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Jane Roper

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Jane Roper is the author of the memoir Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins and blogger at Her writing has appeared on Babble, Salon, The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, and the upcoming anthology The Push: Birth Stories for the 21st Century. Jane lives in the Boston area with her husband and twin daughters.

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Can I wear makeup too, Mommy?

By Jane Roper |

can I wear makeup too mommyThe other day I was at the bathroom sink, putting on my makeup — foundation, specifically — when Elsa, who was sitting on the toilet (lid closed!) watching, as she likes to do, asked “Can I put on some of that?”

“No,” I told her. “You know that makeup isn’t for kids.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” I said, “It would look funny on you. You’re beautiful without makeup.”

“But I want to be extra beautiful!” she said.


I almost never leave the house without at least some makeup on. Eyeliner and usually mascara are musts for me; I just don’t like the way I look without them. My eyes, which I think are my best feature, seem to disappear.

If I’ve got more time, I do foundation and lipstick — things I didn’t used to wear, but do now, as I edge into middle age. And I’m OK with all of this. I don’t think it makes me (overly) vain or high maintenance or any less empowered as a woman. It’s a choice — and there are plenty of grooming things I don’t choose to do: spending lots of time on my hair (as anyone who sees me on a regular basis can attest to), getting my nails done, wearing anything higher than 2″ heels, waxing anything whatsoever.

But I do sometimes wonder what kind of example I’m setting for my daughters just by doing my daily makeup regimen.

I got thinking about it even more when I saw that my virtual pal Sarah Wertham Buttenweiser, who blogs at Standing in the Shadows, was doing a series on her blog called “What Do Feminist Preschoolers Wear” — a tongue in cheek title but a thoughtful discussion of whether “girly” clothes, etc. are at odds with feminist views and values, as well as what kind of message our own style / grooming habits send.

My girls, for whatever reason, love to watch me getting ready in the morning. They’re particularly obsessed with my bras, and like to pick them out for me. (Don’t wear a white one! Wear one of the pretty ones!) They’re also fascinated by makeup. So conversations like the one I had with Elsa are not uncommon.

My general line is this: Makeup is for grownups. You can wear it if you want, and if you like the way it looks. But you don’t have to. It’s up to you. Lots of women don’t wear makeup.

“Why not?” they ask.

“Well, because they don’t feel like it’s important, or they don’t want to take the time, or they like the way they look without it.”

(Pause) “So only people who want to be beautiful wear makeup?”

(Doh!!) “No…you don’t have to wear makeup to be beautiful. And not everybody who wears makeup is…I mean, everybody’s beautiful in their own way. Anyway, it’s more important to be nice to people than to look beautiful…platitude, platitude, blah, blah, blah” (As I put on my mascara…)

“Mommy, can I please wear just a little bit of makeup?”

“Not until you’re thirteen. Now go get dressed.”


I’m sure I could be more eloquent and consistent about what I’m trying to say in these exchanges. But nothing I can say will outweigh the fact that there I am, every morning, putting on makeup, defining — in their minds — what grown-up women do.

My mother wore makeup every day, and I spent lots of time watching her put it on, too. I clearly remember her saying stuff like “little girls are beautiful without makeup.” And even, “You’ll probably want to wear it when you’re older, but you don’t need it now.”

But she drove a hard line: It was only in seventh grade — and not a minute before (although I think I got away with lip gloss…) — that I was allowed to wear a little bit of makeup to school. (Remember when colored mascaras came out in the 80s? Purple, turquoise, green… I was all over that shit.)

But I’ve worn it — makeup that is; not the colored mascara, God help me — nearly every day since.

And I’ve turned out OK. I’ve turned out (I think) a strong, empowered woman. So chances are, my daughters probably will, too, right?

How about you? Do you worry / wonder about what message your grooming habits send?


DOUBLE TIME, my memoir of parenting twins and battling depression (among other things) is now available for pre-order!

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Photo: P-J TRASH

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About Jane Roper


Jane Roper

Jane Roper is the author of the memoir Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins and blogger at Jane lives in the Boston area with her husband and twin daughters.

