Mommy Confession: I Let My Toddler Wear Make-Up

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little girl make-up

UPDATE: Check out the segment on Good Morning America regarding this piece, and the follow-up article about what “pretty” means to a young child. Also, due to the dangerous nature of some comments that blame victims for their abuse, please remember that make-up (or any other action) doesn’t “invite” pedophiles. 

This weekend, my daughter had her spring pre-school performance. As we were getting ready, practicing her songs and pulling out her “good shoes,” she walked into the bathroom and reminded me that I needed to plug in the curling iron. “Mom,” she bellowed from across the house, “you need to turn on the hot curly thingy.”

Brenna and I have a pretty solid “dress-up” routine. Every holiday, performance, or any other event that she deems necessarily fancy, we pick out a pretty dress, curl her hair and then we apply a little make-up. Alright, we apply a full face of make-up. On both of us.

Ever since she could sit in front of my vanity, my daughter has loved make-up. The entire idea of painting her face was pretty exciting. She’s begged for blush and pleaded for a little lipstick. And for the past two years, I’ve obliged her.

I don’t wear make-up every day. Even when I went in to an office during the week, I only remembered to put on mascara half of the time. Foundation and eye shadow? Not a chance. I save my make-up for family functions where I want to look nice or evening events that require a little dressing up. And now I’ve created a pre-schooler who thinks that special occasions always deserve make-up.

As a mother with some feminist leanings, I’ve been worried about teaching my daughter that she needs make-up to be beautiful. I don’t want her to think that wearing make-up or curling her hair somehow makes her more desirable or loved. It seems like make-up is counter-productive to any goal I have about her self-esteem and confidence.

And yet… I keep letting her put it on.

For my little girl, make-up feels like something we do to show that an event is important to us. It’s an extra step that lets us spend a little frivolous time with brushes and powders. She sits in front of the mirror smiling as I apply a little blush to her cheeks and eye shadow to her eyes. Sometimes I don’t even put any actual make-up on, I just run the brushes over her skin. It doesn’t change the fun for her.

Every time I see another article about Suri Cruise and her lipstick, I feel mildly embarrassed. People throw a fit about the inappropriateness of bright pink lips on a girl just barely in elementary school. But I’ve let my daughter walk into Church on Easter with sparkling light pink eye shadow, pale pink cheeks and MAC lip gloss.

I know that other mothers must think I’m ridiculous, or that I’m inflicting horrible psychological damage on my little girl. I don’t want her to think that she has to have any additional help to make herself gorgeous. She obviously doesn’t. And I don’t particularly want her to set too much store by physical attractiveness.

But when we get ready together, it doesn’t feel like she’s worried about becoming pretty. It feels like a little girl who wants to pretend she’s a grown up like her mama. It’s a child who wants to have her own special routine to get ready for special occasions.

So yea, I let my toddler wear make-up. Eyes, cheeks, lips… the whole thing. And while I can think of a million reasons to feel guilty about it, I still do it. My daughter is intelligent and strong, she has interests outside of pretty, pretty princesses, so if she wants to dress up with her mom and throw on some eye shadow, I just let her have some fun.

What do you think? Is make-up for toddlers completely inappropriate or do your little girls play with your pretties too?

(Photo: Thinkstock)