I’m currently working on a couple of new posts but the images I want to use for them are at home (I’m at work right now) so for now I thought I’d fill the silence with a repost of one of my most popular posts ‘Barbie takes of the war paint’.
The above picture has been doing the rounds on facebook etc. as a viral photo. On top of this there are also a whole selection of alternative images ‘by artist and researcher’ Nickolay Lamm (you can read about this in a Huff post article). Lamm took famous dolls such as Barbie, Cinderella and a Bratz doll and gave them a similar treatment to the image above. The reactions have been mixed. When I first published this post on our facebook page we saw a lot of people point exclaim the Barbie image above looks ‘horrible’ (or words to that effect). If this is the stance someone wants to take then what can they do to defend the made-up fashion dolls? They could point out that, since these dolls are ‘fashion dolls’, the level of make-up which appears on their faces is reflective of the kinds of things girls will expect from fashion. One could also site the fact that a lot of these girls will see their mothers slap on the war paint on a daily basis as society seems to have developed a dress code for women which includes a big pile of chemicals smooshed all over their face.
Their mums, aware that they’ll be judged according to these pressures, will no doubt take care to keep up with the demands of society. If the girl sees their mum like this then she’ll expect a doll like Barbie, who is supposed to be an adult, to be similarly adorned. This is how we cement social pressure; expose a young girl to an unrealistic notion of how a woman ‘should’ look on a day-to-day basis and just watch her take those pressures on board for herself.
Maybe this depiction is unfair, make-up is a fairly standard part of everyday life for a large part of the female population. I’m also pretty sure there’s a large group of men who are envious of the fact that women have the luxury of covering up their blemishes and hiding their true health behind paint, whilst us ‘real men’ are socially obligated to bare our faces, warts and all, to the world (OK we rarely actually have warts but you get my drift). There are powerful benefits to wearing make-up that will not be quickly abandoned by women (and I can understand why). That said should we really be exposing young girls to the notion that a woman must spend her entire life in make-up?
Are we supposed to believe that at a sleepover Barbie would take the time to put on her make-up before her friends turned up, or on a trip to the gym. Maybe she would, I’ve certainly heard of women who do this. Either way Barbie’s permanent make-up certainly gives that impression and worse yet it hides the truth of make-up; it both takes time from your day to put it on and, in a best case scenario, it is also characteristic of your wishes. Make-up can be done artistically, beautifully concealing the fact that it’s even there, it can be done exhibitively in vampish or more exciting styles with an element of carnival flair, becoming more like artistic face painting than simply accentuating what’s there already.
Make-up can be an adventurous and personal demonstration of a woman’s personality, with this in mind I can even see how it could, in some cases, empower a woman and allow her to feel in control of the way she appears to the outside world. In cases like these it can be the face that she wants to show to the world. However, it can also often be the face that a woman feels that they have to show to the world, and the problem with Barbie is that by taking the prep out of the equation, by removing the processes of donning the make-up and choosing how it will look; the individuality element can be hard to argue for. Barbie has the same make-up on whether she’s off on a date with Ken (and don’t get me started on his make-up) or just lazing around the Barbie dream house with her friends, and it’s this that makes the make-up look like part of the routine, it makes it look necessary rather than fun. (side note: I’m well aware that there’s a Barbie make-up studio but that’s hardly the same thing as it’s a giant bust of Barbie not an opportunity to paint the face of an actual Barbie doll.
Maybe for some women make-up really does feel like a necessity, I’ll also try and be be realistic here, societal pressure can be pretty heavy so in some cases I don’t doubt that it really is a necessity for some women’s lifestyles. With this in mind, Barbie’s permanent made-up appearance can translate (I won’t say must, but it certainly can translate) into a necessity to hide her face at all costs, and do we really want children to hear that message? “Your natural face is so unpleasant that from the moment you reach your teens you must wear face-paint at all times so that you can have a better one” Really!!? I think we can treat them better than that.
The fashion dolls we sell in our shops are called ‘Groovy Girls‘. They are plush dolls which are suitable for girls as young as three to play with and they don’t have permanent make-up. I will admit that their skin looks flawless (if a little fluffy, since they are plush toys) but for the vast majority of children flawless skin is kind of the norm. It’s only once we get our wonderful batch of hormones in our teens that the huge majority of us get to experience the joys of acne, boils and all manner of dermatological nasties.
Despite their flawless skin the groovy girls are a big step away from Barbie, you can dress them up in outfits, yes, but the emphasis is solidly on the fun of fashion, the diversity of expression available through your choice of clothes. Perhaps this is because the groovy girls are just that; girls. With this in mind it may be unfair to compare the grown up woman that is Barbie with these younger counterparts with their flawless skin and lack of societal pressure. But this simply makes my point stronger, why does a fashion doll for girls have to be a woman?
Fashion is something for all, young girls can experiment with their clothes just as much (if not more so) than adults can. I understand that the fantasy of living an adult life through a doll like Barbie must be appealing to them, but if it is fantasy why taint it with a social obligation, which they won’t actually feel the force of, for a decade or so? Why not reach a compromise and allow girls to do Barbie’s make-up for her, they could use a wipe-off coloured pen or brush to have fun with make-up and then clean Barbie’s face back to some normal tones. This way we introduce girls to the fun that a woman can have with make-up, whilst emphasising the fact that getting that make-up on takes time and planning. It could be more realistic too: for example, why bother to do Barbie’s make-up when she’s just about to dive in the pool (bath)? It’ll just come off anyway so it would be a waste of time. Girls could gain experience in the time-consuming properties of make-up and hopefully learn that, if anything, make-up is for times that they want to wear it not for use all day every day.
As always thanks for reading, I’m getting more readers every day and I’m grateful for every one of you. Sorry for the long post today, I guess I got a bit wound up there but isn’t this worth getting wound up about? I have two boys, they will grow up in a different social niche than the little girls they play with but I’ll do my damnedest to make sure that they don’t expect women to be made up all the time, the flip side is that those with daughters should be doing the same. I won’t let my sons expect to go out with a walking Barbie doll (at least in Barbie’s current incarnation), and I’ll do my utmost to teach them about the qualities that make for an excellent partner: like beauty that isn’t painted on, a sense of humour and a healthy outlook on life.
I’ll refrain from pointing at their mum too much, no boy wants that, but she’s pretty much my paradigm example of a fantastic and beautiful woman who doesn’t wear make-up all day every day (hey, I know she reads this occasionally, can you blame me for trying to score some brownie points every now and then?). This is something all parents need to tackle, not just those with girls, and while I completely understand the appeal of fashion dolls and will argue in their corner any day, do they really have to have the exact same make-up on all day every day? That just doesn’t sound very fashionable to me. Thanks again, (remember to follow and/or comment) Cheers, John