My nine-year-old daughter has a makeup bag. It’s filled with all of my leftovers, lipstick shades I decided looked awful on me, garish eyeshadows that I attempted to make work once or twice, samples from department stores that came with my purchase. She has foundation and disco dust and mascaras in tiny little tubes and a plastic container of makeup remover wipes. When she is home from school she sits in her bedroom surrounded by stuffed animals and dolls and does her face, always too much blush and sparkly blue eyeshadow up to her eyebrows and lipstick smeared beyond the natural lines of her tiny little mouth. On occasion she draws flowers on her cheeks with an eyeliner.
She will ask me if she looks pretty.
Of course she does. She is my daughter.
But on occasion I have had to stop myself from correcting her, from teaching her, from showing her how to use a light touch when applying makeup and instructing her on what is age-appropriate. Because at her age, I don’t think any makeup, no matter how natural, is appropriate. I would rather have her look like some Halloween disco dolly reject than wear what is appropriate makeup for her age, a light dusting of powder, a hint of blusher, some clear mascara and gently sparkling lipgloss. That, to me, if far more troubling than a little kid who looks like a hybrid of Bozo the Clown and a Miss America contestant who has been left out in the rain.
She watches me apply my makeup. She watches videos of women and girls applying makeup. On YouTube you can find thousands of girls under the age of ten giving lessons on how to apply neutral, everyday makeup.
And us adult girls know, makeup is just makeup. It comes off with soap and water. Some days we feel like wearing it and some days we don’t. But for young girls, the entire world of makeup is fraught with so many other things, big things like self-esteem and feelings of attractiveness and sexualization and growing up. It’s not just makeup, it’s like a magic wand. Which is why I would rather my own kid wield this wand with a clumsy, heavy hand then with a more delicate one, because that’s where makeup becomes less about wearing a disguise and more about using it to look pretty. And at her age, she needs a few more years before she worries about how makeup will make her look pretty.
I learned how to apply my own makeup from swiping my older sister’s eyeliner and watching my mom do her face. I wasn’t technically allowed to wear makeup until I was 13, but I can remember starting before then, and I think that’s how it should be, at least until a parent is ready to haul their daughter to the Clinique counter and buy her age-appropriate makeup. I won’t be doing this with my own kid until she is about that age, because until then I really have no desire to add to the messages she will be inundated with her entire female life, that makeup makes you look better, prettier, sexier, and that is what women do. For now she uses makeup like a toy, like a fun things to do because it can make you look different. It’s dress up. It comes off with soap and water. Teaching her how to apply makeup that will bring out her natural beauty at this age is just me telling her that barefaced she needs improvement.
And considering she will hear that her entire life every time she sees a magazine cover or turns on the television, for now I’d rather her look ridiculous than feel like she has to look pretty using what these tubes and wands contain.