When my daughter was born I stopped wearing makeup. Not that I was a “heavy user” before; I can’t recall if I even put it on everyday for work. But there was no face I wished to present to the world now that she was born; no one I cared to impress; and quite frankly, I would rather have those five extra minutes to lie in bed or stand in a hot shower. Putting on makeup was not a priority.
As she got a little older there were days when I did find a bit of lipstick or mascara. And she would be watching, whether she noticed me actually putting it on or noticed afterwards that I looked different. You see, although it feels like we’re talking to brick walls sometimes, our children are intensely watching and absorbing our every word and move. They then emulate and copy us in order to learn about the world. Of course, my daughter wanted lipstick like Mommy. It made me think about what I was telling her about myself, and consequently about herself, as well as the world around her. “You look beautiful Mommy.” Did I want her to think I was beautiful only with makeup on? That she wasn’t beautiful because she didn’t have makeup on? What does this tell her about herself?
Watching and learning
One day, walking with her in the stroller, I passed another mom walking her child who was also under 12 months of age. Mom was “fully done”. Hair dyed, styled, moussed and sprayed. It had to be, to be holding that shape in our climate. A full face of makeup. I remember feeling so sad for her child: I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl but I remember wondering what image – what belief system about the world and about being female – would that child learn from a Mom who wouldn’t leave the house (even for a walk up the trail behind our house) without being fully made up. Would a boy grow up to expect that from all women?
Of course, my reflection says more about me that it does about the person I observed.
I think it’s a complex issue. I believe that boys and girls should be allowed to express themselves, and if that’s by being “girly” girls or rough-and-tumble boys, then who are we to shame their preferences? Nor do we want to pigeon-hole characteristics. Do we hide behind our makeup because we are unhappy with aspects of ourselves, or do we use it to challenge or investigate parts of ourselves? I love the work of Kevyn Aucoin and the way he used makeup to transform faces. But advertising is based on playing on our insecurities – or suggesting that we should have them – so are we making conscious purchases or ones based on a reflexive and subconsciously programmed need?
So, if I’m having trouble sorting out what my own intersection between culture, advertising, personal beliefs and self understanding is, then what’s happening in the mind of a four-year-old who wants to put on makeup? Is she doing it in a vacuum of these issues – being too young to be cognitively involved with them yet? – or is it in response to a pervasive culture that our children are absorbing without being able to process? Thank you Disney Princesses.
No right or wrong answers
I know I will feel that she grows up too fast and whenever it is she asks for makeup will be too soon for me. A friend’s daughter had makeup on for a recent 5th birthday party and I said a thankful prayer that my own daughter hadn’t asked yet. Will I let her?
These are all individual and family questions and there are no right or wrongs. I’m going to give Jada Pinkett Smith the last word on this one and follow her lead because it’s the answer that fits closest to my truth. Jada has received much criticism for letting her daughter, Willow, style her hair in ways that are unique and unconventional. She challenges the notion of “letting” her daughter cut her hair.
“This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.”
I am sure that she will do many things that I disagree with or don’t approve of. I wonder where makeup will come into the grand scheme of “is this worth the battle?” If she’s filled with self determination, security, a sense of self-worth and empowerment I think she is well on her way to succeeding in this world, regardless of how she styles her hair or makes up her face.
Perhaps she will help me battle my own insecurities and personal standards, and we will both be better off for it.