Barbie takes off the warpaint

barbie no makeupApparently the above picture has been doing the rounds as a viral photo. I hadn’t seen it till today when I came across a whole selection of alternative images ‘by artist and researcher’ Nickolay Lamm in a Huff post article where famous dolls such as Cinderella and a Bratz doll had been given a similar treatment. So what is there to say about this, we could try and defend the made-up fashion dolls and 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. We can 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.

cinderella no make upBratz no make-upTheir 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 and here 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 them take those pressures on board for herself.

Nickolay Lamm's version of a bare faced Barbie

Nickolay Lamm’s version of a bare faced Barbie

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 rarely 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), however exposing a young girl to the notion that a woman will spend her entire life in make-up is unrealistic.

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? 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 a fun addition to an outfit.

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.


Groovy girls are available in both our Crieff and Perth shops

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?


Top model, make-up designer, available in our stores

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.

4 comments on “Barbie takes off the warpaint

  1. Mj Stades says:

    First of all do not apologise for the length of your post, you are a philosopher this is what we do. Second I must say that the points you make really speak clearly and eloquently on this issue, for the most part my reply would simply be something to the effect of “Right on John.” That being said, as I myself am extremely opinionated and a philosopher myself I am inclined to add an additional point in regards to what is wrong with society and that is the fact that it insists on assigning unnecessary gender roles to children in the first place and indoctrinating them towards specific behaviours based on an exaggerated notion of how big a role a person’s genitalia has in all aspects of their life.

    There a several levels this point can exist on. Some people fight this point to a certain extreme that a lot of people do not agree with. Society has been more use to girls who are tomboys than the idea that little boys should have the right to wear dresses if they want. At the moment I will set that point aside as it can be rather controversial and is more extreme then I need for the argument I am aiming for. Where we truly seem to run into trouble is in terms of gender segregation. This is something that has bothered me my whole life. In fact when I was in first grade, towards the end of the year our teacher rearranged the seating in the classroom to create one table for all the boys and two tables for girls. I did not approve of this, particularly as I was friends at that time with more girls in the class than boys….and there was a free space at one of the tables for girls so I got the teacher to let me sit there. Thus the beginning of my fight against gender segregation.

    When it comes to toys though it is really silly to boys get ‘action figures’ and girls get ‘dolls.’ After all a boy has just as much right to care about appearances and be interested in fashion….and I mean it can still be fashion that is seen as traditionally male. For girls, we have already seen that Barbie is already a horrible role model when it comes for girls and careers. Frankly even when one has a career oriented Barbie doll, it sends the wrong message, I mean what would it say to have a General Practitioner Barbie, or Member of Parliament Barbie, or Professor with an Endowed Chair Barbie, or Solicitor Barbie? “Hey girls you too can grow up and be elected to the commons or maybe get into the Lords like Baroness Warsi. But the most important decision to be made will not be what you ask during Question Time, but rather what you wear during Question Time.” There is nothing wrong with girls having dolls and caring about fashion but it is equally important that they have access action figures that show them that there is no glass ceiling rather than having them obsessed with the reflective glass that dolls live by.


  2. John says:

    Hi MJ, I know exactly what you mean about gender segregation in childhood, I felt the same way as a child and I think it took me years to figure out my own perspective on what being a man involves. I explored some of the issues associated with this topic in a previous post here: My views on the topic are a bit mixed, on one hand I can definitely see the benefits of the simplicity of traditional gender roles but I think these roles are taken too seriously and as a result many children feel marginalised/alienated by them. No child should feel uncomfortable about who they are but they also need concepts that they can understand and relate to. It’s a very difficult issue for parents in particular because, as liberal as you try to be about how you present gender to your child, you often find that you need to break down complex ideas into more basic concepts so that your child can understand what you’re talking about. This is where stereotype can be a useful tool, a jumping off point perhaps, you don’t present it as a law or anything but you make them aware of generalities in the world around them and how they typically relate to the child’s gender. From here you can explore the world of gender roles together. I’ve written a few posts on the topic of gender and toys, I popped them all in their own category (under ‘controversy’ in the list to the right) if you feel like reading more of my views on this issue. Thanks for the comment, and if you find the time to look at the above post let me know what you think, I always welcome a bit of healthy debate, Cheers, John


  3. […] do the re-post today. I wrote this last June but given some of the feedback I got on the post about Barbie losing her make-up on Friday I thought this might fill in some gaps that hadn’t been discussed there. I’m […]


  4. […] original post is the most viewed post I’ve written on here (it even surpassed my post about Barbie with no make up) but it was the reaction the article in the Strathallan Times that really surprised me. Just a few […]


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