When I was a baby, I ate a lipstick and ended up in the emergency room. But that was the extent of my childhood make-up drama. My mother—beautiful in a very low-maintenance way—never cared if we wore eyeshadow or used hair-dye. And now as a mom myself, I have the same philosophy when it comes to kids and makeup.
I'm perfectly comfortable letting my three-year-old daughter playfully swipe on some blush or lipstick because in my personal opinion, makeup is essentially an art supply. The colors, textures, combinations of colors and textures—it's the same as finger-painting or puppet-making (both favorite pastimes in our house). I love that we can use our face, body, and nails as canvases. As far as I'm concerned, makeup is good, clean, creative fun.
So when I learned about Petite 'n Pretty, the makeup line for kids age 4 and up, through a media mailer full of samples, I was excited to gift some of the bright, sparkly products to my daughter's cousins and friends. But I hesitated—I wasn't sure where all their parents stood on the topic of kids and makeup since it’s so controversial. Even some of my closest friends think that by letting children wear makeup we are teaching them that they need to enhance their appearances and encouraging them to grow up too fast.
Personally, I don't think that's the message the brand, or parents who condone kids playing with makeup, are trying to give. Although its name gave me pause, Petite 'n Pretty claims their goal is to spark imagination and creativity through age-appropriate makeup. And their marketing is gender-inclusive, showing little boys using the product alongside girls on their social media accounts. I like that!
Needless to say, I'm fine with my little one packing up her Petite 'n Pretty brush set alongside her library books, match games, and shell collections. But I will say this: I believe kids plus makeup does require some mindfulness.
For example, I'm very careful not to associate makeup with beauty (which is why I wish Petite 'n Pretty had another name). When my daughter's digging into nail polish or eye shadow, I'm cautious with my word choice. I'd never say, "Look how gorgeous you are!" But I will say, for example, "I love how the eye shadow is the same color as the blue jays we feed in Maine. Do you remember the blue jays?" And then we talk about birds. (Riveting!) Get what I'm saying?
I know (and respect) the arguments against makeup for kids. One of my motherhood mentors thinks it's disgraceful to let kids wear makeup. She believes a child's innocence needs to be preserved as long as possible. I wholeheartedly agree with her on that statement, however, I just don't see playing with makeup as a loss of innocence if you engage with it in the right context.
One might also say that playing makeup is a stepping stone to associating our looks with our worth; a gateway to a superficial life. Okay, that's a terrifying prospect. But here's my counterargument to that: it is MY job as a parent to teach my daughter that inner beauty is the only thing that matters; that a kind heart and a generous soul are the things we value most in this family. I can not ask a lip gloss to do that. I can not blame a nail polish if I fail.
The fact is, my daughter plays with makeup every few weeks, for maybe a half hour at most. She'd rather be at ballet class, or learning to ski, or baking a gingerbread house, or working on science projects with her cousins. If she was makeup-obsessed, or I noticed a relationship with her self-esteem that worried me, I might rethink my stance. I might turn into my friends who believe makeup is the enemy of self-worth. As we like to teach our children, it's okay to change your mind.
“Makeup is what you make it and how you approach it,” says Erika Katz, author of "Bonding Over Beauty: A Mother-Daughter Beauty Guide to Foster Self-esteem, Confidence, and Trust." “It can be a great tool to open up a bigger conversation about beauty, self-worth, and self-esteem. This open dialogue will help you understand what your child is thinking and feeling and give you some insight into what is going on in their minds. Our gut instinct is to tell our kids they are being silly….focusing on the wrong thing. But, when we say that, we are not listening to them. So, if your kid loves makeup and wants to wear it, use it as a way to connect with them, get them talking. You may learn something and have a lot of fun in the process.”
As for gifting Petite 'n Pretty swag...I gave some away, after checking with the parents first. But even after getting the green lights, I felt a little guilty. It's not my place to infuse make-up, or any of my own parenting choices, into another family's environment.
I've decided to keep the rest of the makeup in a little closet with other freebies I've received. Maybe we'll use it, maybe we won't. Frankly, we have more important things to think about.