When, just before school, my nine year old daughter came into my bedroom and asked for some lip-gloss, I looked at her in genuine surprise and asked her why
“Well,” she said “there’s this boy in my class who likes me, so I want to look pretty for him.”
No kidding - it was a moment of horror: why on earth does my clever, funny, beautiful daughter feel the need to impress this boy? Moreover, why does she immediately assume that it’s her appearance that matters?
Of course, the subject of makeup would arise at some point. Not having come down in the last shower, I knew this. I just wasn’t prepared for it to arrive so early and with such a stark reason: I want to impress a male; therefore I must improve my appearance.
My mother dealt with this subject by simply banning cosmetics of any kind until I was 13, which meant illicit supplies in my desk at school. Ditto most of my friends. I can’t see much point in imposing the same restrictions on my daughter, though, and by any standards, nine is surely too young for this kind of face-painting - especially for the reason she gave.
Then, I think on what my girl watches every morning and how can I blame her? I get up early, jump in the shower, blow dry my hair, and then start on my face. Gone are the days when a slick of lip gloss will save me. Now its primer, foundation, powder, blusher, mascara and lipstick – and that’s the absolute minimum. I won’t leave the house wearing less. That’s what she sees me do, every morning. To be fair, it is in no way associated with impressing a man, since there isn’t one in my house, but it’s a logical leap for a nine year old to assume that I do it to look prettier, and that the audience is the boys.
In the end, I ducked the question. I told her that she looks beautiful just as she is, that it’s not her appearance but her personality that matters, and that anyway, makeup isn’t allowed at school. But without the excuse of the school rule, what would I have said?
The truth is, I do wear makeup to look what is commonly understood as ‘better’ – but is that an acceptable message to give a girl? I could tell her that it’s just for older girls and grown-ups, but am I then teaching her that she should worry about ageing, and that youth is everything?
I don’t have the answers to this and can only share with you my thoughts and observations, incomplete as they are.