Painted Little Ladies: Moms Help Tweens Apply Their Mascara

What's the modern mom to do when her 11-year-old asks for grown-up makeup? Says the Times, "Mrs. Pometta's first instinct was to send her daughter to her room, but she reconsidered. Instead, she took her for a makeover."

When I asked my friends and coworkers, now adults, about their makeup initiations, the responses were pretty much the same: although parental permissiveness and amounts of makeup varied, most people started to want to wear it around the time puberty hit, in middle-school. The puberty correlation makes logical sense: no one had told us, before that, that we were supposed to be wearing it, and so we were just as happy to get obsessed, in fourth grade, with sticker-books or Koosh balls (which actually had to be banned at my school) or snap-bracelets (which actually had to be banned across the country.)

Back in the day, we weren't tweens. We were kids. And there's a big difference between kids wearing makeup (they don't) and tweens doing so. Because tweens are by definition aspiring teens. And so obviously tweens not only wear mascara and blush and lipstick, but are a key demographic for cosmetics manufacturers. I'm not amazed that parents buy their tweens makeup. What does surprise me continually is that these parents have bought into the marketing concept of "tween" so completely.

Says the New York Times,

Regular use of certain cosmetics is rising sharply among tween girls, according to a new report from the NPD Group, a consumer research company. From 2007 to 2009, the percentage of girls ages 8 to 12 who regularly use mascara and eyeliner nearly doubled - to 18 percent from 10 percent for mascara, and to 15 percent from 9 percent for eyeliner. The percentage of them using lipstick also rose, to 15 percent from 10 percent. Meanwhile, women of all other age groups, including teenagers, report using less makeup, according to NPD...So how is the elementary-school set getting away with it? Easy: Mom is the one buying it. When asked to name their primary influence for acquiring and applying makeup, 66 percent of the 365 tween girls polled by NPD pointed to a family member or adult family friend.

The Reviving Ophelia-style arguments against this early sexualization — or glorification of the aesthetic — are obvious. But there are, says the article, other concerns, too: "In a study released this month, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine looked at girls younger than 10 with early onset puberty and discovered a high incidence of endocrine disruptors that are found in some nail polishes and other cosmetics. This is to say nothing of the skin damage that might be caused by the chemicals in makeup, or the possible allergic reactions." It does seem curious that a generation of parents increasingly awake to what goes into its chidren's bodies should splash out on external chemicals — and the piece doesn't address whether there's been a similar upswing in the under-teen sales of Origins, Body Shop or other relatively wholesome beautifiers.

But beyond the philosophical and physical dangers, this seems, ironically, to rob tweens of another rite of passage: relatively harmless rebellion. Fighting over growing up has always been an integral part of the parent-teen power struggle, and snitching moms' makeup, doing a quick once-over with drugstore samples (and hell, we didn't even have Sephora!) or using a friend's contraband eyeliner may be things of the past. I get the argument for supervised experimentation — especially when peer-pressure is strong - but sometimes the unsupervised kind is necessary - not least because we all need some agonizing photos in the album. Anna North says, "in retrospect I looked kind of awful — I was really into putting on this really dark purple eyeshadow and then reapplying all the time, unnecessarily." And Margaret: "I just assumed my mom would say no to makeup, so I stole her old free samples from the bathroom cabinet and applied them at school. I probably looked even crazier because I didn't realize makeup could go bad and was using five-year-old dried up concealer." This, you don't learn at the beauty counter with mom.


Graduating From Lip Smackers
[NY Times]