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19 thoughts on “Can I wear makeup too, Mommy?

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I don’t worry about it, actually. I feel like my daughters get lots of different kinds of messages about what girls and women do, look like, act like, etc. Some of it is because they have two moms–one of whom is decidedly femme (that would be me!) and the other of whom is butch, and never wears make-up–and some of it is just my intention, as a parent, to expose them to ideas such as: boys can wear skirts and nail polish too, if they want. Girls can wear overalls and combat boots, too, if they want. Or you can mix it all up–combat boots AND nail polish. That really, any way that kids (or grown-ups, FTM) want to express their gender should really be OK. I wear makeup every day–without fail–I get my toes done, I dye my hair lots of different colors, I wear high boots–and I do it because it’s fun for me. My girls also love to watch me get ready and they love my makeup. But I always, always tell them that they are beautiful just the way they are, and much more importantly, they are smart, funny, strong, and kind. I think you’re doing just fine, Jane, and there’s no way your daughters will turn out to be anything but badasses!

  2. Mom of Twins in Ohio says:

    My twin boys are 4 and ask to wear my makeup and nail polish too – they just want to do what the grown ups do. I see no harm in letting them try, and I certainly don’t want to make it an important issue.

  3. nutterbutter says:

    Being an old mum, brought up in a strict home… I have to admit to I had a strong negative reaction to children’s make up. There are so many cultural issues attached to the wearing of make up but I managed to get over it because I recognise that some things are now very different whilst others remain the same. I use minimal make up now that I am a SAHM…mascara isn’t an everyday thing for me. My twins wear nailpolish- I gave the babysitter the “keys” to the nail polish so that is an activity they happily do with her. They go through tubes of lipstick as if they are edible (lip balm). I tell them they have the most beautiful skin in the world and that’s why they don’t need make up (hairbrushing would be a good idea tho’). My 12 year old now has “real” make up but is not permitted to wear it to school beyond coverstick and lip gloss. I see a lot of racoon eyes at the grade 7 lunch tables and the effect is to make them look as if they have small beedy eyes and does nothing to enhance their eyes. Make up (including nail polish) was strictly not permitted at school when I was at high school….. I’m thinking that I’ll get her some lessons before high school, with the objective being natural looking make up.

  4. SNSinNC says:

    My two year old son watches me put on make up every morning and takes my blush brush and pats it on both our cheeks and says “pretty!” It’s easy now, because he young and a boy and will outgrow it (or not, and if not, at least it’s not conformity that’s making him wear makeup :) ), but if I’m blessed with a daughter next I just tried to explain in my head why I wear makeup…but only to work. The best thing I came up with is “because adult women in big law firms in the south are expected to wear makeup” but that’s a horrible reason! Even if it’s true! And it must be, since I never bother on the weekend or on vacation…bummer. I’ll have to work on a better reason…

  5. Adina says:

    I agree with your general approach and your mom’s line: “little girls are beautiful without makeup.”

    I sometimes don’t wear too much makeup on weekends, which I think helps my girls get used to my face “naked”. As I get older though, it’s usually at least mascara and some sort of lip gloss/stick situation. My mom very rarely wore makeup, and I think as long as girls feel like any option is ultimately ok, we as mamas should do what makes us most comfortable.

  6. Guajolote says:

    I never wear makeup. Never. But I think about this issue anyway, because my part-time childcare MIL dresses up the kid and tells her “We have to look nice to go outside.” What is that? What is nice? In this case, it’s wearing dresses with tights and matching hairbows. (Fortunately that trend will subside in the snow, for now)

    But I don’t like that message. Isn’t she beautiful in her overalls and “boy-colored” shirts too??

  7. jenn/hippygoth says:

    I rarely wear make up. Maybe a little powder as my under-eye circles and blotchy skin become more apparent (oh hai, middle age), but rarely anything else. Unless I’m going to the mall. Then I put on some war paint (black eyeliner…old goth dies hard) and head out. My mother-in-law, who I love VERY much, has a really serious regimen, and everytime my daughter comes back from my in-laws, we have a sort of de-programming period. “I want you to put some make up on me so that I can be beautiful!”

