When I was in sixth grade, I had a friend who was both the youngest and the only girl in a houseful of boys, and that meant she had a lot of things I didn't. Chief amongst her prized possessions which I coveted were two items that rendered her impossibly cool: Blue mascara, and black eyeliner. She was happy to share, and after I poked myself in the eyeballs with her makeup I went home and awaited my (non-makeup-wearing) mother's reaction.
"Well that's certainly... bright," she ventured.
In seventh grade I began actually wearing makeup, not just messing around with it at sleepovers. I was allowed to wear lip gloss, mascara, and eyeliner. And the mascara had to be a color found in nature. That suited me just fine, and after a few weeks of daily application, I realized I would rather sleep an extra five minutes in the morning than wear makeup every day. By eighth grade I was settled into the makeup routine I adhere to to this day: Most of the time, I am bare-faced. For special occasions I will go ahead and wear makeup, but even then I have a light hand and generally am looking to wash my face as soon as possible.
You might read all of that and think that I'm completely comfortable with how I look, or that I feel that makeup is one of those tools of the patriarchy designed to keep me down. In reality, neither of those things is true. I'm actually incredibly self-conscious about my face (for no good or particular reason), and do feel that in general, it looks better with some makeup on it. But I'm lazy. And my skin is very finicky, so wearing makeup often aggravates it. Plus I know far too many women who to me look like they spent half the morning drawing on their faces with markers, when clearly they think they look awesome. No thank you!
Now I'm the one with the middle-school daughter, it occurs to me that I need to be clear on what I'd like her to know about makeup and beauty. She asks me questions about makeup or comments on others and I need to know where I stand, you know? I've been able to distill it down to a few simple tidbits:
1) You're beautiful. Period. With or without makeup.
2) Wear makeup if you want to, because you like and enjoy it, not because you think you should or because you "need" it.
3) Less is more. Makeup is for enhancing, not covering or changing. The best makeup looks like no makeup!
4) Pick your favorite feature to emphasize. No need to do everything.
So far, so good; my daughter wears a little lip gloss sometimes, and likes to paint her nails, but (thankfully) has shown no interest in a daily makeup regimen.
Makeup artist Bobbi Brown has a new book out, called Beauty Rules, meant specifically for young women. The cover of the book says it's for "teens and twenties," but her TODAY Show appearance had her discussing makeup with what appear to be fairly young teens. When questioned, several of them admit to wearing makeup from as young an age as 9, and towards the end of the segment, one of the girls asks Brown "Why wear makeup at all?"
Brown's defense of makeup sounds reasonable; it's about feeling confident and comfortable, she says. But then I find myself thinking, "Ummmm... can't we do that without makeup?" It's hard to fault her, though. She's a makeup artist, so one can hardly expect her to pen a book about how we don't need makeup.
Still. Something about it rubs me the wrong way, even as I leaf through the book and admire the continued emphasis on how you feel (vs. how you look), and even her choice of "regular girls" as models. Clearly, Brown is trying to reach out to ordinary girls and make them feel good. That's... good. Right? Even if it involves makeup tips?
Maybe I would feel differently if this wasn't happening during No Makeup Week. Or if I didn't have a daughter. Or if I thought it was okay to suggest to impressionable young girls that their outfits are somehow incomplete until they draw on their faces.
Where do you stand on makeup? Love it, hate it? Great for adults, keep it away from the young teens? Let everyone wear it as young as they like? Tool of the patriarchy? My naked face and I await your response.
BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir just bought some new mascara last week, but she feels guilty about it. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and posts all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.