Barbie may love MAC, but I don't
In January, FashionTribes reported that MAC Cosmetics was teaming with Mattel to produce the Barbie Loves MAC line (tag: "specially created for all you living dolls"). The makeup, which debuted in stores on February 13, is packaged in black containers with a pink Barbie profile on the outside; there is also a collectors edition MAC Barbie doll that retails for $35.00. "This is intended to be a very sophisticated makeup collection, designed for adults â€” not children," says Peter Lichtenthal, general manager of MAC Cosmetics.
I find the whole Barbie Loves MAC concept irritating. I've been a big fan of MAC Cosmetics for years, specifically because of the Viva Glam line. Founded in 1994 with one perfect red lipstick, Viva Glam and the MAC Aids Fund has contributed over $85 million to organizations that provide services and care for people "infected and affected by HIV/AIDS." Every cent of the purchase price of a Viva Glam lipstick or lipglass goes to the AIDS fund; the colors are beautiful and the cause is worthwhile.
Viva Glam was a brilliant marketing move on the part of MAC's parent company, Estee Lauder. The line targeted young, socially conscious, politically liberal women like myself, women who were coming into our own financially and who were making adult decisions about how to change the world at the same time that we were learning to put our best face forward. MAC hired transvestite pop star RuPaul as the line's first spokes model, tapping directly into the desire of GenX women to be seen as powerful figures who could transcend the cultural limits of traditional gender stereotypes.
Thirteen years later, however, MAC has turned to Barbie as the new face of beauty. Unlike RuPaul, who was entirely self created (a man who becomes a woman through sheer force of will and great makeup and clothes), Barbie is a plastic mock-up of an unattainable female form. The models in the new Barbie Loves MAC ad campaign are styled to look like dolls; their facial expressions are vacant and frankly, a little frightening.
The plastic models are all the more disturbing because this line will most certainly appeal to young women, specifically 'tweens. It is naive for anyone to think that Barbie makeup will not be incredibly enticing to girls who are teetering on the brink between playing with Barbie and making themselves up to look like her. Equally disturbing is the idea that adult women are longing for their childhood, particularly for a childhood in which they were imagining themselves as a Barbie doll. When I started searching the web for responses to the Barbie Loves MAC line, I was expecting--or maybe just hoping--to find a chorus of rejection for the idea that women should turn themselves into "living dolls." What I found instead were dozens of young women bloggers writing about how they were counting the days until the makeup hit stores, and how excited they were about the collection.
Perhaps what is most unsettling to me is my sense that, as with the launch of the Viva Glam line, MAC and Estee Lauder have indeed tapped into some significant idea about how young women are imagining themselves right now, but instead of the kind of socially aware gender fluidity of the Viva Glam line, Barbie Loves MAC rests on a more retro notion of women as empty silicone shells. I want to think that this line will fail because young women will be smarter than that, because we will resist the urge to be a plastic head, because we have lost the desire to idealize impossible breasts and feet that only fit in stiletto heels, but I don't think that's true. Instead, I think the people at MAC are on to something. I'm just disappointed that this is what's being pitched to young women right now, particularly since I know that MAC and Estee Lauder can do better.