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Young Girls, Makeup and the Media: How Not to Raise a Diva

I was particularly disturbed by a recent article in Newsweek. The magazine sat around my house for weeks (what parent has time to read a whole article?) until the article Tales of a Modern Diva caught my attention.

This story shared some shocking statistics about this generation of young girls, and their use of cosmetics that stopped me in my tracks. As a feminist and critic of the relentless media exposure most children face daily, I aggressively limit the amount of media my girls are exposed to. But ultimately, it will catch up with them, by way of their peers.

First of all, the whole idea that there is a reality show about the beauty industry of toddlers makes me nauseas (Toddlers and Tiaras on TLC). Add that to the fact that now there are actual spas for the girls and the preteen set, and I am tempted to take my girls and run for the hills in a hut with no Internet, TV and home schooling. In some ways, though, I might just be putting off the inevitable.

Here are a few statistics to consider from this article:

· “According to market research firm Experian, 43 percent of 6 to 9 year olds are already using lipstick or lip gloss; 38 percent use hairstyling products, and 12 percent use other cosmetics.”

· And according to Newsweek research, “by the time your 10 year old is 50, she’ll have spent nearly 300,000 dollars on just her hair and face.”

· Girls between 11 and 14 see on average 500 ads a day.

· Eight to 12 year old girls spend more than 40 million on beauty products.

And these lead to this ultimate, disheartening statistic:

· According to a 2004 study by the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, 42 percent of 1st to 3rd grade girls want to be thinner, while 81 percent of 10 year olds are afraid of getting fat.

There are serious psychological, environmental, and physical problems with this level of consumption and consumerism of beauty products. To name a few, we are increasing the years of multiple exposures to thousands of untested chemicals on vulnerable, developing bodies, rinsing these chemicals into our drinking water, streams, ponds and lakes (and throwing their packaging in the landfill), and emptying our pockets of millions of dollars. Even these fail to acknowledge the dramatic problem of a whole generation of girls, striving to attain the unattainable: a perfect, flawless, airbrushed and photo-shopped body that simply does not exist.

I offer these humble suggestions for fighting back. I do realize that by writing this I will ultimately guarantee that one or both of my daughters will strive to become divas, despite (or in spite of) my best intentions and efforts. But here we go anyway!

· Limit or eliminate your daughter’s exposure to media in all forms. This means only television that is educational, with no or limited commercials.

· Limit the amount of beauty or fashion magazines around your house. Children look at everything, and seeing body parts in isolation, or bodies that are unattainable at young ages sets the stage for insecurity and a need or want to use certain products.

· Use only necessary product on your children, such as unscented soaps and shampoos that are free of chemicals such as parabens, dioxane, pthalates and others. Use the Skin Deep database to assist your selections of what to use on your child, and use products sparingly.

· Try not to emphasize beauty from clothes or products (I know this is hard!). We all say how cute we think our children are in different clothes, but this may lead to them thinking they are only cute or beautiful when they are dressed up.

· Be aware of your comments and beauty regime. Don’t insult yourself or make critical comments about your own appearance in front of your child. And think about the implications of your child watching you get ready for work (even with my quick routine, I still worry about this one).

· Steer clear of spas, shows, and peers that focus on beauty treatments for young children!

· And let your kids play in the dirt, roam free, and barely brush their hair until absolutely
necessary. It is better for their health, and likely their perception of their child selves.

· Discuss that adults sometimes use products, but they don’t need them.

· Explain what advertisements are at an early age, and discuss them frequently.

These are just a few ideas about how to fight the rising tide of media consumption in our children. Readers, what do you do? How do you feel about this issue?

image: ‘Nushka is ‘made up’ with her cosmetics set. by sunflowerdave… on flickr under Creative Commons


  1. Great post, Katy!
    I have two young boys and two stepdaughters. The 13yo lives with us full time. The rare times I open her bedroom door, I am aghast at the amount of make-up that girl has! Dad doesn’t allow her to wear it (until she’s in high school), but that never stopped her mom from buying her TONS of it. And since “it’s from my mom”, I can’t get her to get rid of it, even if I offer to replace some of it with safer cosmetics than her array.

