Wonder Woman: Fierce heroine or infantilizing cosmetics marketing tool?
When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was perch on the edge of the tiny bathroom sink of my childhood apartment and watch my mother apply her make-up. My mother was a notorious cosmetics hoarder, and lipsticks, eyeshadows, pencils and blush spilled from the medicine cabinet. In the morning, as she was readying herself for work, my mom would go through the complicated process of "putting on her face." It involved a tedious routine of blending, and brushes, and smudging. Applying her face meant as much as erasing her perceived flaws as accentuating the features she thought were acceptable. There was nothing fun about it. Putting on her face was a utilitarian act.
As a girl I had my very own make-up, from brands like Bonnie Bell and Tinkerbell and Barbie. It was scented like strawberries. I too spent time at the bathroom mirror, painting my lips and experimenting with peel-off nail polish. I wanted to look older, and glamorous, and chic, just like the models on magazines. I subjected my younger cousins to spontaneous make-overs, and we staged complicated photo shoots involving enough make-up to supply a Broadway production of Cats. Make-up was fun, and colorful, and a delightful way to practice at being a grown-up.
Somewhere between my childhood experimenting and growth into an adult, I lost the playful quality which cosmetics used to contain. Now, when I'm in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning, I too "put on my face."My routine includes eyeshadow primer, shadow, liner, mascara, foundation, and blush. I smudge and line and contour, all with the intention of covering flaws and accentuating the features I deem positive.
When the New York Times wrote about the growing market of women purchasing cosmetics featuring cartoon and comic book characters, I was intrigued. MAC, the innovator of such lines, has produced collections inspired by Hello Kitty, Miss Piggy, Wonder Woman and villainous Disney characters such as Cruella De Vil. According to David Gager, the brand's senior vice president and group creative director, cartoon-based collections generally sell very well and tend to become "very coveted and special" to consumers.
There is certainly an element of nostalgia behind the popularity of these cosmetics collections - I have fond memories of watching Wonder Woman on TV during rainy Sunday afternoons. But the cult love behind cartoon-inspired cosmetics might signify more.
Steve Stoute, an advertising executive who helped broker a collaboration between MAC and Lady Gaga said, “I think that anytime you find a way to incorporate the essence and glamour of the beauty business, but also find a way to touch a woman and make her still feel like a girl, is beautiful. It creates a healthy tangent between a little girl and a sophisticated woman.” There is something about these collections that taps into the playful, creative element of cosmetics. A glimpse of Miss Piggy on the case might remind women that cosmetics are not only functional, but also fun. In addition, swiping on a shadow from a Wonder Woman palette could inspire a woman to be sassy, or fearless, or powerful, just like her heroine was.
Some might see these collections as a baffling form of infantilizing women, and products such as Maybelline's Baby Lips lip gloss and Hello Kitty bubble bath certainly hint at it. But marketers are becoming increasingly crafty at injecting products with an emotional element. To some women, items that hint of a more innocent time resonate deeply. A Wonder Woman compact might remind these women of a time when life was simple, and their heroine was a a fictional superhero who was strong and glamorous.
So what do you think of these cartoon-inspired makeup collections? Have you ever bought cosmetics from one of the MAC lines? Are you intrigued by these collections? Do you see make-up application as a chore, or a way to be creative? How much make-up do you wear on a given day?