Mattel and Sports Illustrated revealed this week the iconic doll would be featured on the magazine's 50th anniversary swimsuit edition, CNN reported Saturday.
Fans of the doll went online to voice their dismay and the controversy grew after a Twitter account for Barbie posted that she was "unapologetic" for posing for the magazine.
"This is not a program targeted towards girls," a Mattel spokeswoman said. "As a brand that is always a part of the cultural conversation, Barbie, for the first time, has an active voice in the debate with her #unapologetic stance. The goal of the campaign is to empower fans to engage and celebrate all that makes them who they are."
"I am #unapologetic for being grossed out by Mattel's desperation. Pairing up with Sports Illustrated to put Barbie on a cover mag? #yuck," digital strategist Jessica Lee said on Twitter.
Utah grandmother Holly Albrecht took to Twitter to defend the doll maker: "When you look at the history of Barbie and how she's 'grown' in career choices I believe she's a positive example ... and quite frankly, a more positive image than the SI models.
"Children KNOW Barbie is a toy but the 'skinny' models tell society ... that a woman must be skinny to be accepted as beautiful; a far more negative example than Barbie," she said. "Parents need to remember THEY should to be the positive role in their child's life, not toys or Hollywood or athletes."