    I’m from a family of 6 girls, and luckily, we weren’t “pretty” girls (though we’re all reasonably attractive). My mom didn’t girl us up, and we didn’t get to wear make-up until high school, either.

    I wholeheartedly agree: limit media exposure, don’t stress the “importance” of appearance, and hopefully we’ll raise another generation of righteous chicks. 😉

  2. I think your suggestions are good ones. The practice I would caution against is banning cosmetics entirely.

    A friend of mine growing up was not permitted by her parents to wear makeup. Even though she was an honor student and basically a good person, she developed a bad shoplifting habit. She would steal makeup, put it on when she got to school or wherever she was going, and then wash it off before she went home. She never took anything but cosmetics and when she was an adult she anonymously sent the store owner a letter of apology and $500 as restitution.

    I certainly do not condone what she did as she was breaking the law. But had her parents not had such a strict policy, I don’t think she ever would’ve shoplifted.

  3. octavia says:

    amazing post. thanks! as a mother of two under two in a beauty obsessed part of the country i cringe when i begin to think of what the coming years will be like and what my girls could become. i think the importance what you write is about what we can do as parents to teach our children by example and conscious leadership. i think it tends to be harder than simply banning or restricting but will last a lifetime.

  4. temperance says:

    Complete other end of the spectrum you are. In everything there should be moderation. Your children will only feel left out in a world which keeps on progressing towards whatever it may. I understand your point, however having girls grow up as hillbillies won’t help them any in their later years.

  5. Thanks, Katy, for this post.

    A couple of suggestions:
    Watching only videos or programs with no commercial advertising is no longer a guarantee of zero exposure to advertising. Advertisers have figured this out and placement advertising everywhere, including PBS, is the wave of the future. Be vigilant, point them out to your child, discuss them.

    Even the Newsweek mag has some ads that you can look at with your children and ask: who made it? why? what did they use? Do we believe what they are trying to tell us?

    Critical thinking can be taught day by day in this way and, ultimately, is more effective than censoring.

    No, not Hillbillies, but savvy, informed consumers and producers of media will result.

  6. Great article! Sin Deep is a great resource for finding brands that are all natural or Organic. At least, when introducing a preteen to makeup, find a brand that is free of synthetics so she can start on the right path when she is the appropriate age to graduate from play makeup to real makeup.

  7. Beth Acosta says:

    Even though my daughter is only 8 months, I am thinking about it. I am annoyed at how many comments I get to put a flower in her hair or pierce her ears so people can tell she is a girl.

    My strategy is to let her be her own person and expose her to different things that make her feel good about herself on the inside. When its make up time, I too will be all organic.

  8. We are currently struggling with this topic in our house as my 4 year old will soon be in her first ballet recital where they are required to wear makeup, something that both my husband and I are upset about. What are your thoughts? I don’t want her to be the only one without it and I know makeup for performance is different, but is it in the eyes of a young child?!?

    I think the best thing to do is be a role model and watch your language, as in how you address beauty and yourself!

  9. I saw an episode of that programme too. The woman who said she’s much rather have a pretty daughter than an intelligent one needs her head looked at.

    I never wear make up so hopefully I’m setting an example for my daughter until she starts school, then it becomes a bit more difficult.

  10. Victoria says:

    I agree with temperance. I also don’t see whats actually wrong with children using beauty products (as long as they are all natural) and being told they look “cute” The best thing you can do is instill self worth and remind them that beauty isn’t everything. Praise them for their brains as well as their beauty. Sheltering them will only make them want to do it more. And as a mother teach your children to do as you do. Kids are smart. If you are thinking about the way you look chances are so is your kid. They can tell what your thinking regardless of if you are saying it or not.


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