    Thanks, MIL.

    What I tell Charlotte is that make-up makes a grown-up feel fancy; it’s like putting on a costume. Kids & grown-ups alike are ALWAYS beautiful, but sometimes they like to wear make-up to feel fancy. I try really hard not to say that I am putting on make-up to look nice/better, but because I want to look different/fancy…or, you know, scary….(goth!).

  8. Karen L says:

    Maybe you can frame it as “decorating” rather than “making beautiful.” Less power in that. It’s not that the house/store isn’t beautiful when you take the Christmas ornaments down, it’s just not the expected occasion.

    Couple of times per year maybe, I’ll pull out the lipstick and mascara, when I am probably expected to. Otherwise, I hardly wear makeup, except nail polish, which I do find decorative. So I hope that I’ll delay this conversation long enough that I can actually tackle the issue with both my sons and my daughter. quoting @SN SINNC “The best thing I came up with is “because adult women in big law firms in the south are expected to wear makeup” but that’s a horrible reason! Even if it’s true!” We’re seriously going to talk about gender policing (of all genders) and male privilege as it relates to cosmetics.

  9. Rachel L says:

    My three-year-old loves to watch me get ready in the morning (and loves bras, too!) and often asks to put on makeup. I let her. When she asks, “do I look pretty?,” I never know what to say. Honestly, she looks like David Bowie (always goes for the turquoise eye shadow). I usually say something about always being pretty and my, you look colorful, and such. I also let herputmakeup on me, when I have time. I think it is simply a form of mimicry, of learning what it means to bean adult and a woman. Nothing terrible.

  10. Sarah Buttenwieser says:

    Curious: do you let them put on nail polish? Does it count? Or is it in some nether zone of okay-ness?

    Saskia, no surprise, thinks chapstick *is* lipstick (I guess b/c that’s adornment in my book–& thus hers).

    I love that the conversation is out there! If we can all manage it well, I imagine it’s about actually backing up the notion that feminism looks all different ways, with or without makeup.

    My other related question: pierced ears. To battle or not?

  11. Julia says:

    I wouldn’t worry about it. I remember for the talent show this year I asked Elsa if she wanted me to braid her hair, and the following exchange occurred:

    Elsa: But why do people braid hair?
    Me: Because it looks pretty.
    Elsa: Well, then I don’t need it. I already look pretty.
    Clio: I look pretty, too!
    Me: That is absolutely true.

    I think their self-esteem is doing juuuuust fine.

  12. Jane Roper says:

    Ha! Julia, that’s so funny. Yeah, they feel pretty good about themselves. Here’s hoping it lasts forever!
    Sarah: Nail polish is tricky. I was horrified once when I came home and the babysitter had put some of mine — a very dark pinkish red — on the girls without my permission. Mostly because she didn’t ask, AND took my nail polish without my permission. But also because of the color. I’m cool with occasionally doing the girls’ nails, when they ask. But definitely in more clearly “dress-up” type colors (i.e. bubblegum pink) and I much prefer toes to fingers.
    As for pierced ears, my current plan is to stick to what my mom did: When they’re 12. (Of course, if you want to see God laugh, make plans.) 10 at the earliest, if they make an issue of it. (I’m so mean!!)

  13. Hayley says:

    Jane, I love this post. My daughter is just turning 3, but she already wants to play with my makeup. I allow it because at this point it’s just play. My mother’s philosophy on makeup was pretty relaxed, but I do remember her telling me that if I’m going to wear it, it was best that I didn’t wear it like a clown. (Which I did-purple lip gloss, yikes.) She’d say: “The purpose of makeup is to enhance what’s there. And you’re beautiful the way you are. You don’t need it.” I love the idea of allowing your kids to experiment though as long as you give them the message that you wrote about in your post.

  14. Donna says:

    Jane your post made me glad I don’t have girls! I have no idea what I would say to daughters. I do occasionally get comments from the boys about make-up and clothing, but mostly I am just trying to deal with the “girls wear pink, boys wear blue” comments that I get every day. They are absorbing so many cultural “norms” from others now and I can’t really keep up.

