I hemmed and hawed on the subject of letting my daughter wear real makeup for a couple of years. She loved to watch me apply makeup and enjoyed playing with her plastic lipstick, but I didn’t want to let her apply actual eye shadow and blush too soon. In the absence of a better line of reasoning, I subscribed to the theory that letting a little girl wear makeup would encourage her sexualization before she was mature enough to understand such an adult concept.
But then I realized two things. 1) I wear makeup almost every day. I wear it because it’s fun; I like the way it smells and feels on my skin. I want to teach her that makeup is fun, not something forbidden to be used beyond your mother’s influence. 2) If I helped her gain entry into the world of beauty products, I could better monitor her experience. Makeup was something we could bond over as the two women in our family of Dad and two brothers.
So, I bought her an age-appropriate playset of real makeup for her seventh birthday. It has eye shadow, blush, and tiny tubes of lipstick. Everything is in hues of pink and purple and encased in a pink plastic heart with a tiny mirror on the inside of the lid. I told her she could put on all the makeup she wants at home, but she isn’t allowed to wear it out in public. She has to wait until she is 13 to wear makeup outside the house.
She enjoys experimenting with various colors and combinations on her eyelids, cheeks, lips, and sometimes her nose. We have makeover sessions where we apply makeup and style each other’s hair. Sometimes, her four-year-old brother gets in on the fun and winds up with pink tribal stripes painted across his forehead, chin, and chest. I’m teaching her that makeup is fun. It’s a way to spend time together and express our creativity on the blank canvas of our faces (and sometimes our upper bodies).
Makeup is not something that we use to compensate for perceived inadequacies in our appearance, nor is it necessary to having an attractive face. I want to teach my daughter to have a healthy relationship with beauty products, and I think allowing limited access to them at a young age will help lay a foundation for her to develop a healthy self-image as she grows into a young woman. The longer I shun makeup, the more forbidden and thus desirable it would become. I’d rather she ask me for help with blending her eye shadow palette – even it was metallic or neon or something else I don’t like – than sneak a wand of mascara into the girls’ bathroom at school and look to her peers for guidance on how to present herself to the world.
Wearing makeup is a rite of passage for young women, and I look forward to helping my daughter navigate this world of powders, creams, and specialized brushes. In a few years, I’ll help her erase smudges in her eyeliner. For now, she smears on a heavy layer of glitter lip gloss, then has a tea party with her stuffed animals.