“Baby Lips”: Thanks for the Infantilization, Maybelline

Maybelline’s brand of lip gloss, “baby lips,” is a straightforward example of the infantilization of adult women:

We should be worried about the infantilization of women for two reasons:

First, it’s directly related to the sexualization of young girls. As I wrote in a previous post:

…on the one hand, women are portrayed as little girls, as coyly innocent, as lacking in power and maturity. On the other hand, child-likeness is sexy, and girls are portrayed as Lolitas whose innocence is questionable.

Second, the need for women to look like babies to be beautiful, along with the requirement for women to be beautiful, turns aging into a trauma for women. Susan Sontag, in her (truly beautiful) essay “The Double Standard of Aging,” put it this way:

The great advantage men have is that our culture allows two standards of male beauty: the boy and the man… A man does not grieve when he loses the smooth, unlined, hairless skin of a boy. For he has only exchanged one form of attractiveness for another …

There is no equivalent of this second standard for women. The single standard of beauty for women dictates that they must go on having clear skin. Every wrinkle, every line, every gray hair, is a defeat.

That feeling of defeat may well be very lucrative for Maybelline, if we buy into it.

Comments

  1. I have been a fan of Ms. forever and ever and ever. But this take seems a little off base. The product is meant to moisturize your lips, so they’re making an analogy to “baby soft.” That’s not telling women that they are babies. That’s telling women that they can have very soft lips. Something I’d kinda like myself, in the winter.

    Yes? No?

    • Lindsay Beyerstein says:

      The package design is pretty bad, though. The bubble font and the pink and powder blue color scheme make the tube look like a baby product.

      • This. If it were called “Smooth Lips” and had a pretty font as opposed to a cute font, there would be no problem. The product itself is fine. The way it’s marketed is what’s harmful in this case.

        • the package design is fine. it reaches out to women of ALL ages. it wasn’t made for any age group in particular, it’s ment for everyone.

    • I agree.

  2. Um. K. You are looking into this WAY too much. Everyone knows that babies have soft skin…so who wouldn’t want soft lips like a baby’s? There is no SEXUALIZATION at all.

  3. I agree with you Mom101 women dont want to look like babys they just want to be soft and that is very normal !!

  4. Of course we want our lips to be soft. That’s not the point being made here. One cannot “read” an ad without looking at the culture in which it is disseminated; when you look at all the imagery, in advertising, films, music videos etc, in all mediated forms, and put it all together (and there is way more coming at us then ever), then yes it is offensive. Let’s be critical here;) Of course we want our skin to be soft like baby’s. If we use that argument, then an ad selling a product for tween girls (who want to be grown up- marketers know this really well), could use the same strategy, and yes we could still agree that tweens want to be grown up, and endorse the ad and the product that exploits girls’ desire and crosses the line of what is appropriate. Advertising is big business and it is very deliberate don’t kid yourselves. (Didn’t we know that by now?)

  5. Excuse me everybody, the product/ad does not say “soft lips”, it quite clearly says “baby lips”. How on earth is telling people they should have lips like babies NOT infantilisation?

    • If you read the ad, it specifically says clinical care for “baby-soft lips”. I translate that to mean that it will give you baby-soft lips, not baby lips. Wouldn’t we look a little ridiculous walking around as adult women, with the lips of a baby…all from a tube of chapstick?

      I believe some people read what they want into an article. Everyone has an opinion and mine is that we read WAY too much into things nowadays. Geesh…

  6. What we have to understand is that this kind of marketing is very gender specific. You would never find advertisements for a product that infantalizes men. I know plenty of men who have “baby soft” lips. A product using that turn of phrase would not do well with the male population. Don’t think for one minute that advertisers glaze over the social implications. They employ psychologists and behavior specialists to design ads that will mess with our minds. They know what they are doing. I feel this increase of female infantilism is a male response to women in the work force and in power. The story is old. They are threatened. But we can’t let corporations not be accountable for their marketing.

  7. The company could have easily named their product with some other pronoun or verb for soft. “Baby” has been a long standing term used to address beautiful women, which is probably why many people register it as being affectionate or even a flattering compliment when, in actuality, it is rather patronizing and infantilizing term.

    Regardless, the nature of this product is subjective, but the issues concerning women and the beauty industry are not.

  8. Drama. Over a lip balm. To the women who are completely overthinking this and making it an issue, why not put your energies into something that actually matters, like the fact that babies are starving all over the world.

