And I’m Like, “Girl, It’s Maybelline.”

When I think of Maybelline, the first thing that comes to mind is their recently canceled tagline: “Maybe she’s born with it.  Maybe it’s Maybelline.”  The tagline was created in 1991 — an example of Maybelline’s bold message that women need makeup to stand out, look pretty, and stop being so damn plain.  Take a quick look at the video below:

“Some faces look fine.”  Like we’re talking about how lunch was today.  “Oh yeah, that sandwich I had was fine. Nothing special.”

“Yeah, your face is fine.  I guess.”


Then, in 2016, Maybelline changed their insult –oops, I meant tagline — to “Make It Happen.”

Take a look:

While I don’t want to critique the whole video, I find it funny how it shows a bunch of white women (one or two women of color are shown sporadically throughout) doing their makeup and looking wistfully into the camera as they step out of taxis and on top of taxis. As if this is how YOU *points at you because you’re going to make it happen, right?* are going to conquer the world.   I think what Maybelline is trying to say is: Women can do anything they put their mind to.  Empowerment. Go out there and show the world what you’re made of!  But I also think the message falls flat.  Maybelline makes sure to let you know that as a woman, you can only “MAKE IT HAPPEN” if you wear makeup.  As a result of this phenomenon, Maybelline stands by its obsession with the “before” and “after” miracle, as not only does makeup promise a swift change in appearance, but also a drastic change in confidence and how a woman is perceived by others.  Kathy Peiss writes in her book, Hope in a Jar, “Makeup promised personal transformation…Beauty culturists had proclaimed the mutual transformation of external appearance and inner well-being. “Before-and-after” imagery appeared frequently in their works… In the coloring and contouring of facial surfaces, a woman could not only change her looks but remake herself and her life chances.” [1] For example, a Maybelline ad from 1952 (featured below) demonstrates this obsession with the before and after effects of mascara.  The ad literally says, “You’d hardly believe that the same face could become so beautiful, would you?”  It would be unheard of if someone was actually attractive without makeup.  Through Maybelline’s advertising, the idea that a woman’s life could be changed forever (your life could be so much better!!!) with just a little of bit makeup is constantly being reapplied.

1952_maybelline (1)

Also, interestingly, the Maybelline website offers a slightly different version of how the company was started in comparison to other websites that explain Maybelline’s start up.

Check this out:

Wikipedia’s introduction:

“Williams noticed his older sister Mabel applying a mixture of Vaseline and coal dust to her eyelashes to give them a darker, fuller look. He adapted it with a chemistry set and produced a product sold locally called lash-in-brow-line. Williams renamed his eye beautifier Maybelline, in honor of his sister Mabel, who gave him the idea.”[2]  

Cosmetics and Skin introduction: 

“In 1915, Tom Lyle watched his sister Mabel fix her singed eyebrows using a mixture of Vaseline, ash and coal dust, a trick she apparently got from ‘Photoplay’ magazine. Seeing an opportunity for a product to sell through his mail-order business he used a chemistry set to produce a mixture containing petrolatum (Vaseline), carbon black, cottonseed oil, and safflower oil that he hoped he could sell.” [3] 

Maybelline’s introduction:

“In 1913, young Chicago chemist Thomas Williams had a dilemma. His older sister, Maybel, was in love with a man who was in love with someone else. Maybel Williams did her best with what was available—she used petroleum jelly on her lashes and brows to enhance them. Her brother decided to help her increase her allure by adding carbon dust to the petroleum jelly, which darkened her lashes and brows more dramatically. The product worked. In 1915, Maybel got her man and Thomas founded what would become the global industry giant, Maybelline, named after the bride and her favorite beauty aid.” [4] 

Notice anything different?

Startlingly different?

Both Wikipedia and Cosmetics and Skin focus on Tom trying to perfect Mabel’s routine; there is never any mention of Mabel trying to impress a man.  However, Maybelline’s “About Us” section makes sure to emphasize that Mabel wasn’t pretty enough to attract the man she was pining after.  She needed to enhance her looks (because apparently that’s all that matters in a relationship) so that a man would fall in love with her.  Maybelline states that it only took some carbon and petroleum jelly to make Mabel stand out.

I wonder, then, if I just need carbon and petroleum jelly to make that guy I have a crush on like me back?





[1] Kathy Peiss, “Promoting the Made-Up Woman” in Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture, 134-66 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998),

[2] “Maybelline,” last modified May 25, 2017,

[3] James Bennett, “Maybelline,” Cosmetics and Skin, July 11, 2016, accessed May 29, 2017,

[4] “About Maybelline,” last modified 2017,


One thought on “And I’m Like, “Girl, It’s Maybelline.”

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  1. I definitely find it fascinating to look at older advertisements for products like makeup. The Maybelline advertisement with the before and after was particularly poignant – not only does the advertisement basically say the woman is ugly without makeup, but also says that people are dumb to not use it with the statement at the bottom, “Preferred by smart women the world over.” Also, they Maybelline may have changed their tagline in 2016, but I grew up knowing the “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline” and always found in cringe-worthy. The company makes its money off of convincing women that they were not born pretty and need to fake it with makeup. The before and after picture also reminded me of all the makeup tutorial videos online, especially the ones of famous YouTubers who show their makeup routine, which requires showing us their face without makeup, and it’s always such a shock.

    Yet, while I have definitely come to view makeup in a more nuanced way after this class, I still buy into this rhetoric. I still think I look slightly prettier with make-up – I know I don’t /need/ it, but I’ll wear it if I want to feel more special that day. So, I’m not sure if make-up’s a bad thing, it would just be better for makeup company’s like Maybelline to stop framing makeup as a way to convince other people that you’re beautiful.


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