Fifteen. Fourteen. Thirteen. Sixth grade. Junior high. High school, when other people started using it. Only on special occasions. Never.
When and why did you start wearing makeup?
Las Positas College sophomore Scarlett Cao began wearing makeup in junior high, simply because “everybody was wearing makeup.”
Taken at face value, makeup as a whole can be viewed as silly, inconsequential and shallow. To some, it is a natural beauty enhancer. To others, however, it is a lifeline. It is a key to walking out of the house in the morning feeling confident. It is a mask to conceal facial flaws. It is a façade to hide pain or anxiety. It is another tool in society’s toolbox to manipulate and pressure people to feel worthless.
“Makeup is fun and makeup is fine as long as you’re fun and fine without it,” Sarah Thompson, sociology professor at LPC, said. “The problem becomes when you don’t feel fine without it, when the makeup becomes sort of that defining element of yourself, which is problematic because it’s external to you.”
Dependency on makeup to feel beautiful can begin in three key areas, according to the LPC community: the home, the media and the peers. It can also stem from anxiety or deeper internal issues.
There are several approaches that can be taken when a little girl asks her mother at home if she can start wearing makeup.
One approach is to not allow the child to wear makeup until a more “appropriate” age. The other is to not make too big a deal out of wearing it and to allow it at whatever age the curiosity for makeup begins.
Thompson, who teaches sociology at LPC, has two daughters who are ten and twelve years old. Their interest in makeup piqued between the ages of five and seven, but rather than saying no, she took the opposite approach.
“The second they said they wanted to wear it, I said ‘go for it.’ Ultimately, it would look very clownish. Tons of blue eye shadow, bright red lipstick,” Thompson said. “I thought the more casual of an approach they had with it (was) not making it something that’s restricted or forbidden.”
While Thompson’s daughters are still young, the success of this method can be seen in others as they grow up and work their ways through high school.
Meghann Hodge, LPC sophomore majoring in psychology, began wearing makeup in the seventh grade. She started out with the whole nine yards—eye shadow, eye liner, mascara and everything else. As she grew older, however, her perspective and approach towards makeup changed.
“As the years went by, I stopped wearing more and more makeup. I just felt like I don’t need to fit in,” Hodge said. “I don’t need to feel like people like me, you know. I just have to like myself. I don’t need makeup to feel like I like myself, so I started wearing just a little bit of mascara and that’s all I wear.”
Some people do not believe the reverse psychology approach works.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Cristina Perez, LPC freshman, said. “Some mothers say ‘you can wear makeup, you can do this’…I don’t know why. She’s a kid.”
Dependency on makeup to feel beautiful can also develop into an issue if the parent does not set a good role model for the child.
Christina Hedlund is an LPC student majoring in mass and visual communications. She has worked at Nordstrom in the Stoneridge Mall for the past four years in cosmetic sales, with three additional years of experience in cosmetics.
“If they’re not exposed to anybody else’s perspective, then it’s really easy for them to become dependent on it and think that they need that,” Hedlund said. “We see a lot of kids that come in and are very curious about it. I think that if nobody ever talks about it, then that’s exactly what they’re going to get—(the idea that) I have to wear makeup to look my best. I have to wear it every single day. I really do like to take the approach where sometimes I don’t want to wear makeup, and I want to feel comfortable not doing that.”
Thompson adds that other self-image issues could stem from parenting and adult role models.
“It’s true that ‘tweeners’ entering into puberty do learn a lot from the adult women in their lives,” Thompson said. “If their mother is constantly talking about her weight or wrinkles, if she’s showing signs of anxiety about her appearance, they’re going to learn that that’s sort of a normal thing to do.”
Her daughters learned their current view of makeup from her.
“My girls sometimes like to wear makeup when they get dressed up, go out maybe to a party, but sometimes they don’t,” she said. “Probably most of that, though, they’ve learned from me. I wear makeup when I do professional things and sometimes when I go out, but on a day-to-day basis, it’s not something that I generally do.”
Dependency on makeup can begin in the home, simply through the parents’ approach and example.
According to LPC students and teachers, it can also be cultivated in the media.
Through photoshop, airbrush and digital enhancement, media is constantly pushing unrealistic ideals for both men and women. The ideas that celebrities never age, get wrinkles or have blemishes is presented to the ‘tweener’ population of America and results in kids setting up these unrealistic ideals for themselves.
Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Zooey Deschanel and Emma Watson somehow always have flawless looking skin and perfect makeup, whether in TV shows, movies or magazines.
“(Kids) see all the models and the celebrities with their makeup, their perfect looks,” Hodge said. “They don’t realize how digitally enhanced all those things are, so they feel like they need to wear the makeup to look that way.”’
The media also pushes makeup and other concealment tools through advertising. How many times a day do CoverGirl and L’Oreal commercials air on TV? How many celebrities have become the faces for Neutrogena and Almay?
“We are told constantly through our media sources that what we have is not enough,” Thompson said. “What we have is not good enough, and everyone has their insecurities and anxieties. Part of the reason so much money is poured into advertising is because it’s effective. It’s very effective at getting to those anxieties and insecurities.”
Perhaps the most influential in causing makeup dependency, however, are the peers.
A study done by the Harris poll, conducted on behalf of the Renfrew Center Foundation, found that 25 percent of women started wearing makeup at or younger than the age of 13. The reason for that could be peer pressure.
“(I started wearing makeup) when I was I guess 13 or 14. It just looks cool and everyone’s wearing makeup and feeling like, ‘Oh, I’m older than you,’” Perez said.
Sometimes, just knowing that other people are wearing it besides you can be pressure enough.
“I knew a lot of girls who did in our freshman year, and I didn’t really. I just used bottom liner and that was it,” Nikki Rosero, LPC sophomore, said. “I guess I just started thinking it looked plain so I just tried it and then I just kept using it every day ‘cause after a while it feels weird when you don’t put make up on.”
Many people do not rely on makeup to feel beautiful. Many people have a healthy relationship with cosmetics and only use them to enhance their natural features.
But many are also dependent on makeup to feel like they have worth, or to feel that they are worth looking at. A select few are also dependent on makeup to hide other issues that may go deeper than just a zit.
“I think sometimes girls and women wear makeup as a way of masking other anxieties and fears that they have. It’s the symbolism of makeup—it’s a mask. It’s something that you put on to sort of keep the outside world from seeing who you really are,” Thompson said.
“We may take that very literally, like I don’t want them to actually see my skin or actually see my wrinkles. Whatever (it is), it is a way of sort of shielding who we are internally. But I think that women who have that kind of relationship with makeup have other anxieties that are going on that is beyond their concern about their appearance,” she said.
In the Harris poll, 44 percent of women were found to feel unattractive without any makeup on.
In a study done by a professor at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, changing differences of facial features is one of the ways people use to determine a woman’s age. According to the study, this could explain why cosmetics are worn the way they are.
Countless studies have shown that if people perceive someone to be more attractive, they will also perceive him or her to be friendlier or more intelligent. A study done by the University of British Columbia in 2011 showed that people find it easier to determine personality traits in attractive people, suggesting that people fix more attention on those they perceive to be attractive.
In light of the pressures that the home, the media and the peers put on people these days, are the results of these studies really any surprise?