What to Say to Our Daughters About Makeup and Beauty

My friend’s daughter is perched on my barstool, a beautiful 12-year-old going on 17. She is attending a dance soon. Would I do a trial makeover? With her mom’s consent, I apply loose powder, neutral tones on her lids and mascara. To complete her look, she chooses pale pink for her lips. She is thrilled because she normally isn’t allowed to wear makeup.

Though I have a 17-year-old daughter, this experience is new for me. Usually, my girl doesn’t wear any makeup, except once to attend her senior prom, where her girlfriends did makeup with her. Time together with the young lady in front of me confirms she’s wired differently than my daughter. My friend’s daughter is pining to grow up and feels this magical powdery, gooey stuff called makeup will help her get there. 

We chat about makeup as I pull out items from my little bag. In response, she presents — ta-da! — her makeup bag, laying out across the kitchen bar with unfamiliar bottles, powders, liners, mascaras and a gorgeous line of brushes. 

These products, some unused, are in pristine condition because they comprise a hope chest of sorts. She is amassing her arsenal for when her parents let her wear makeup, a date I’m betting is marked on her calendar. The packaging itself oozes pink and girly, a picture of playful, if edgy, femininity. I feel age encircling me as this candid girl unleashes every ounce of her youth.

She speaks effusively of her treasures, many of them bought over time with holiday and birthday money. Her designer products sparkle, reflecting the excitement on her face.

It isn’t that makeup makes you happy; it makes you happier. It establishes a bit of a personal signature, announcing to the world: This is me. My friend’s young daughter doesn’t need makeup to bring her happiness, but sitting in front of me, her eyes aglow, she could feel her elegance and womanhood stirred, emboldened. I could tell. 

Since the beginning of time, women have been beautifying themselves, a fact as true today as ever. Whether with tattoos or toe rings, piercings or makeup, we like to establish: This is who I am, and I’m a little happier for having discovered it. At 12, this girl on my barstool hearts makeup and is barreling along at a fast clip. 

For some, the process of discovery is slower. My daughter is taking her time, and I’m thankful she feels no compulsion to be like me. “I’m finding my look,” she says as she sets aside unopened red lipstick to pack for college, just in case.  

Neither approach is wrong. Both are figuring out who they are and how they wish to project themselves as women. Cosmetics may or may not be part of my daughter’s adult feminine world, and that’s her business, not mine. My friend and I talk about our daughters blooming before our eyes, in their own way, in their own time. As I personally learned, makeup is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It’s optional, an available addition to the complicated whole called you. 

Confidence is strength and strength is beauty. Makeup is merely one way to get there.

Kathryn Streeter is a D.C.-based mom and blogger.

“My friend’s young daughter doesn’t need makeup to bring her happiness, but sitting in front of me, her eyes aglow, she could feel her elegance and womanhood stirred, emboldened.”

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