Beauty and Age in America

While talking about fashion vloggers the other day, I couldn’t help but think of the young tweens I’ve come across on YouTube who vlog about fashion and makeup. People who are a decade younger than me know how to put on makeup better than me! Out of curiosity, I did a simple google search of “young girls applying makeup” and I came across a video of a 6-year old (yes, SIX year old) girl named Belle who made a video about applying makeup with 18 million views! At this age, she was already applying makeup and still makes videos today (she is 11 years old now).

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Screenshot of young YouTube vlogger Belle teaching viewers how to put on makeup.

 

This was only one of many videos of young girls teaching viewers how to apply makeup. With that, I later came across an article from 1989 from Good Housekeeping titled “When Should Your Daughter Start Wearing Makeup”, and it made me wonder: when do or should people start wearing makeup and what convinces them to start?

This article states that the mother plays a large influence on her daughter’s use of makeup, but there are also other influences like classmates or the internet that can introduce girls to this world of beautification. I can’t help but feel surprised whenever I see very young children wearing makeup because I’ve always seen it as a cosmetic way to hide flaws. This act of beautification shifted from a “painted face” that promoted higher class in the early 1900s to “makeup”, which aimed to look effortless and be “an essential finishing touch in a woman’s daily beauty ritual” (Peiss 86).

But when we are young, our skin already looks fresh and new. While young skin may not need cosmetics to hide blemishes, the advice column states that “girls are starting to wear makeup earlier”. At the same time, researcher Joyce Brothers states in the article that “they are also starting to mature earlier”. Even in the 90’s, it was clear that younger people were being exposed to beauty standards very early in their lives.

From a young age, children have accepted beauty standards that are racialized. In Jane Elliot’s psychology experiment, she separated the privileges between blue eyed and brown eyed children. This simple division of appearance played a large role in racial prejudice. At the ages of 9 and 10, these children had ingrained in their heads that a certain look could give them more power. Similarly, Toni Morrison adds onto this idea of a child’s idealized image of beauty in describing Pecola dreams of having blue eyes and her jealousy for the beautiful Maureen Peal (Morrison 63). Just like adults, makeup can give children an avenue towards altering their looks in any way they want it to.

This magazine article includes quotes of advice from professional doctors and researchers about children wearing makeup.  They are “experts” that “answer the question that many moms have to deal with.” According to these experts, wearing makeup is not the problem – it is what it conveys that parents should be concerned about. The framework in which this advice is based on reminds me of the approval for changing one’s appearance only if it is medicalized. These doctors see makeup as an important part of growing up, but they also say that children should wait until they are age 14 or 15 before they start wearing eye makeup. So, mothers should “buy their daughters age appropriate makeup”. Similarly, this reminds me of the constant debate about having cosmetic surgeries. Asian women aren’t questioned when double eyelid surgery very early in their life because they feel the need to follow normalized Eurocentric standards of beauty. However, when someone decides to get a facelift, it is seen as vain. According to Bordo, women are constantly “in interaction with their own bodies and the cultural and social constraints of the ‘fashion-beauty complex” in which they are caught betwen what looks should normally be expected to endure (Bordo 37). Does age play a factor in this normalization? And if it does, does that mean that young girls decide to wear makeup to fit a certain normalized version of what their age group should look like?  Similar to cosmetic surgery, makeup is okay to wear as long as it’s not noticeably different from what people think it should look like. It is important to consider makeup as a form of self-expression, but it is also highly sexualized.

In thinking about makeup and how it is also racialized to follow Eurocentric norms of beauty, it makes me wonder the age in which girls decide to start applying makeup and how they decide to apply it on their faces. If at 9 or 10 years old, they conform to think that certain looks can lead to more power and success, then is there some way to teach young girls at an early age to think about structures of power that may be influencing their own desires to start wearing makeup? Maybe the discourse has changed and makeup is being used differently. Maybe it is normal for 10 year olds to be wearing makeup. If it is, we need to make sure they fully comprehend their desires to start wearing makeup.

 

Works Cited

Barbra B. Kagan, Margaret Vogel. “When Should Your Daughters Start Wearing Makeup” Good Housekeeping, Sept 1989, 139, 158.

Kathy Lee Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011)

Stephen G. Bloom. “Lesson of a Lifetime” Smithsonian Magazine, September 2005 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/lesson-of-a-lifetime-72754306/

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, (New York: Vintage Books, 1970)

Susan Bordo. “Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body.” University of California Press. 1993.

 

 

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One thought on “Beauty and Age in America

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  1. I started wearing makeup when I was twelve. When I entered puberty, suddenly my skin revolted and I had the worst acne imaginable, including rosacea – my nose, cheeks and chin were a bright, angry red. I was ashamed and embarrassed and my mother, who disapproved of my shyness, thought that if this insecurity was addressed, I might become more outgoing (ha). She bought me a small bottle of foundation that, when applied, covered the redness and made my skin tone appear even. It was a miracle!

    Eye makeup on young kids is somewhat of a different story, as it contributes to a more mature, sexualized look, with the result of drawing attention rather than blending in. However, I think the elements of mother-daughter connection and confidence are echoed in both scenarios. Oftentimes makeup and body work is a ritual passed through generations, and can feel like an important coming-of-age moment. It can feel like a rite of passage for kids that aspire to be more self-sufficient, emulating the looks and behavior of older siblings and admired adults. And makeup can be a confidence boost for people of any age – I know in my case, my middle school self was a much happier person because of it.

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