Most mums (and many dads) will have at least one photograph, story, or memory of themselves, aged between three and six years, wearing mum’s high heels and a dress, with make-up all over their face. Little girls (and some boys) love to be just like their mum. Make up presents the opportunity to look and feel grown up more than anything. Plus, it’s so fun to play with! From lipstick and mascara to foundations and blush, little children love their mum’s make-up.
Sometime around the age of five to seven years, many girls will become particularly enthusiastic, and by the time they’re tweens or in their early teens, make-up will be de rigueur for many. For most boys, this interest in painting their faces with expensive product dies off around the age of about three or four. It is very rare that boys will have any desires to wear make-up by age eight or nine. When it does happen, such circumstances can be complicated, so this article will only focus on girls.
Many parents are naturally concerned about their little girls wearing make-up for the following three reasons:
- First, many parents feel that their children wearing make-up may make them ‘grow up’ too soon. Parents justifiably want their children to be little for just a short while longer.
- Second, parents want their children to feel beautiful without make-up, and not feel as though they need to hide behind a wall of product on their faces.
- Lastly, issues related to child sexualisation have become increasingly substantial. If they start on make-up young, some parents may be concerned that their children may start on other behaviours at too young an age as well.
At what age is it appropriate for girls to start wearing make-up? And what should they be wearing?
When is it ok to wear make-up?
This is not a question that any ‘expert’ can answer. The simplest reason is because ‘it depends’. It depends on you and your values. It depends on where your daughter is going, and why she is wearing the make-up. The reasons for your daughter wanting to wear the make-up also matter. The most important thing is to ensure that you do not make wearing make-up a source of conflict. This will only serve to push the issue underground and create rebellion when you are not around.
Talking about your values and setting limits together.
You may decide that your daughter can use your make-up anytime so long as you are at home. Or you may have a pamper night with her friends when they can all play make-up artist at home where you feel comfortable with their experimenting. You may feel completely at ease with your daughter wearing make-up whenever she wants to.
How much make-up is ok?
Again, this is something that parents and daughters can decide together. It can be fun to experiment with different kinds of make-up, and different amounts. Take photos and review them a few days after your experimentation. Viewing the photos a few days later can dramatically affect the perception your daughter will have of how she really looks, and can provide powerful teaching opportunities.
Introduce it slowly
If you are a parent who is concerned about your child starting on make-up too young, starting slowly may keep everyone satisfied. If your nine year-old wants to wear lipstick, give her a basic lip gloss with a strawberry flavour and scent. When your eleven year-old wants to get made up, offer a nicer quality lip gloss that looks like it is a little more mature. Provide clear mascara for a twelve year old rather than a fancy black mascara that adds volume and texture. Keep it simple, introduce it slowly, and make it fun and adventurous.
Establish rules together
Decide together on what is appropriate and when. Is it ok to wear make-up to school? To sports activities? To birthday parties? Having conversations ahead of time will reduce conflict when you are in a hurry and Miss 13 decides she needs to re-do her face.
Talk about it
More than anything, keep the lines of communication open. Rather than making make-up a taboo, make it fun, but within boundaries that you feel good about.
For our daughters, make-up can be symbolic of a much bigger transition from a little girl to a young woman. Allow independence but in a way that you can both enjoy the transition, and grow together.
This article was written for Kidspot by Justin Coulson, Ph. D. Justin is a relationships and parenting expert, author and father of five children. Find him at happyfamilies.com.au.