to Barbie as "the doll that started it all," and uses the hashtag "#Unapologetic" to promote buzz around the issue.
The hashtag appears in discussions on social media sites, on a billboard in Manhattan's Times Square, and in an as-yet-unexplained plan to take over the "NASDAQ digital footprint" on Thursday, according to a company statement.
The "unapologetic" refrain is a cheeky nod to critics who have insisted for decades that Barbie and the magazine contribute to unhealthy expectations of beauty and poor body self-image in girls.
This appearance by Barbie, a first for the Swimsuit issue, has sparked a fresh round of criticism beyond the long-standing arguments that Barbie is impossibly skinny and that the real women in the issue are objectified or go to unhealthy lengths to look the way they do.
"Our girls are only so young for such a very short time, and taking one of her toys and putting it alongside sexualized and dehumanized images of women to fall under the male gaze is wrong on so many levels," Eve Vawter, editor of the blog Mommyish, wrote in a post Wednesday. "Barbie is no longer just a doll. She is a sex doll."
Mattel said in a statement that the ad campaign celebrates "some of the world's most famous swimsuit legends - like Barbie - who have gone on to break boundaries, build empires and shape culture."
"Though we have yet to see one of our own run for president, scores of Swimsuit alum have gone on to launch business empires, acting careers, fashion lines, media production companies and other kinds of ventures," Rebecca Shore, a writer for the SI Swim Daily website, wrote in a post.