Letter to a stepdaughter about make-up

Dear T,

I’m sorry I was annoyed when you came home from your school disco the other evening. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I was just surprised because you were wearing a lot more make-up than I thought you ought to be. I thought the green eye shadow I gave you was more than enough and that mascara was a step too far for an 11-year-old attending her primary school disco – even if it is your last one before going up to Big School!

I can’t actually send you this letter (it will probably form one of the chapters in “I’ll tell you when you’re 18” though) but I wanted to explain why I don’t think you should be wearing make-up just yet.

Make-up basically makes your eyes look bigger, your lips fuller and in some cases makes your cheeks appear flushed. Although the reasons why women wear make-up may have changed over time, making the face up has its basis in sexual attraction and at 11 you are obviously way too young for that.

I know you’re already going through puberty and that, coupled with your height, makes you look older than you are. You are starting to become aware that you don’t look 11, as shown by your friends not believing your age when you went camping at half term – but mentally and emotionally you are still a child.

That isn’t meant to be patronising or negative. It is just a fact. You are starting to mature, but you’ve a good few years to go yet before you have the life experience that puts you on the road to adulthood. Until you get there you will make yourself vulnerable if you wear clothes and make-up that make you look more mature than you actually are.

I know you think (as all kids past, present and probably future do) that I don’t understand because I’m older than you and things have changed since I grew up – in the ‘olden days’ – but if you have your own kids one day I think you’ll understand that’s not the full story.

Wearing make-up is adult behaviour and is related to attracting a mate. That basically makes it the first step towards a physical relationship and, as you know from the PSHE classes you’ve had recently, sex education isn’t called The Facts of Life for nothing.

I realise I am jumping way ahead. Your reasons for wanting to wear make-up are probably more to do with having a fun time putting it on in the company of your mates, but by wearing it you are heading into the territory I’ve described above – whether you realise it or not. The trouble with that is you are sending out a message about yourself without understanding what that message is and without intending to send it, but those around you will get the message and my fear is they will respond. Their response might be nice, or it might be nasty, but either way it is something you shouldn’t have to deal with.

You’re 11. You have your whole life ahead of you. It might be annoying to have to wait but there’ll be plenty of time for wearing make-up when you’re older and you understand the implications of it. I’m not asking you to wait a hundred years – just two or three and maybe by then you’ll have worked out why I didn’t want you caked in mascara at 11.

Lots of love,


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