Q: At my daughter’s preschool, a few of her classmates have come to school wearing makeup and little high-heel shoes. Now my almost 4-year-old daughter is asking to wear makeup – mostly eyeshadow and lipstick. While I am okay with this, my husband is dead set against it. What are your thoughts?
A: I have observed this trend as well while visiting preschools around town, and I must say I have very strong feelings about this. For starters, it makes me wonder how many parents and children may have been influenced by television shows like Toddlers and Tiaras.
My concerns are threefold. First, I worry this early emphasis on the external is happening at a time in a young girl’s life when she should be focusing on character development. This behavior seems to reinforce the message from popular culture that our worth and value as human beings comes from our physical appearance. Young girls should be working on things like how to make and keep a friend, and the importance of compassion and kindness. They should be learning what they are good at, and how to get better at the things that challenge them. I worry that this emphasis on looks is a distraction from the important work that needs to go on internally.
Second is my concern that we continue to blur the boundary line between childhood and adulthood. Women especially have so many years to worry about how we present ourselves to the world. Should we not honor these early years, before puberty, to let girls just be girls and not small adults? These days, early childhood is far less carefree than in past generations. Both boys and girls are exposed to so many adult concepts, due in large part to constant exposure to media. We know that even at younger ages than ever before, children are experiencing higher levels of anxiety than at any other time, and research shows that there is a direct link to exposure to overly mature media content. Could carefree play be the antidote to this kind of premature anxiety?
In addition, adults need to filter mature concepts, images, and information for children, until the time when the child has developed coping skills
and a stronger sense of identity. In this way, kids can learn what influences are healthy and what is not in their best interest.
Finally, I worry about the over-sexualization of young girls in particular. What message are we sending when we play up our daughter’s sexual appeal with makeup and clothes that can be interpreted as provocative and or seductive? At the extreme end of this spectrum, there is research that has looked at outcomes for girls who have participated in pageants or other activities that emphasize the external at a young age. These girls tend to see themselves as objects. In addition, a high percentage of these young women have struggled with eating disorders, body image problems, and depression.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with kids playing dress-up at home and experimenting with makeup from time to time. The problem comes when we cross the line and allow this behavior to become a part of their real lives (like going to preschool wearing makeup and high heels). So I vote with Dad on this one. Give your daughter the gift of childhood. Allow her to remain innocent and unburdened by attempting to alter her appearance as long as you can.