In today’s culture, makeup serves different purposes for girls of varying ages. Elementary-school girls are first introduced to makeup through play. Many of us worry about our daughters’ early interest in makeup and conclude that their attraction to it forecasts obedience to popular culture; others see it differently.

Cathy, the mother of 14-year-old Annie, said, “I’ll tell you what I found out with these kids, with my own anyway: they love makeup. They buy makeup a lot, not unlike boys collecting baseball cards or like when I collected Beatles’ vinyls. My daughter, Annie, likes to collect makeup and treats it as a cross between a grown-up product and a toy. For Annie and her friends, makeup helps them to straddle both worlds. One of her friends came to our house and I overheard her say, ‘Oh, Jennifer, I can talk with you guys later, but I just have to go look at Annie’s makeup collection.’ It was like saying, ‘I just want to see your baseball cards’ or something.

beautiful girl

“Now, I view Annie’s interest in makeup with a whole different mind-set. I realize that the significance that I attach to makeup is too loaded and that it may have a completely different meaning to many preadolescents. I worry that Annie’s overly attached to the idea that she has to be a slave to beauty, but I may be overreacting.” This mother may be overreacting, but she may not be. With some girls, it is helpful to steer them to a collection that isn’t associated with society’s mandate to be beautiful. Instead, they could collect something that has to do with their individual interests and passions.

Teenage girls purchase makeup to present themselves to the world in their idealized vision. For older adolescents, makeup no longer exists only in the realm of play. These are the years when girls become worried about how they look and often think about their self-worth and what they believe they can accomplish in terms of whether they feel physically beautiful. Many teenagers see buying and wearing makeup as a passage to maturity and an outward symbol that they are getting older. The problem for girls is when they see their physical appearance as an entrée to social acceptance and believe they will be better liked if they are pretty.

With this in mind, whether or not you condone your teenage daughter’s buying and wearing makeup clearly depends on what message she is trying to express. Makeup, in and of itself, is another transitional object, one that can take on a greater or lesser importance. You can make a difference by teaching your daughter how to attach a reasonable significance to its application.

As with all trends, standards for fashion change, while the need to conform to the prevailing standard remains the same. Gone are the pencil eyebrows of the 1940s and thick Brooke Shields eyebrows of the recent past. Nothing remains constant, and teenage girls are taught through TV, movies, advertisements, and magazines exactly what the ever-changing rules are at a given time. How parents cope with these trappings of beauty varies. There isn’t one correct way of approaching the use of makeup or any other trend or fashion statement.

makeup girl

Personal Best

What is “self-image”? Ask your daughter to identify qualities she admires in others. Does she possess those qualities? Is there a large gap between your daughter’s self-image and the ideal self-image she described? Is this gap realistic or a creation of unreal expectations?

How would your daughter describe the ideal body for both men and women? Where does the idea of what is an ideal body come from? Is there more importance placed on a woman’s conforming to an ideal body than there is for a man? Why? Has the ideal body changed over time? Watch the same television show or movie with your daughter. Discuss each of your perceptions of the main characters in the show/movie. How were the women or girls portrayed? How were the men or boys portrayed? Are they good role models? Do they look like people your daughter knows in real life? Why or why not?