Saturday, August 21, 2010

How Young is Too Young for Makeup?

Millie writes:

The makeup question has been raging between mothers and daughters since Egyptian queens began lining their eyes with kohl.

It seems like such a little thing on the surface, doesn't it? The girl is growing older and wants to take “dressing up” to the next level; she wants to start acting like the Big Girls act. This simple desire can set off just about every alarm in the motherly arsenal, from “I can't believe my baby's growing up” to “children are becoming sexualized earlier and earlier” and sometimes even, “wait . . . I'm the woman here, not her!”

I've seen self-described Crunchy Granola Mamas completely at a loss when faced with daughters who study at the Tammy Faye Bakker School of Eye Shadow, and women who wouldn't be caught dead bare-faced in public equally flummoxed by having given birth to girls who won't even touch a Chapstick. What are the guidelines?

As is so often the case in parenting, the unbending rule about makeup is: it depends.

Partly it depends on what is “the norm” in your neighborhood; if you're on the fence about your 12-year-old wearing mascara and other girls in her class are wearing it, it's probably okay. Nail polish is usually acceptable even for elementary-schoolers, though not those Dragon-Lady talons.

The biggest factor to consider, though, is what you think about the whole thing. Even if makeup is acceptable in her school and in your neighborhood, you are her parents; if you don't think lipstick is appropriate on a 14 year old girl, then it isn't – end of story.

For what it's worth, I decided about two decades ago that if it washes off, grows out or fills in eventually, I'm not going to sweat what the kids experiment with adornment-wise. I draw the line at tattoos or piercings (other than earlobes) and other ritualistic disfigurements, but I think wacky haircolors, cuts and other statements of that nature are kinda cool. I've been known to shave hair into a question-mark-shaped Mohawk upon request; though I do insist that however shaggy the hairstyle, it MUST be clean.

By the way: Girls aren't the only ones who want to wear makeup, so don't be surprised if you have this conversation with one or more of your sons, as well. Try not to freak out. Our Rocky was going through his black-fingernail-polish phase when he met my parents for the first time; I just smiled and thought about the fashions that were prevalent during THEIR teen years. I think I prefer Preppy Goth to a Duck's Ass any day.

My general makeup guidelines are thus:

Fingernail polish: Girls, elementary school; boys, probably not until late junior high unless they are VERY confident in their own personal “style”

Lip gloss: 11 years or or fifth grade (By the way, this is also when I have the Shaving Talk, unless the girl herself brings it up earlier; I don't think you should have to be hairy if you don't want to be, once you become aware of it.)

Eye makeup: 13 years or middle school (I know this seems early and before I had daughters I'd have thought “high school,” but girls this age have so much FUN with eye makeup; I'm reminded of one little redhead who wore glitter so thickly on her eyelids that it flaked off in clouds when she blinked. It takes so much time to put on in the morning when you're unused to it that eye makeup was usually reserved for parties, anyway.)

Full makeup: High school

Of course what I'm talking about here is fairly regular lipstick/eye makeup/ blusher/ foundation female makeup, but there are a lot of other options out there. So far none of the boys have shown any interest in wearing manscara or guyliner but if they did, my guidelines would be about the same as for the girls (with a little extra time spent on the “be aware of the impression you're making on people” talk). If one of my kids wanted to go Goth or another extreme style, I would probably insist that they wait until their high school years simply because of the hassle it will cause them in public. Younger psyches are just not developed enough to buck the system as much as they think they'd like to.

If the idea of your child as a Goth makes you despair, talk to them and – more importantly – listen to them. It usually isn't about drugs, devil worship and despair but if it is, you need to know it so you can get your child the help he needs. Extreme makeup, jewelry and clothing can actually be as sign of a very strong developing self-image and the need to stand apart from the crowd, which is certainly something we can all support – and if it's about Shocking Mom and Dad, well . . .

I can tell you from experience that nothing will take the wind out of a wannabe Morticia Addams like somebody's forty-five year old mom shrieking, “Oh honey, I LOVE those boots! They're thigh-high Doc Martens, right? I have a pair just like those!”

Hee hee hee.

Wish I did though – those are some really sexy boots.

Mollie  writes:

Somedays I just despair that I never had a daughter, then someone asks "How Young Is Too Young For Makeup" and I see the light.  Boys do crazy things, but really, my two never wore eyeshadow (unless it was for a play).

