Barbie and the Makeup of Feminism

Research Uncovers Surprising Cosmetic Spending Habits of Progressive Women

DENVER - Movie-goers are learning this summer that the iconic Barbie doll is in fact a feminist, and her love of fashion, hair and makeup is a true reflection of that. In findings that turn conventional wisdom on its head, a new study by a Regis University researcher reveals that women who consider themselves feminists spend more money on makeup than women who don’t.

The study, led by Mycah Harrold, assistant professor in Regis’ Anderson College of Business and Computing, compared buying habits and spending on cosmetics among women who said they consider themselves feminists, and women who did not identify as feminists.

“We found it was the feminists who had more [expensive] products; they were willing to do the research and pay more,” Harrold said. That contradicts the widespread perception that that those who consider themselves feminists aren’t concerned with appearance or with conforming to – and pursuing – traditional notions of feminine beauty, The findings, published in Psychology & Marketing, surprised the research team, which included Washington State University faculty members Chadwick Miller and Andrew Perkins.

“So, we had to figure out how to explain why this was happening,” Harrold said.

According to Harrold, this unexpected trend may be attributed to feminists' keen awareness of the pressures and scrutiny placed on women's appearances. By purchasing higher-end beauty products, feminists may be reclaiming control over their own image, defying the notion that embracing feminism necessitates rejecting traditional femininity.

“Some women feel like they have to wear makeup every day because society expects them to. The feminists who felt that pressure … were putting in the effort, time, resources and money to buy these products, versus going to a big-box retailer…and grabbing something off the shelf,” she said.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the findings may suggest progress for women, Harrold said. The findings could be viewed as a sign that women are making choices that make them feel empowered and feel good about themselves, rather than trying to look pretty to conform to society’s expectations -- or to please men.

“We’re really living in a post-feminist world where women today …have grown up in a world where they can be anything they want to be,” Harrold said.

To learn more, visit “Pink tasks: Feminists and their preferences for premium beauty products" published in Psychology & Marketing.

About Regis University

Established in 1877, Regis University is a premier, globally engaged institution of higher learning in the Jesuit Catholic tradition that prepares leaders to live productive lives of faith, meaning and service. One of 27 Jesuit universities in the nation, Regis has two campus locations in the Denver metro area and extensive online program offerings with more than 6,000 enrolled students. For more information, visit