The 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.”
“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!
Photo: P-J TRASH