Young girls often express an interest in wearing make-up. Will you know what to say?
The girl is fresh-faced, no more than 15, her long black hair hanging down over an Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt.
“If you’re in middle school, I really don’t think you need to wear the whole system: primer, concealer, foundation, powder and bronzer,” she says in her YouTube video called Neutral middle school look. “You just need to have a neutral look for daytime. Here’s how to do that.”
Girls and makeup have been entwined since a teenaged Cleopatra seduced Julius Caesar. Today, the “beauty business” is a billion dollar industry and tweens are a big part of it.
American consumer research company NPD Group Inc., found cosmetic usage among eight- to 12-year-old girls rose between 2007 and 2009:
- mascara went from 10 percent to 18 percent
- eyeliner rose from 9 percent to 15 percent
- lipstick rose from 10 percent to 15 percent
Experian Market Research also found that 43 percent of six- to nine-year-olds use lipstick or lip gloss.
While experimenting with makeup may be a completely normal – and inevitable – part of growing up, many parents are uncomfortable with the thought of their daughters crossing that threshold too soon. What age is too young?
“There’s a difference between a seven-year-old sitting in front of the mirror and putting on Barbie lip gloss, and a 12-year-old preening before going to the mall,” says Sara Dimerman, a child and family therapist and author of Character is the Key. “Playing ‘dress-up’ is one thing, but the 12-year-old is doing it with the intention of others seeing her.”
Your daughter’s motivation for wearing makeup is key. Is it because she wants to look older? Because her friends are doing it? Because she doesn’t feel she looks pretty without it? “If your daughter wants to start wearing makeup outside of the house, you need to have an honest discussion with her about it,” says Sara. “Ask questions, as opposed to giving answers. Forbidding it will simply cause her to rebel; she’ll end up going to a friend’s house to do it.”
The desire to wear makeup is in part due to peer pressure, to be sure, but our kids also look to us for messages about what’s appropriate. “If Mom wears a lot of makeup, or says things like ‘I can’t go out without my makeup,’ what is she saying to her daughter? That she is not attractive without makeup? She’s not good enough? The messages we give our girls are important,” says Sara.
It’s also important to talk about the messages that are sent when girls wear makeup.
“Kids need to understand that when they look a certain way wearing makeup, it may attract a kind of attention they are not ready to handle. In some ways, makeup sexualizes young girls, and they need to understand that. Explain why you’re concerned.” And be prepared to differentiate between adults wearing makeup and children wearing makeup.
When and whether you allow your children to wear makeup is a family choice, but high school is Sara’s personal starting point. If they choose to wear makeup, she suggests showing them how to apply it or getting some tips from a pro. “And even though they may not believe it, tell them they’re gorgeous even without the makeup.”
Published in June, 2011.