I wasn't allowed to wear makeup or color my hair until I was about 16 or 17. That doesn't mean I didn't: I wore tinted lip gloss that could easily be wiped off in high school and definitely got in trouble for box-dyeing my black hair a reddish tint (that some would call "mulled wine"). That I'm a beauty editor now is either an unexpected twist or an inevitable reaction to that upbringing, sucked into the irresistible pull of forbidden cosmetics.
It would make sense that I would be stoked about a brand like Petite 'N Pretty, a new Instagram-launched makeup brand that markets to the Gen Z crowd, ages 4 to 18. It's makeup for kids, who the brand refers to as "young creatives" — the type of kids who have their own YouTube channels, lifestyle blogs, and tons of Instagram followers.
Petite 'N Pretty's website is painted in pastel pinks, purples, and blue, with script-y fonts and sparkly graphics abounding — it mimics any other beauty e-comm site because that's exactly what it is; all the models just happen to look like they're in elementary and middle school. Make no mistake though, Petite 'N Pretty does not make cheap-o, toy makeup — the products are cruelty-free, nut-free, and paraben- and phthalate-free, according to its website (the price point lies mostly in the teens for a single product, the most expensive item being an influencer gift box set for $250.) The tagline reads "sparkle outside the lines" and the mission statement seeks to empower kids with "top-shelf, age-appropriate, and pediatrician-approved products made for small features, big imaginations."
Founded by Stila Cosmetics' former chief product development officer Samantha Cutler, Petite 'N Pretty has largely had a launch leg up thanks to Cutler's wide network of Los Angeles influencer moms with influencer kids, including a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills mom and, by proxy of the L.O.L. Fashion Show, Kim Kardashian West — the brand sponsored makeup for the show, which North West walked in, reports a WWD article.
Mommy blogging has a huge community with a fierce follower network so it's no surprise that their kids could also dominate YouTube and social media in the same way. This unboxing video from Jessalyn Grace, an 11-year-old YouTuber whose content is similar to that of any YouTube beauty vlogger (except that her mom helps her with recording and posting), follows the same cadence and language as any beauty unboxing video would from a vlogger a dozen years older. Sure, there's nothing wrong with preteens and kids experimenting with makeup and their own appearance, but I balk at the idea of marketing to kids the same kinds of language and imagery that funnels certain specific aesthetics and beauty standards into seemingly innocuous, sparkly packaging. It's the same apprehension I feel about child beauty pageants.
The intent may be nice enough, but with a brand called Petite 'N' Pretty, the message is upfront in the name. "Pretty" and "petite" are both words that are just modifiers, but in the context of beauty and body image, they take on a meaning we know all too well. The brand's Instagram page is populated by images of its demographic wearing expertly applied highlights and contours, bright, smoky eyes, and a whole lot of glitter. (It mostly features girls, but here and there a boy wearing a strobed highlight or halo eye will pop up.) WWD's story mentions that Petite 'N Pretty tends to market with 13-year-olds, the "aspirational age," which is to say an age where you can be taken seriously enough as a makeup authority. While it makes obvious sense to have their peers speak to a younger beauty audience, they face plenty of beauty conventions and standards as it is, from social media, television and movies, and celebrity-driven lifestyles.
From an economic standpoint, a makeup brand for kids is brilliant — kids have their parents' disposable income, kid YouTubers don't charge as much as beauty YouTubers like a NikkiTutorials or Michelle Pham would charge for a sponsored video, and the engagement on their social media profiles includes their impressionable peers as well as their social media-savvy moms (a lot of the time moms run their kids' Instagram profiles) — a higher engagement pool by default. The economics are probably the one thing about this brand that makes the clearest sense.
My conflicted feelings have less to do with whether kids should be allowed to wear makeup (I never agreed with or really understood the reasoning behind why I wasn't when I was younger) or the kind of makeup they should be allowed to wear, but with the messaging and imagery. The brand may aim to "redefine pretty," but pretty is possibly too loaded a term to disseminate simply by selling midrange-priced glitter lip gloss. As tricky as it is to market to and with kids, it's undoubtedly trickier to overthrow longstanding conventions with them too (which honestly, doesn't seem to be the brand's main focus anyway). People already have enough opinions about how people should be raising their kids as it is.
Youth isn't the only definer of beauty standards:
- Girls Ages Five to 18 on Beauty Ideals, Body Image, and Self-Love
- Navigating Beauty Standards as a Trans Woman Is an Impossible Balancing Act
- These Women Are Giving the Finger to Beauty Standards
What Rachel Bloom has to sing about beauty standards: