Making Up Your Mind About Makeup: Is she old enough to wear it?

Face painting is a ritual practiced by many cultures. Since the beginning of time, men and women have always used some form of face decoration to express different emotions and events: war, marriage, religious celebration and rites of passage.

Today, wearing makeup is often seen as a rite of passage into womanhood for a young girl. This transition seems to be happening earlier and earlier, and girls are trying to approach womanhood at an earlier age than years past.

Many teenage girls treasure trying on mommy’s shoes, dresses and makeup.

A quick trip to stores like Bath and Body Works, The Children’s Place and Target reveals an array of what 10 or 20 years ago would be for “play” at home but are now leaving mommy’s room for new desirable locations like the beach, school or parties.

There is “glitter” everything, brightly-colored nail polishes and lotions, lip gloss, eye makeup, bikinis and numerous other “older” girl items marketed toward girls ages 6 to 12. The targeted ages are becoming younger and younger, which leads parents wondering the right age for girls to take “dress-up” out of the house.

Corrie Wallace, a high school teacher in Evanston, Ill., is seeing girls dress in more revealing clothing and wear more makeup at younger and younger ages. In her five years of teaching, she says the change has been startling. Girls are getting away with more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that on the average, girls physically mature by age 9, although their psychological maturity may not be reached by this age. This introduces an interesting dilemma for parents.

According to T. Joel Wade, associate professor of psychology at Bucknell University, there is no “right” age to wear makeup. But be aware that it puts young girls in a different league.

“The wearing of makeup does lead to increased interest from males. It sends a message that says, ‘I am mature and possibly interested in being in a relationship/being looked at as a possible sexual partner.’

“The makeup changes the perceptions of the face so that the dimensions of the face are more similar to that of a mature woman. This then tends to elicit attention from mature males. Some young girls may not be ready for this attention and may be unable to deal with it in a healthy manner.”

Paula Maldonado, of Evanston Ill., and mother of three girls, 8, 12 and 15, agrees.

“I’m an old-fashioned mom. I don’t let my 12-year-old wear makeup. She does use Chapstick. If she has a party or a dance, she can wear color lipstick. I want my 12-year-old to look like a 12-year-old. It’s difficult for a kid to be a kid today.”

Her daughter Mari has accepted her mother’s decision, although being the second girl certainly helps. Maldonado says her daughter Lani, age 15, “wanted to be all dolled up, she pushed the envelope, but Mari is pretty accepting of it.”

But other parents see different sides to this issue. Several parents view wearing makeup as a girl’s expression of her own personal sense of style, which really begins to change and take on a life of its own at this age.

Other parents see wearing makeup as a way to increase their daughters’ self-esteem.

And yet other parents concede that the makeup issue is a bartering tool, allowing girls to wear makeup as long as they finish homework or stay out of trouble.

And as Amanda Tarshis, 14, points out, a parent’s rule on the makeup issue might not be enforceable.

“Girls will just go to their friends’ [homes] and put it on. Girls wear makeup to look older, to seem more mature.”

Dr. Robert Butterworth, clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles, says, “A lot of times, a girl will come home and say, ‘Everyone’s doing it.’ Show up at her school and see.

“Ask them why they want to wear makeup. If it’s because everyone else is doing it or so guys will notice them, those are dangerous signals. The girl[s] may not be getting what they need and are looking for it elsewhere. However, if the girl has scratches, scars or acne, it might be OK.”

As Maldonado points out, how you feel about makeup sets a precedent for everything else. She points out that allowing her daughters to “grow up” on this issue sooner than she feels is necessary may send the message that they can partake in other “adult” activities sooner than they are ready for them.

Society’s view of what a mature, attractive woman looks like undoubtedly involves makeup. While a girl dressing up in her mother’s clothes may be positive reinforcement of a strong role model, this ideal can be botched if girls are allowed to take it out of the house sooner than they are ready.

Since parents have more money to spend on their kids these days, companies are honing in on girls’ insecurities with targeted – and often effective – advertising. But parents ultimately have to decide how they want their girls to feel about themselves.

“I do think one can say that wearing makeup is conforming to societal images of beauty,” Wade says.

“The marketing of makeup to young girls does tend to send them the message that they need to wear makeup to be accepted and that wearing makeup at their age is appropriate and makes them more attractive.”

Leave a Comment