  15. Rachel says:

    Jenn/Hippygoth – I LOVE your answer that people wear make-up to look/feel fancy. I don’t wear make-up regularly, but I like to wear it when my husband and I go out for a date night or when we attend weddings – or sometimes if I have an important meeting at work. My 7 year old asked me once why I was putting on makeup for an event, and I said I wanted to look “dressy” but I think she would understand “fancy” better.

    Jane – I think your girls will be fine! It’s good that they can watch you do it – and that you’ll be able to show them how to use it when they ARE old enough….my mom didn’t have a clue how to show me how to use make-up. And I really went to town with the purple mascara and turquoise eye shadow, let me tell you! I still don’t feel confident in my make-up abilities. Actually, can you give my girls make-up lessons in a few years? I’ll let them look at my naked face anytime if you want to provide a different role model…

  16. mama de marlie says:

    i’ve always been obsessive about not letting marlie watch me put on makeup (mascara daily for me, the other stuff for “accoutrement” occasions) but mostly because i’m afraid she’ll try to put it on herself and poke her eye out. the stuff is really nasty. i remember sneaking eye shodow and also making a huge mess with the eyeliner the first time i tried it out. *sigh*
    and i have the concern you have, too – that they’re focusing too closely on the wrong thing. marlie’s daycare let her put on some “lip balm” and her face froze in modeling mode, like she was holding a book on her head, like she didn’t want to move for fear of it wiping off. it made me so sad. what’s the age, though? 13 you say? eeesh, i don’t know if i’ll be able to hold her off that long.

  17. Michele says:

    I don’t have a girl child, but I remember clearly watching my mom put make up on. I remember being allowed to put it on for playing dress up, as part of a costume, things like that. It was fun to use as a part of playing, and I didn’t really think about it as part of a daily routine until I was in high school. Like you I wear make up daily, and mascara is for me a must. I think if I was answering the question, I would say I like the way I look when I wear it, they can choose to wear it regularly when they are ____ insert age of your choosing, but until then it is just for play time and costumes. Get them some cheap stuff – eye shadow, rouge, lipstick. I would avoid mascara just so they don’t jab themselves in the eyes. I think if you make it available to play with, it won’t feel forbidden. Maybe get them some Burts Bees tinted lip balm they can use any time. It is chap stick, with a hint of color. But mostly chap stick.

  18. Korinthia Klein says:

    I have never worn makeup. I hate the feel of it, and I once read a book about the ingredients and it freaked me out. (The sparkles in the lipstick? Fish scales.) I wear nail polish primarily when I’m trying not to bite my nails, and the idea of pierced anything including earlobes makes me feel ill.

    So I’m always fascinated by what my girls think of makeup and the like, since I’m certainly not modeling any of that for them. When they ask I just point out everyone has different things that make them comfortable. My oldest likes her hair long, the younger likes hers short. They pick out different colors to wear. They have different ideas about wearing things like headbands. There’s no right or wrong and it doesn’t matter much what I think anyway. It’s their choice.

    So if they asked to wear makeup at any age I would tell them I think they look better without it, but beyond that I don’t think I care. They could go full goth and as long as it makes them happy and they do their own laundry if they smudge anything on it I’m fine.

  19. Annie says:

    Have you ever seen the show Toddlers and Tiaras? It’s a series on TLC looking at the world of child beauty pageants. Oh. My. Word. Acrylic nails, false lashes, spray tans, fake hair, these crazy things called ‘flippers,’ (essentially dentures for kids who have their baby teeth falling out,) and totally outrageous outfits. On kids who can’t even read yet. They don’t even look human once they are done up. Plus, these parents go ape-sh*t when the winning title of Ultimate Grand Supreme goes to someone else’s child. If people wanted to enter their kids in a beauty pageant, they should let their mini-me’s pick their own outfits, let them run through the mud, and then get up on the stage to see who can tell the best fart joke.
    You are doing awesome with Clio and Elsa!

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