    • People can multitask – we can be “dramatic” about lip balm, and try to solve the infrastructural problems of the USA and it’s starving children, all at the same time.

  9. I totally get what point you’re trying to make but I must disagree. The whole concept is retro and not in an infant way. Back in the day, Maybelline had a mascara called Baby Lashes that was packed full of moisture and made your eyelashes glossy. With all of the retro stuff popular now, that’s where they got that idea. As for the design I believe it was designed by a graffiti artist and I wish I could get his name, but I can’t. Love’s Baby Soft on the other hand, now that’s gross. I also read an article about deoderant from another blog asking why women want to smell like baby powder. Good question! I know of women who incorporate baby products into their routine not to smell like a baby but because they are gentler and milder. I personally use baby sunscreen because I need a sunscreen that is mild and won’t break me out. I also refuse to pay an arm and a leg for a tiny bottle when I can get a huge bottle for fraction of the price. I hope that I’m not adding a log to the fire, but maybe a different perspective.

  10. The battle of getting older and not feeling bad about it is not getting any easier.

    • I’m only 22 and I found myself jealous of a 14 year old daughter of a family friend because she her skin was younger, her eyes were bigger, her lashes thicker, her lips looked softer, she had no wrinkles, she didn’t have womanly hips or cellulite.. I can’t imagine how sad I’ll feel in 20 years.

  11. The television ad says “Get back the lips you were born with” in other words BABY LIPS! herp derp INFANTILIZATION

  12. Its just a cute product. It wasn’t created with evil intentions to bring women down in the world and make them inferior. It’s just a cute balm that you put on to make your lips softer. And the packaging is adorable and creative. I havnt seen many, if any, other lip balms like this. If EOS was named “Baby Lips” then they would be talked about due to the “pacifier” or “nipple look” that would be “undermining” women. Really, this is just poking a dead fire, it’s just a harmless lip balm that has adorable packaging and attracts the consumer’s attention with name and advertisement. It’s not a plot against women’s kind….

  13. Embrace who you are. Growing older shouldn’t be seen as a battle, it should be seen as blessing. We’re so caught up in this fear of growing older, we lose sight of the beauty in it. Look at our mothers, our grandmoters, the old couple we see in the park holding hands. They’re beautiful. being forever young should not be our goal, our goal should be growing older; gaining wisdom to make a differece, and laugh lines to show the world how happy we can truely be. It’s an ad. for baby soft lips; so you’d rather have chapped lips than soft ones? No? Just buy a different lipgloss. Be WOMEN. Real grown women, and stop whinning about a simple package design. This is NOT the type of activism you want to lead with. As female activists for our own sex, we have to set an example for generations to come, and this is NOT the example you want to set.

    • There are a lot of typos in the comment above, and for that, i’m sorry.

      • Every battle counts. Besides, being actively one thing or another doesn’t mean you don’t understand how far to take something or how hard you should push for something. Talking about infantilization doesn’t mean you forget about all the other things that are more important – Talking about lipgloss doesn’t mean I’ll forget about better pay at work, or that there are very few companies that are led by women, for instance.

  14. It’s not over thinking if you know what to look for. Never underestimate how much time and energy marketing companies leave to chance – it would be suicide on their part (the makers of the product and the marketing division) NOT to over think these things and look into the cultural frame of reference/implications.

    The people who understand that companies spend a LOT of time devising these ads and how to push women’s buttons – they see this for the infantilization it is. It’s infantilization whose purpose is to make women feel insecure about aging and therefore grab a “cure to age” distilled into a lip-product. And what’s the opposite of old adult – baby, maybe?

    Seriously, seriously, the product could have been called soft lips, smooth lips, a lot of things that weren’t baby.

    You don’t have to agree by any means, but don’t for a second think that they don’t try to plan this out on as many levels possible.

    • Soft lips is already a brand of lip balm, they would’ve gotten sued.

      • I’m sure those who work in marketing could come up with alternatives that don’t necessarily include “baby”.

        • I don’t see why they would have too. Babies are soft. I want my lips to be that soft.

          they aren’t saying you have to have baby lips. They’re just saying use it if you want lips as soft as a baby’s.

          • They would have to, if they had any respect for the women they’re selling their product to.

            Unforutnately, until the fountain of youth is discovered, no one, will ever have “baby lips,” only non-crusty, non-chapped lips. Or the soft lips, like you’re asking. Asking for lips like a baby’s is like asking for Japanese Hair (You’re stereotyping babies, btw, by saying babies have to be soft, to be babies.).

