I started wearing makeup when I was in middle school. Drugstore compact powder, heavy black eyeliner, every once in a blue moon I took my mom’s red lipstick out for a spin and tried to apply it without getting it all over my nose and my teeth. You guys, it’s not my fault, it wasn’t like there were Pinterest tutorials back in the late-late ’90s.
The thing about wearing makeup when I was in middle school is, I didn’t even like it that much. Putting on eyeliner wasn’t actually fun (and putting on lipstick was probably the opposite of fun). Applying makeup was a stressful experience and it was rooted in a deep and dark desperation to look like something I wasn’t. Every once in a while I will now, as an adult, glance in the mirror while makeup-free and do a Walking Dead shuffle because without my Sephora arsenal I basically feel like the undead. But the thing is now, 15 years after middle school, I’m completely cool with looking a little zombified sometimes. My face is not my self-worth. Glamorous days are optimal, but I’m super at peace with my decidedly unglamorous days. Not so in middle school. I was desperate to look like anything other than myself. Makeup wasn’t a game. It was a weapon. Not one that I used particularly well, but still, a weapon all the same.
I was thinking about my experience with makeup in middle school while reading some recent stats about contemporary preteen girls’ relationship with makeup.
A new study has found that over half of girls ages 12-14 wear makeup, 45% of these girls will touch up their makeup throughout the day (especially if they have bad skin), and 17% of preteens refuse to leave the house without makeup. It’s that “refusing to leave the house” that really bothers me. Those aren’t girls who are having fun with makeup, who are embracing self-expression and personal reinvention. Those are girls who think their faces, as is, are not enough. Self-loathing is the worst at any age, but there’s something particularly tragic about girls questioning their looks this hard at such an early age.
This whole preteens-wearing-makeup-thing isn’t just a self-esteem issue. It’s also a health issue. Makeup takes a toll on your skin, and, for those of us graduates of preteen-dom, we remember that we already HAD enough skin shenanigans to deal with in junior high. The truth is a lot of preteens might not be in a place where they can handle the responsibilities of wearing makeup.
The study we’re talking about tells us that over 63% of 12-14-year-olds go to bed with their makeup on at least once a week with 38% of them simply ‘forgetting to take it off’ and 36% leaving it on because they are ‘too tired.’
Look, I get it. Middle school is SO exhausting. You actually have homework-homework for the first time ever, the chemicals in your body are being the craziest, and people around you are constantly switching back and forth between being super insecure and super mean. But you still got to wash your makeup off at the end of the day. If you’re going to wear makeup, there’s maintenance that comes along with wearing cosmetics.
Of course, I’m not calling for a ban on preteen girls wearing makeup. Every preteen girl is different, and if a girl can use her cosmetics responsibly and makeup is more of a credit in her life than a debit, then whatever, outline your eyes to your heart’s content. I just worry that this ISN’T the case for most middle school girls. All I know is, looking back I don’t think it was for me.
(Image via Shutterstock)