Young girl applies lipstick


I’m Raising Little Feminists Who Love to Wear Makeup

Feb 26, 2019

“Can I put some of your blush on?” my six-year-old daughter Penny asks, expertly climbing onto the bathroom counter and sliding next to me.

“Sure,” I answer, focusing on a steady hand as I not-so-expertly apply eyeliner to my top eyelid.

"... I felt conflicting emotions and wondered if painting my face while raising my children to be feminists was a contradiction."

We sit in companionable silence while I apply a subtle amount of makeup for my night out with some girlfriends, and she cakes on the blush until it achieves the exact effect she’s looking for.

A few years ago, my kids started to take an interest in my makeup, a very small collection of tubes and compacts that I apply rarely. My two oldest, now almost seven and five, would line up each item and ask me to explain what each thing was used for. I don’t know why I was shocked by their interest — of course these mystical and adult-seeming contraptions would delight my children. At the time, I felt conflicting emotions and wondered if painting my face while raising my children to be feminists was a contradiction.

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I’ve debated the makeup conundrum for some time. I’ve even considered ditching it to prove it’s not necessary — an archaic beautification tool meant to feed women’s insecurities. Eventually, I decided that, in order to demystify makeup, I would embrace it, and rewrite the script passed down for generations. I now allow my children to play with my blush, eye shadow and lipstick, while setting the expectation that it’s not a free-for-all, and it’s always something that we do together.

I’ve explained to my kids that applying colour to their faces is similar to applying colour to a piece of paper. They create their own art, and I don’t correct them, always delighted with their end result. For us, makeup is a game we play, like dressing up in costumes, or crafting at the kitchen table. We typically keep our makeup on for a short period, and we are (usually) careful and respectful with each compact, so that we can return again and again to play with them.

"I’ve talked with my kids about the incorrect perception that makeup is a requirement for going out, that it’s only for girls and is designed to make yourself prettier, or cover up parts of yourself."

In order to create positive interactions with makeup, I’ve also had to identify the negative ideas surrounding it. I’ve talked with my kids about the incorrect perception that makeup is a requirement for going out, that it’s only for girls and is designed to make yourself prettier, or cover up parts of yourself. These discussions have forced me to identify my own warped beliefs about makeup. Now I wear it because I want to, because it’s fun and never because I feel like it’s required of me.

I wondered if I was the only one taking this approach to makeup, and whether other feminists would approve of my ideals. I asked Ray Martin, intersectional feminist and co-producer of global activist movement V-Day Guelph, what she thought of makeup and feminism. She said, “I like makeup. I know other women who like to wear makeup, and I know women who can’t stand wearing it. I know men who wear makeup, and men who would never dream of wearing any. At its core, feminism is about breaking down rules around gender, and allowing people to express themselves how they wish: including makeup.”

Mary Katherine Backstrom, mom of two and a writer, believes that makeup is a form of self-expression, similar to clothing. “Of course my kids can use my makeup, just like they can use their art supplies. I do my best to model a casual relationship with anything beauty-related. I don’t want my children to think it’s necessary, and I don’t want them to believe it’s off limits.”

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Likewise, Heather Jones, freelance writer and mom to two sons, believes exercising autonomy over your body means choosing whether or not you wear makeup. “My boys have worn makeup because they liked it. Allowing children of any gender to experiment with makeup is not antithetical to feminism — it's teaching them that feminism includes making choices about your body and your self-expression."

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of combining makeup and feminism. Now I get to explore feminist conversations about autonomy, beauty and self-expression, all while applying lipstick in the bathroom with my children. My only hope is that our conversations will drown out the media messaging that will try to use makeup to feed their insecurities.

By raising critical thinkers, and teaching them to ask questions about beauty standards, I hope they’ll always make view makeup as a way to express themselves, one bold lipstick at a time.

Article Author Brianna Bell
Brianna Bell

Read more from Brianna here.

Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based in Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including The Globe & Mail, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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