My mom had a strict no-makeup policy. She reasoned that I was only 11 years old. One day when my dad took me to the store, I used my allowance to buy a cheap tube of hot pink lipstick. I hid it in my backpack, and then when I got to school, I’d apply it in the bathroom and wear it all day, wiping it off with a wet paper towel before getting on the bus to ride home. That is, until I got busted.
One morning, I was in the hallway chatting with my friends between classes when I saw my mom walking up the school steps. She had a brown paper bag in one of her hands. Initially, I was relieved. My mom had kindly brought my forgotten lunch to school instead of leaving me to eat cafeteria meatloaf and cinnamon apples. My relief gave way to embarrassment, because I realized I had 1980s pink smeared all over my lips.
Eventually, my mom realized that makeup experimentation was no biggie. Soon I was trying out new lip shades—thankfully, because that pink was awful—and wearing mascara every day. It really wasn’t different than the stick-on earrings I sported in the third grade or trying on my mom’s deodorant and high heels when I was a year older.
As a mom of four, I’ve realized that playing grown-up and dress-up is part of a healthy, imaginative childhood. Yet the Internet practically breaks when a parent posts a pic of their child wearing lipstick. As if there aren’t bigger issues to focus on. Sigh.
I’m over the should-kids-be-allowed-to-wear-makeup debate. Here’s my confession. I’ve let my now-tween daughter wear makeup since she was in preschool. Yes, you read that correctly.
When my daughter was four, she watched me apply makeup as I prepared to attend my husband’s work holiday party. She gazed up at me with her big, brown eyes and said, “Can I have some, too?” I smiled at her, instructed her to close her eyes, and then I gently swiped some sparkly eyeshadow over her lids. Then I lifted her so she could see herself in the mirror. She smiled and then dashed off to play toy trains with her little sister.
From that day on, she wore makeup off and on. Sometimes it was just a dab of lip gloss. Other times it was eyeshadow, blush, mascara, and lipstick—going all out. Oftentimes, she’d have on makeup and I wouldn’t—because I’m a top-knot and lip balm fan. A full face of foundation makes me uncomfortable. I reserve going all-out with cosmetics for special occasions.
When my son came along—eventually he wanted some makeup, too. His cosmetic-of-choice was bright red toe polish, to commemorate his favorite thing in the whole world—firetrucks. I didn’t give it a second thought—because of course he wanted to paint his toes like his big sisters and his mom. Why wouldn’t he?
What’s the big deal? The Internet has decided that letting kids pretend to be grown is sexualizing them. Which leaves me asking, huh?
When it comes to makeup and kids—it’s apparent that some adults can be real jerks. When Kim Kardashian West let her six-year-old daughter North wear large hoop earrings, she was mommy-shamed. The same thing happened to Jessica Simpson who took her six-year-old daughter Maxwell to MAC for some mommy-daughter fun. Of course, the Internet clapped back—harshly. Who did these moms think they were letting their little girls dress like women? They accused them of sexualizing their kids and making them grow up too fast.
So kids shouldn’t wear makeup, but when a grown-ass woman like Alicia Keys decides to ditch her own makeup regime, she’ll also face criticism—because she’s apparently supposed to look made-up at all times. Let’s not forget that Gabrielle Union was allegedly told by producers that her hairstyles were too black, emphasizing that the white standard of beauty is the acceptable norm.
Women can’t win. Moms can’t win. We’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t, whether the appearance-criticism is of our kids or our own bodies.
Newsflash to all those balking at kids playing dress up—because that’s what it is—let me tell you what’s up. Kids clamor for attention. That’s what they do. All the time.
Kids put 50 stickers on their arms and strut around growling. They will walk up to strangers and point to their brand-new light-up shoes, preceded by a dance move or karate pose. My toddler cannot stop herself from showing her crooked somersault to me—20 times an hour, minimum. Kids love trying something new and getting attention for it.
Here’s the deal: the only people bringing perversion into the picture are those bringing it up in the first place. Because the rest of us know that kids are just being kids, expressing themselves in however they choose to do so in that moment.
We need to stop clutching our pearls when we see a child—whether it be the kid at the park or the celebrity child on social media—having fun with their appearance. News flash: It’s their body. And as long as their parents are cool with it, we should be, too.