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Hope Perlman survived the moment of mothering girls I dread. In her post for N.Y. Times' Motherlode, she relays the day her 13-year-old daughter begged to be allowed to wear makeup to a party.
After much soul searching – Perlman occasionally wears makeup herself – and lecturing, she said yes. She describes her rationale here:
"I wanted her to fit in, because I know fitting in is what middle school is about. But what, exactly, was she starting to fit into? The role of the teenager tortured by her failure to live up to a magazine picture? I’d been that teenager, with a picture of a model taped to my bedroom mirror. It wasn’t what I wanted for my child."
So she acquiesced. But not before letting her know exactly what she thought about the message, so aggressively delivered by a male-dominated advertising industry, that girls and women need to paint themselves, cover their skin with lotions and potions, to be beautiful and feminine.
"So that’s how I allowed my daughter to start wearing makeup," Perlman says at the end of her essay, "I gave her permission – along with a large and cumbersome bag of guilt. The personal is political. Better remember that. Here’s your mascara, honey. And your burden of awareness. Enjoy!"
I relate to Perlman's story: When my daughter first sensed I had "issues" with makeup, she was about four years old. She asked me to get her a makeup kit, like the one her little friend, Hanna, got for being a flower girl, and I, refused.
"Why not?" she pouted.
Instead of simply saying "because I said so," I treated her to a verbal tirade of stinging righteousness that came from an apparently conflicted place inside of me.
"Because makeup on kids is stupid,"I said. "Makeup is for girls who want to look like women, or women who want to look like girls. You are a girl. You have beautiful skin. So beautiful it makes me want to cry. Don't cover it up. Please. And don't let anyone, especially a man, make you believe you need to paint yourself to be beautiful."
Probably a bit much for a four year old who just wanted to play dress up, I know. You should have heard my diatribe when she asked for high heels. Where this feminist conviction is coming from I'm still not sure, but I always get emotional when I talk about gender roles.
Is little girls clustering around a plastic makeup bar as harmless as we'd like to think. The folks at PinkStinks.org, a UK-based organization, doesn't think so. And they plan to do something about it by calling for a ban on the sale and marketing of make up kits as toys to any child under 8.
According to a piece last week in The Guardian UK, Pinkstinks creators, Abi and Emma Moore, are waging a war against what they see as a troubling trend of little girls toys being centered around looking in a mirror.
In a recent pinkstinks blog post, Let's talk slap, the writer sums up her objection to marketing makeup tables to kids like this:
"This is the booming market of little girl-beautifying. It’s beauty play. And beauty is what 21st Century girls are being taught is their primary objective. Selling beauty directly to girls is oppressive, sexist and damaging and we need to wake up to it. "
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Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.