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Updated on July 10, 2009

Like many family issues there are few magical answers that are the same for every question. Allowing your daughter to wear makeup is a decision that is best handled by you and your daughter. Your values will make a big difference.

Do you see makeup as a statement of sexual awareness, or the lack thereof as a sign of virtue? Or do you see it as a fun thing for your daughter to play around with? Are you uncomfortable at the rate at which she is growing up, or is she on track according to your family values?

One of the saddest things I see in our society is the sexualization of our children at too young an age. T.V., movies, advertisers, peers, and we ourselves as parents all seem to encourage the too fast growing up of our daughters. I fight it and so do others but it is an uphill battle. Makeup may or may not be part of that battle. It may have meaning or it may just be a new way to express your child’s personality.

Makeup is one way that daughters call attention to themselves in their desire to be cool and accepted. And that’s really the big issue. Our preteens and teens are desperate to feel accepted by their peers. And while I believe that we should help them be less peer dependent; if we condemn them to being too odd we make their lives very difficult.

Ultimately, the goal of parenting is to produce children that grow up to be strong and healthy with inner strength. I think makeup can be one tool in our arsenal. The reality is, that once your child reaches an age where she engages her will, you will only control what she does in your presence. I believe it is better to help her take steps at all stages of her life that will let her learn about herself and her world at a rate she can handle.

If I forbid my kids to do anything that opposes my wishes until they comes of age, I likely will produce a kid that goes crazy with freedom. Likewise, if I let my young children do whatever they want, they will not practice skills that they will need later and will most likely make some very bad decisions. Both these parenting styles can result from fear or from not caring enough to do the hard work.

Here is how I chose to handle the makeup issue with both my girls who are five years apart, and here is how each of them has come to terms with makeup to this point.

I began with letting my children have play makeup as soon as they expressed an interest. They liked to wear makeup and play dress up; after all, they saw their mommy do that. They could do this at home or at friend’s houses and for things like Halloween. But they could not wear makeup out in public. This was something I explained that was for when they were more grownup. It gave them a way to observe a difference between kids and grownups.

As my daughters grew older, probably around 10, I let them wear just a little makeup for special occasions when dress up was appropriate. This might be a bit of light lip-gloss or eye shadow, but it was a small amount that did not make them look adult. About the time my daughter’s reached the age of 12, I noticed that most of their peers were wearing some makeup to school. We had discussions about how they felt about their peers, who looked too “clownish”, which of their peers looked good and what reactions the makeup elicited from others. I began to allow them to take lip-gloss or light lipstick to school. I allowed them to choose light eye shadows to wear occasionally. I spoke as well about the need to clean their faces, especially their eyes at night so they did not have reactions to the makeup. At about 13 I allowed my oldest to decide. She was already demonstrating wise choices on so many levels that this seemed a minor issue to me.

My older daughter very quickly decided that she did not need makeup and used it very rarely. She used face powder to minimize redness in her cheeks for a while, but still at the age of 19 she wears very little. I spoke to her often about how young girls usually have lovely skin and that she was beautiful without makeup. She also at a young age decided that much of the attention she received from boys if she dressed or made-up like the other kids made her uncomfortable. She preferred to be friends and did not encourage the behaviour that seemed to come with a certain look.

Just before my youngest daughter reached 14 it began to be important to her to wear makeup. We continued our discussions. She is much more aware of and concerned with how she fits in with her peers so she felt a greater need. I increased what she could wear and when she turned 14 I felt she was mature enough to decide what makeup to wear. She chose foundation and eyeliner plus mascara. Frankly, I did not like the eyeliner. I told her that it seemed she and all her friends had raccoon eyes. Yet, it was important to her not to be too different in this area. So I allowed her to choose. After a while, she began to get tired of the time involved in cleaning her face and she began to use less mascara. She is a very attractive young lady and I reminded her regularly that she did not need makeup to look good. She agreed, but saw it as a thing in common with her friends that she wanted to do. Over about six months she began to use less. Now, at 14 ½ she uses a very lightweight powder foundation for what she sees as an uneven skin tone (it isn’t). She occasionally uses mascara and uses eyeliner less often and with a much lighter hand.

One of the conversations we have is that soon she will be grown up and able to choose her own way in most things. I ask her how she wants her life to be and what choices she needs to make for her life go that direction. She continues to grow in ways that lets me see that she is ready for more autonomy.

I speak to my children about the responsibility that goes with the freedom to make decisions. Sometimes those decisions hurt them. But they can almost always begin again. And makeup, to me is just one way they can practice making decisions that do not have huge consequences for their lives.

I think the biggest issue is that you and your daughter must communicate. You listen to her ideas and see how they compare to yours. You share your concerns and ask her input for what she thinks is fair. Tell her also about your teenage experiences with makeup and the mistakes or successes you perceived in how you were treated. This will help her make good decisions. Many girls hide their makeup at school and put it on without their parents knowing. This is not the way I wish for my children to learn to deal with life choices.

A final thing is that what they see us model they will tend to do. If we as mothers require full facial armor to go forward into life, then of course our children will see makeup as a big deal. If we use makeup as a commodity to attract a certain level of attention, guess what, so will they. If we use makeup as an occasional way to enhance our features without overwhelming them, they will see makeup as a tool like any other-something to be used as appropriate.

Daughters are precious, and makeup is not a battlefield I wish our relationship to die on. The battles I fight with every fiber of my being are the ones that will break their hearts and souls.


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