If you spend enough time in Sephora, you’ll see some disconcerting things, like booger-y children sticking their fingers in tubs of lip gloss, or gross grownups abusing their communal lipstick-testing privileges. But a few days ago while strolling around the makeup store, I witnessed a sight I’ve never seen: a woman (I assume she was the mom) swiping blue eye shadow on a young girl who must have been about four years old. I’ve seen lots of kids with painted nails out and about, but never little girls wearing adult makeup.
Not to sound like an old grump complaining about “the kids these days,” but eye shadow on a four-year-old? Really? Isn’t that a bit young? Playing with makeup never appealed to me when I was a little girl myself, though, so perhaps I just don’t understand.Playing dress-up or fooling around with makeup were the last things I would have wanted to do for fun when I was a kid. Sandboxes and mud puddles were more my thing. Somehow, I got convinced whale blubber was used in lipstick and I knew whales were endangered animals, so the budding animal rights activist in me thought lipstick was “bad.” I just avoided the dress-up box at preschool and kindergarten entirely. Still, I am the youngest of four daughters, so I had to fight the other girls in my family to stay true to my tomboy roots. Mom and my big sisters always tried to paint my nails or put makeup on me and I’d get hysterical yelling about how makeup was “prissy.”
But when I asked around, I found that lots of women played with makeup when they were kids (and none of them were in beauty pageants). Actually, it seems like wearing makeup as a little girl is far more common than it is uncommon!
There are a couple ways that little girls get into it, most common of which is idolizing their mother. Editor Catherine said her mom only wore blush when she went out to a fancy party and she loved getting some blush rubbed on her cheeks on those special occasions. My co-worker Annika wrote in an email, “I enjoyed watching my mom apply her makeup, and some mornings she would let me wear some eye makeup to school if I promised to remove it if any teachers noticed.” When entertainment editor Kate was eight or nine, she flat-out ransacked her mom’s makeup bag. “I LOVED makeup when I was a kid—it was a vital part of playing dress-up,” she said. “I always used my mom’s, usually without her permission. Definitely broke a lipstick or two as I had no idea how to apply it!” Luckily, Kate’s mom bought her a makeup set made just for kids, which Kate still has. “I still have a blue eye shadow attached to a ring that I actually use—it’s the best purple I’ve ever found,” Kate said.
Other little girls get into wearing makeup because they performed onstage. Catherine and Frisky blogger Ami said they wore makeup in dance recitals and it wasn’t a big deal to them. Frisky blogger Simcha said her mom caked “the whore paint” on her little girl for dance recitals—but luckily, her girly-girl daughter loved it! Simcha wrote in an email:
“I played with my mom’s [makeup], my grandma’s, anything I could get my hands on. By the time I was five I had a whole drawer in the bathroom for my makeup and accessories, did my nails every week, and carried a purse around everywhere I went. My one true thrill in life, that started way back then, is prancing around in high heels and make up. Girls have the best goodies and there was no way my mom was going to stop me from enjoying the fringe benefits, even as a baby. Lucky for me, she totally supported my Tinkerbell brand makeup habit, even after I spilled the polish all over the new kitchen floor!
And last but not least, some little girls get into makeup through the time-honored tradition of putting makeup on their brothers. “The only time I used makeup was to paint my entire brother with a bottle of red nail polish,” said Erin, our style editor. Ami also tortured an unwitting sibling. ”In my free time at home, I put makeup on my little brother,” she wrote in an email. “He was too young to know that it was weird. He’s still mad about it.”
Luckily for me, wearing makeup as an adult is significantly less terrifying than it seemed as a kid. I love playing with makeup now that I’ve seen what fun it is to use all the different brushes, colors and textures. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer? I don’t necessarily think playing with makeup is “bad” for little girls; just like when little girls wear bikinis, it is only sexual if grownups make it sexual. But if I had a choice in the matter, I’d prefer my future daughters waited until they were teenagers to play with lipstick and eye shadow. Even if it’s in the realm of “dress-up” and “play,” I’d rather my four- or five-year-old girl didn’t use her imagination in a way that makes her so conscious of her physical appearance and possible “imperfections.” Personally, I think it was a good thing for my self-esteem that I couldn’t have cared less about my appearance during my childhood and adolescence. Maybe that’s why, today, seeing little girls wear makeup gives me the heebie-jeebies?
My beloved Simcha feels differently, though. “It’s one thing to push girlie crap on your kids, cough stage moms, it’s another to let them express themselves via grooming,” she said. “And girl, if I hadn’t figured out how to fix myself up all those years ago, I’d be walking around looking like a busted ho.”