I did something against my better judgment recently: I brought home a Pür cosmetics Cinderella-themed makeup palette, above, for my 7-year-old daughter. It had magically appeared at the office one day, and my friend and co-worker had put it aside for me, knowing my daughter is very into dress-up and hairstyling and all things girly.
At first, I told her no way. Lipstick and blush and eyeshadow? For a kid? It felt like something that went against everything I believed in: the importance of inner beauty, bucking gender constructs — basic feminist ideals, for heaven’s sake!
“Oh, come on,” my friend said blithely. “It will make her so happy.”
And so, just like that, I decided to loosen up and let it happen (after checking in with my wife, of course, who miraculously said OK against her own better judgment). I brought the thing home. And when I presented it to my girl, she was ecstatic — and completely shocked. “I can’t believe you’re letting me have this,” she said, confused and trembling with excitement as she carefully unfolded the neat packaging and began dabbing at the colors.
Blue Ivy working her look. (Photo: Instagram/Beyoncé)
“I just thought you’d love it,” I told her. “But it’s only for playing, OK? You cannot go out in any of this stuff.”
“OK!” she squealed.
She spent portions of the next few chilly, wintry Saturdays trying all the various color combinations, deciding on her favorite hues (“Dazzle” for eyes, “Lure” — eek! — for lips) and making creepy faces in the mirror. But the intrigue didn’t last. After less than a month, she seemed to have moved on, unscathed, and I couldn’t have been more relieved — until I noticed a slight uptick in her occasional morning meltdowns regarding troublesome school outfits or hairdos. And I’ve had a nagging worry: Did the makeup somehow play into these burgeoning preoccupations?
The issue has been highlighted in the media several times this week alone — with that viral photo of Beyoncé’s 4-year-old, Blue Ivy, dolled up in mom’s makeup, as well as with Kerry Washington’s already talking to People about how she’s in no rush for her baby girl, Isabelle, to start dabbling in the stuff. “We’ll see who she is and the world she lives in — she’s not even 2, so who knows what the world will look like when she is 10 or when she’s 13 or when she’s 15,” she said. “We’ll just feel it out.” And then there was this alarming story about little girls getting their eyebrows waxed, and another one, about Tori Spelling’s being unapologetic over dyeing her 7-year-old daughter’s hair blond last summer.
Regarding makeup and her daughter, Kerry Washington will “feel it out.” (Photo: Getty Images)
So maybe my slight lapse in cosmetics judgment wasn’t so bad after all? Not so fast, warns Connecticut-based child, teen, and adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg.
“Your initial instinct, not to bring it home, was right,” Greenberg tells me flat out. “I do not think little girls should be playing with makeup. It starts that whole terrible cycle of girls becoming almost slaves to their appearance and to what others think about their appearance.” Girls, she says, even more than boys, are hyperaware of external cues, and “at some point, they learn: If I put more makeup on, if I dress in a certain way, if I sexualize myself, I’ll get more approval.”
When it comes to a little girl’s wearing makeup, whether inside or outside the home, she says, “there’s nothing cute about it. It’s dangerous, and it just starts that process earlier.” (And the process she speaks of is, I’m afraid, the one that paves the way to the terrifying reality explored by journalist Nancy Jo Sales in American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, in which the self-esteem of many a 13-year-old girl relies on how many likes her heavily doctored selfies can get on Instagram.)
My daughter in heaven.
Luckily, I’m not the only one who screwed up here. “Beyoncé should be ashamed of herself,” Greenberg adds. “Her 4-year-old daughter doesn’t need to be trying to imitate her. Makeup does sexualize. And celebrities have a responsibility to be good role models.”
But they aren’t always, apparently. Suri Cruise caused a national uproar when, at age 3, she was seen stepping out in lipstick and kitten heels. Courteney Cox has been criticized for allowing her daughter, Coco Arquette, to be seen in lipstick starting at age 6, while Tori Spelling had a similar reaction after allowing her girl Stella (the same one with the dyed hair) to wear lipstick — not to mention have a 6th birthday party at which she and 18 friends were treated to mani-pedis, facials, and new hairdos.
Regular ol’ moms have come clean with similar allowances. A few years back, this Mommyish blog caused a stir — and landed the writer on Good Morning America — when a mother admitted she allowed her toddler to wear makeup for special occasions.
“Ever since she could sit in front of my vanity, my daughter has loved makeup. The entire idea of painting her face was pretty exciting. She’s begged for blush and pleaded for a little lipstick. And for the past two years, I’ve obliged her,” she wrote, going on to note that she herself rarely wears makeup and considers herself to have “feminist leanings.” But, she added, “It seems like makeup is counter-productive to any goal I have about her self-esteem and confidence. And yet … I keep letting her put it on.”
I can certainly relate to that internal struggle. And while I won’t be taking the makeup palette away from my daughter just yet — at least not until I’m sure she’s totally forgotten about its existence — I’ll be more mindful of not leading her down the road that I fear. I will heed Greenberg’s advice to focus on “not what the body looks like, but on what the body can do, and its strength — through sports, dance, art.” It’s something I’ve made a conscious effort to do her whole life — along with banning any diet or body or “fat” talk in our house — but somehow, amazingly, the fact of her sweet face had escaped me.