Of course, I, myself, put on my overlay, cover, foundation and base coat every day.  But only after I get out the sander and smooth away all the dents and pits.  That's what we fashionistas do.  Then I put on my makeup: a minimum of blush, lip liner, lipstick and eye shadow.   I clean my face every day, use a toner and then moisturize before I even start the overlay process.  Once a week, I give myself a facial, paying extra attention to exfoliants, then I steam my face.

And you're worried about make-up?

Ok.  For general purposes, I'd let my grade schooler do her nails, but only if she does mine first.  Nothing else is appropriate for anyone younger than 12, except chap stick (and remember, that's for medicinal purposes only).  Once my daughter was in middle school, I'd probably let her graduate to lip gloss and blush, but that's all.

Girls do have a problem with acne, so all bets are off if your daughter gets zits from time to time.  Sometimes your daughter will want to use foundation or some other goop to hide a flaw, but it has to be removed before bed. I know more chicks who exacerbated skin problems with cover-up.  So keep this in mind when you talk to your little Elle about foundation.

 Millie is right, each situation is unique, and a lot has to do with your community.  During middle school, girl relationships get intense, and it simply isn't prudent to make your own child stick out just to support your own feelings of what's proper and what's not.  If all the other girls are wearing blush, I'd push the envelope a bit, but I do think that Nefertiti eyes can wait until age 16, and then only for special occasions.  But as long as the make-up looks fresh and natural, I'd relax.

I never had to worry over the Goth look.  One boy dyed his hair YELLOW in high school and I just looked the other way.  But once your Elle has hit sixteen, I'd stay out of the make-up discussion.  At some point you have to let your kids learn to make decisions for themselves, and I think sixteen is a good age.  One caveat, make her buy her own make-up.  This will keep her experimentation under some control.

For boys, I say let 'em choose their own hair styles.  I say it from the perspective of a woman whose kids let their father shave their buzz cuts until age twelve.  Once they hit middle school, they went a little long, but it was ok.  Long hair on a middle school boy is kinda sweet.

John and I weren't much into tattoos or piercing, so neither were the kids.  If my kid wanted a tattoo, and it wasn't horrible or huge, I'd probably let a high schooler get a tattoo, but they'd have to negotiate site and subject.

NO TONGUE PIERCING!!!  When they are paying their own bills, they can put a hole in their tongue, but while living under my roof, eating my food, etc. tongues remain pristine.  The same goes for noses, navels and other body parts.  I just hate the idea of taking a kid to the pediatrician with an infected tongue from a piercing.

Keeping wardrobes under control is something else, too.  I'm so glad that girls are covering their navels again.  I suspect that anyone in my household under age sixteen (boy or girl) would have to keep their privates private, and that includes navels, even in swimsuits.  I understand that there's therapy for this aversion, but frankly, I'm not interested.

So, that's this old lady's opinion.


  1. My mother's rule for me and my two sisters was no makeup until we were 15. My mom let me experiment with my hair color or style all I wanted but did not want us to wear makeup yet. She wanted us to learn to be comfortable with what we look like.

    I did sneak eyeliner sometimes before 15 because I was hanging with the "goth" kids at the time. I felt like I had to or I wouldn't fit in.

    Now, I hardly wear any makeup at all. I wear some neutral eyeshadow and some mascara. I am comfortable that way. If I ever have a daughter I will probably pass down my mother's rule. It worked with me.

    Plus, seeing 12 year old girls wearing enough makeup for the week kind of creeps me out.

  2. I have a question for you.

    How old is too old to be mouth kissing between opposite gender siblings? Scenario: my six year old daughter and four year old son always play marriage. Right now, their version of married life consists of kissing and lounging around together. Sounds lovely, if you're actually married!

    Am I just being too sensitive to this? I know their intentions are innocent, but where do we draw the line? I may be extra paranoid in this area because I had to be on high alert around a certain family member who had a hard time keeping his hands to himself, if ya catch my drift. So are these "red flags" being thrown up simply because I was so strongly geared toward guarding them against being molested, that now even innocent "play pretend married" has me seeing the potential for horrible situations? Or is there a legitimate problem here that I need to squash? I've even had my son asking what "sexy kissing is--is it when you have your mouth open?" My husband and I are not shy about showing each other (appropriate) affection in front of the children. I know that's a GOOD thing, but trying to explain that kissing on the lips when you get older is just for married people (don't even want to start thinking about dating, ugh), soo... are they "older" now?

    Cautious of the Curious


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