Playing with makeup is generally a harmless activity for girls

Child Life

January 25, 1998|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Is it OK for little girls to play with play makeup? I asked my sister-in-law to get some for my daughter as a gift, and I sensed she didn't approve. Does it lead to something worse or some character flaw? I would like to hear what other people think.

-- Sarrar Powell, Peoria, Ill.

Parents have little to fear about their little girls' delight in playing with makeup as long as their daughters are also getting the message from role models that beauty doesn't equal success.

"Little girls like to imitate their mothers, and there's nothing wrong with experimenting with makeup and dressing up in their mother's clothes and high heels," says Wende Devlin Gates, author of "Bringing Out Their Best: A Parent's Guide to Healthy Good Looks For Every Child" (Bantam, $17.50). "It's basically a harmless activity and a little bit of a growing activity."

Many Child Life readers agree. "I never felt this was anything but normal," says Zin Devine of Massillon, Ohio. "My daughter has watched me groom on a daily basis. She's 6 now and loves a little bit of lipstick or nail polish. She finds it fun once in a while."

But make a distinction between your adult makeup and your child's play makeup, suggests Julie Ward, a mother from Tacoma, Wash.

"Makeup is only for in the house or in the yard," Ward says. "It's just for play and dress-up. She has talked to me about when she can wear makeup like Mommy wears makeup, and I've told her at what age I will allow her to do so."

Makeup can also be used to open a child's imagination.

"Maybe the mother could suggest that the child do clowning with clown makeup or even dress up with dress clothes and costumes to stimulate imagination and creativity vs. the beauty pageant effect," advises Judy Centracchio of Johnston, R.I.

"If we approach the makeup as tools for the child's imagination, that's healthy and positive," agrees Jeanne Elium, who wrote "Raising A Daughter" (Celestial Arts, $11.95).

If the child has been reading a particular book, you might suggest she make herself up to look like one of the characters. Or, Elium says, suggest that she make herself up according to her feelings.

"You might say, 'Why don't you make up the way you're feeling today.' or 'How would you like to look if you were going to see Santa Claus today or Grandma?' "

Problems arise when a girl is bombarded with messages that beauty is her key to success, explains Elium.

"I don't think the problem is with makeup or Barbie necessarily, but with handing girls a package that says you must have the peachy cheeks and the blond hair to be successful," she says. "It's the spirit in which makeup is used that makes the difference."

Rather than forbidding makeup, Elium suggests parents can make a bigger, more positive, impact on their daughters' futures by:

* Reassessing how they communicate. Something as seemingly harmless as compliments can have a cumulative effect on a growing girl. While boys are often complimented for a good hit in baseball or a high test score, girls are more often told how pretty their hair is, Elium explains.

* Being good role models. For example, if a mother won't even go on a quick trip to the grocery store without makeup, daughters will pick up on that behavior. "Those messages are stronger than anything you say," Elium says.

* Talking with daughters about the media's portrayal of beauty and the impossible standards commercials set for women.

* Resisting the urge to tell little girls how grown-up they look or even how they look just like mommy. "Our culture has a real push to make little girls grow up too fast. So much of the clothing is sexualized. That gives a very strong message," Elium says.

When allowing little girls to play with makeup, Gates recommends, parents should take a few safety precautions.

Using mascara is generally not a good idea, because it's difficult to remove, she says.

And children should be told not to share makeup because of the potential for passing germs.

Can you help?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at 800-827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2322 Hales Road, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to

* Caboose baby: "I am 39 years old and my children are 9 and 11," says T.Y. of Baltimore. "I am going to have a third, unexpected, baby. Our family life will change a lot, and I'm planning a long leave from my job. I'm wondering how to explain all of this to my other two children. Also, I wonder what I should know about raising a 'caboose baby.' Any ideas would be welcome."

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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