Yes, I Let My Daughter Wear Makeup

When I was a little girl, there was nothing more alluring than makeup. I would watch my mother do her makeup, longing to rouge my cheeks in the same deep blush or use some of her shimmering lipstick. She wore Revlon in a dark crimson with earthy undertones, curled her eyelashes after applying Maybelline Great Lash Mascara – whose signature pink and lime green bottle that has stood the test of time. I remember the way her makeup bag smelled just thinking about it. Perhaps I remember it so vividly because it was so taboo. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, not even for play.

Eventually I was given my own sets for dress-up time — cheap gaudy colors that my best friend and I applied to one another as we donned sparkling princess dresses that were coming apart at the seams from excessive wear. We walked downstairs, eager to show off our new looks, only to be met with disapproval. My father told us we looked like clowns (which to be fair, wasn’t entirely inaccurate with our sloppily applied bright red lips and electric blue eyeshadow).

Then came the phrase I would remember for the rest of my life: “Take that stuff off your face. You don’t need that.” He said the word “stuff” with disgust, an obvious placeholder for the word he wasn’t allowed to say. It was a sentiment I heard from him more than once growing up, spoken anytime I chose to wear makeup that didn’t look “natural.”

I knew his intent was to tell me that I was beautiful without makeup, that there was no need to go to such lengths in pursuit of beauty, but his words missed the point. I didn’t do my makeup necessarily in an attempt to hide imperfections or make myself beautiful. For me, it was a form of self-expression as I navigated my pre-teen and teenage years.

I heard variations of this from others as I grew up as well. That I didn’t need makeup yet. That too much makeup was unattractive. That certain people should or should not wear a particular style of makeup. It seemed that makeup invited judgement, and at a certain point, not wearing makeup would invite judgement as well.

I spent a while during college eschewing makeup entirely, getting used to my “natural” face. It was a protest of all the attitudes I had encountered during my youth, but the truth was, I enjoyed wearing makeup. I liked the process and the final result. I found it had elements of art and whimsy that I greatly enjoyed. I found that doing my makeup made me feel good, and that was reason enough to do it.

Nowadays, I don’t always have the time to do my makeup with three kids and come times hectic mornings, but when I do my daughter is quick to find me and pull a step stool up to the vanity. She asks if she can do her makeup too, and I almost always say yes. I may fake it and have her close her eyes while I flick her eyelashes with my finger instead of applying mascara – or sweep a mostly empty brush over her face when she asks for foundation, but I let her join in because I want to show her that makeup is for fun – not another chore that must be completed as a woman.

I don’t tell her she “doesn’t need it,” because that implies that I do need it, and that someday she will too. I don’t tell her she’s too young as if a bit of lipgloss should be seen as a sexual thing. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that someday makeup will be an expectation for her – that it will become her duty to make herself more palatable to the world around her. If she doesn’t want to wear makeup she shouldn’t. If she wants to wear lots of it, she should feel free to do that as well. It should begin and end with her, not the pressures and expectations of others.

I want makeup to always be something enjoyable that she does for herself, not something she feels that she needs to be beautiful. She was born beautiful. The extra glitter is just for fun.