How we approach makeup with our girls

How we approach makeup with our girls

How we approach makeup with our girls

Our oldest (10) has been obsessed with Caboodles lately. This is a fun obsession since I still fondly remember my own pink Caboodle, and I’ve enjoyed watching her plot and plan to get one and fill it with all kinds of fun makeup. They’re not super expensive, so she saved up the spending portion of her May allowance plus some spending money Nona and Pop gave her to finally get it last week. When I shared the picture above, a friend asked if I was prepared for the fight about makeup to follow, and I was thankful to realize that this may be one area where we don’t have any big fights.

Before I share our approach, let me clarify: There are a lot of areas of parenthood where we feel overwhelmed trying to decide how to best handle the situation. There are a lot of areas where our girls fight against the limits we’ve set. There are a lot of areas where we end up making the wrong decision and have to backpedal. Thankfully, this just doesn’t seem to be one of them.


I still remember hiding out in the bathroom at school during “after care” with another girl’s Caboodle, trying on makeup and then frantically wiping it off before my mom arrived to pick me up. I was obsessed with makeup, and I would do the same thing before a shower, both in my mom’s bathroom and my grandma’s—wanting to experiment especially with eyeliner but knowing I wouldn’t be allowed.

These days, I wear makeup a couple times a week—if that—usually only when we leave the house (and not always then). I like the way I feel when I take the time to apply my makeup carefully (especially the coveted eyeliner!) and my husband always appreciates it as well, but I don’t feel like I need makeup, an approach I hope to pass on to these girls of mine.

Because of my own sneakiness in this area (which was born out of general curiosity about how makeup worked, not rebellion), I’ve always been pretty laid back about it as a parent.

In fact, we’re very laid back about nail polish. I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever said no to a specific color, and the girls often have multiple colors, patterns or designs on their fingers or toes. It’s just color, and to me painting nails is the stuff that little girls are made of, not a sign of growing up too fast or trying to be something they’re not.

Similarly, while we don’t let our girls “wear makeup” as a general rule, they do have plenty of makeup around to play with—a set of eyeshadow they’ve bought with their own money, a palette of tinted lip glosses, an old blush that I no longer use—and they love to play dress up with it at home. Part of this love of makeup for them comes from having two young aunts (both of our sisters are in their early 20s), one of whom is a hair stylist and was in cosmetology school when they were littler. But I think part of it is just natural, part of how we’re made. In cultures around the world, women and men alike use makeup or body decoration to “dress up” or to signal their place in a tribe or community.

How we approach makeup with our girls

The thing is, this tween of mine is actually fairly talented at fashion and makeup. Even at 10, she applies makeup to her sisters’ faces like a pro, and she’s also learned to sew clothes for both her dolls and herself. (Her real hidden talent is taking a pile of blankets and scarves and weaving them into various outfits—a sari one day, a cape the next, and an elegant evening gown after that, adding makeup to complete the look. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what that talent exactly gets her in life, but it’s pretty fun to see anyway!)

I’m excited to see how her skill and style grow in the coming years, and I want her to be able to embrace those things, not feel like she has to hide them from us.

Here’s the caveat: While our approach is to let them play with it freely at home to avoid the forbidden fruit phenomenon, the girls know they have to take off any makeup (besides a light lip gloss and maybe some sparkles on a special occasion) before we leave the house. Because they do have plenty of time to play and experiment with it at home, and because we homeschool and they don’t face the peer pressure of what “everybody else” is doing at school, they rarely argue or complain about that rule.

For them, makeup isn’t about their self-esteem or trying to fit in—it’s just about the art and the fun and the dressing up. And I hope that’s what it’s always about for them. In the coming years we’ll relax the rules about wearing it out of the house, but no matter how much they choose to wear, I don’t want them to find their worth in “painting their faces.”

But I do think it’s okay for them to enjoy makeup, and it’s not a hill I want to die on as we enter these tougher years of parenthood!

How does your family approach things like makeup, funky hairstyles and fashion?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. My daughter is turning 6 tomorrow and has been obsessed with makeup (or at least the idea of it) for months, if not longer! I used to let her wear a hardly-noticeable lipstick to church, but then my husband didn’t really want her wearing it any more because he didn’t want to see his baby growing up too fast 🙂 I usually only wear make up to church, and maybe on a weekday if I’m feeling particularly motivated, but it’s an event for her to watch me apply it! And the days I don’t wear any, she’ll get really close to my face, don a wry smile and say, “you should put some lipstick on.”

    It actually occupies a lot of her thinking, makeup, and I can see it distracts her for the times I do let her wear lipstick; she’s very self-conscious about it, in a self-absorbed kind of way. So here’s my question: Is she so obsessed about it because she rarely gets to wear it, like your allusion to “forbidden fruit”? And if I let her wear it around the house whenever she wants, would she eventually get over the amazingness of it and not be so self-absorbed, or is she really still too young for it? And just to make things more interesting and complicated, very recently, she’s been sneaking into my stuff: deodorant, perfume, mousse, etc. Last night, she admitted (of her own accord) to rummaging through some of my things without my permission. I told her to just ask me next time and I would help her look at them. I know she’s trying to get more attention since we have a newborn in the house which is obviously taking up a lot of my attention, so there’s that whole aspect of it all. Any thoughts on how I should handle these things with her? She’s already mature for her age, and I see her desire to grow up quickly (she wants pierced ears for her birthday, which we’ve said yes to), just not sure how to guide her. I remember being strangely content and thankful for my youth growing up, so this is a bit new territory for me 🙂

  2. I haven’t thought a whole lot about this topic, though it has come up a bit. I like your approach a lot. I only have one daughter, so far, and she’s 5 next month. She loves to watch me put on makeup (of which i’m no expert) and I sometimes swipe her cheeks with my blush brush or put on lip gloss, which she loves. I was JUST like you with makeup as a kid. If my daughter has memories of makeup experimentation as a kid, I selfishly want to be part of those memories. I’m not ready to think of rules for when she’s allowed to wear makeup out of the house, but I hope it isn’t a fight.

  3. I am not a parent, but as a teacher of a performing group that uses fairly heavy makeup (show choir), I have heard lots of parents say that their kids aren’t super into makeup on their own time, because they’re so used to wearing it for performances. For them at least, the lack of “forbidden fruit” thing plays into it a lot. I think you’re right, that it’s much better to be part of the process than just outside law enforcement, making judgments on what is essentially one of your girls’ forms of self-expression.

    I remember when I was in high school (and also part of theater), I did wear a fair amount of makeup out and about, but I don’t remember my parents ever saying much to me about it. My mum spent some time teaching me how to do my face so I didn’t look like a clown (this was the mid-’90s, when Gwen Stefani’s red lips, black eyeliner and bindi jewels were all the rage). They were more strict about clothing than makeup, really.

  4. I think your approach is a good one for your family and circumstances. When I was little I didn’t care about makeup. I now have an 8 year old daughter about to be adopted from foster care and unfortunately her biological mother didn’t teach healthy habits about femininity. We have to undo the bad first, and that includes believing that makeup is what makes a woman beautiful. Thanks for giving me an approach to consider in the future.

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