            The ensuing problem, Older women are seen as inferior to younger women and sexism has made women and most likely you buy into that crud, because it’s not even possible to obtain what the women’s product industry is constantly endorsing. Being younger, When health should be encouraged.

            The Marketers couldn’t come up with a non-woman-specific advertising campaign with only encouraging women to pursue impossible youth goals? Being threatened with a lawsuit to come up with another name is not a good enough answer, much less, an excuse.

        • Felicity says:

          Alex, I LOVE the way you think and present your arguments!

          For me, I object to the comments that cite “overthinking” or “reading too much into it” on several grounds.

          Firstly, voting for less thinking is reverting to sheep mentality, and I for one definitely don’t subscribe to that.

          Secondly, it’s perfectly legitimate to deconstruct the messages our media and product advertising put out there – if you choose not to engage in that conversation, fine, but don’t stifle others’ right to do so.

          Thirdly, unless you’re organising the lobotomy, accept the fact that some of us DO analyse what we observe and experience *smiles*

          Finally, I just want to reiterate Alex’s point that we can multitask and focus on a variety of issues an concerns at any given time. We don’t all have to feel the same degree of passion about any one concern. Accusations of overthinking don’t actually provide a valid opposing argument.

          • Alex and Felicity, thank you for putting into words what I unable to express. I’m aggravated because accusations of over thinking cause me to mentally shut down! I need to be wary of anyone who tells women to think less. I like thinking, and if it pleases me, I will connect dots and draw conclusions until I have a headache! For those who say that women are over thinking the implications of advertisements on their gender and wasting time that could be spent greater issues, just consider that critical thinking allows for better problem solving when faced when other challenges, like the social-economic problems mentioned before.

  15. I honestly don’t understand what the big deal is. It’s a tube of lip balm plain and simple. The theme is simple and cute. What’s wrong with that? If anything I’d think women would take offense to the names of lipstick colors. “Enchantress” “Lusty Red” you get the idea. Women are advertised to in a certain way because they allow themselves to be. Don’t like a product or what it stands for/implies? Don’t buy it.

    I’m a 22 year old male who recently purchased a tube of Baby Lips in Peppermint. :)

  16. The infantilisation of women is a real issue that seriously, seriously grosses me out, not only as someone in her mid-twenties who is ALREADY having extreme anxiety over aging, but also as an owner of a lonely hirsute vagina who doesn’t understand why the eff this babycunt thing has become the norm.

    If that didn’t make much sense, I apologize and hope you get the gist of what I’m saying. Tail end of an all-nighter, etc. etc.

    However, “Baby Lips” makes me think of “baby soft”, which is the appropriate connotation when we’re talking about cosmetics; a look through my elderly father’s medicine cabinet reveals shaving cream that promises “baby soft skin”.

  17. I think this is one of so many advertisements that make women out to be babies and young girls to be sexual. It’s odd and it oesn’t happen in a lot of other countries – France is a good example of sexiness and feminitity being a mature thing more than here. Anyhow, in case anyone fancies it, I wrote this on the matter recently! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaL2tN-M6s4

  18. Michelle says:

    This is why we can’t have nice things. Because everyone these days is so hyper-sensitive to even the slightest hint of anything that could possibly be offensive. Does there really need to be a controversy over this? Yes, you are absolutely overthinking.

  19. i am a guy, and i just wanted to put my two cents in, since all the comments i see are female so far. i am in no way turned on by young girls, women who have soft lips to kiss on are real nice. i had a gf who used this product, and even convinced me to use it to see what it would do, and she was my age, 32, and only uses the product to get smooth lips, not to try to attrackt men who like young girls. if she thought if that was what the product was intended for, she wouldnt let her 13 y/o sister use it. so, there. and as far as my using this product, it did help my lips out, a lot, a reeeaaal lot lol….

  20. After seeing so many reviews on blogs and youtube it has been bugging me that no one has been talking about the fact it is being marketed towards women but blatantly looks like a child’s product! Even after Googling to see if there was anyone speaking about this, this is the only thing I could find. It is complete infantillisation. What confuses me even more is some of the ads: for example in the Netherlands there’s one where a women, dressed in tiny denim shorts, takes a gun from a man and proceeds to out-do him in shooting cans?! Yet the product looks like it’s for a five year old…it’s such an unnecessary product.

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