I watch from the hallway as my five-year-old daughter sits, admiring her reflection. She has a whole setup now, her favorite Christmas gift from her grandmother — a real vanity equipped with drawers and a large studio-lit mirror. On top of the table sit two acrylic makeup organizers filled with eyeshadows, lipsticks, brushes, blushes, and nail polish, with swivel technology for easy access and maximum “wow” factor. She puckers her lips and applies a thick, dark layer of red lipstick, smacking her lips with pride. She looks so happy. But as I stand watching, I can’t help but wonder — is this okay?
Everything feels so loaded and critical, I feel an increased responsibility when making choices in certain areas, women’s empowerment being one of them. And watching her engage in an activity so seemingly rooted in the idea that women need to be “pretty” or “perfect” kind of makes me wince.
Watching her transform and decorate her face, reveling in her masterpiece and announcing how “beautiful” she now looks, I can’t help but worry that I might be complicit in fostering the wrong values. Aren’t I supposed to be teaching her that beauty comes from the inside? Shouldn’t I be urging her to boycott the beauty industry as an act of patriarchal defiance? Isn’t the full glam setup at age five sending the wrong message?
Or maybe it’s not that deep. Is this simply a five-year-old being creative and having fun — engaging in an enjoyable activity that doesn’t need to have a deeper meaning? Maybe it is a gentle, fun way for her to express herself and create that makes her happy. There is a lot of artistic expression involved in makeup, after all. And I find it hard to believe she is mimicking some kind of unhealthy self-improvement routine that I have modeled, since I only apply a swipe of under-eye concealer and mascara on special occasions (which is purely the result of lack of talent and energy, nothing more profound). And there must be a feminist argument that leans greatly into celebrating yourself and your femininity in whatever way makes you feel good — makeup included. So maybe it’s okay?
Like so much else, I think the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Like everything in life and parenting, I think the “it’s okay in moderation” motto applies here. Because, of course, if I was layering pounds of makeup on every day, never allowing anyone to see any minor flaws in my skin, talking openly about how I am only confident and beautiful with a face full of product, that would likely be problematic. But if I dabble in makeup on occasion and share in the fun of it with her — reminding her that she does not have any “flaws” that need to be covered or erased, while making clear that she is free to accentuate or decorate her already wonderful face however she likes as long as she is happy — then maybe we are okay?
So, for now, I think the vanity can stay. I’ll keep a close eye on its impact and ensure it doesn’t morph into an obsession that creates a false sense of beauty and confidence. Jeez, sometimes I wish everything didn’t feel so heavy and important. I guess that’s what raising kids is though. So I’ll stay in-tuned, work through my worries as they arise, and hope that I make more good choices than bad. It won’t be perfect, and it definitely won’t always be pretty — but at least I now have a complete glam set-up to make up for it. Ha.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.