Young people wearing make-up has always been a topic of debate, but when one of the young carers I work with wrote a song about how it affects her for one of our choir sessions, I felt inspired to write about the issue.
Image created by Kylie Barton
Little girls have always been fascinated with make-up, but historically this has been as a form of play - pottering around the house in mum's heels and red lipstick drawn all over your face. It was a laugh - a joke, whereas now it is deadly serious. Children and young people no longer go for the 'kiddy' versions of cosmetics such as Disney themed lip-glosses and a range of lighter products from Claire's Accessories. Instead they are heading straight for MAC, Barry M, Benefit, and the other big brands being name dropped by various YouTubers. They are making themselves up like adults and celebrities. It is no longer play, but a small part of the larger problem of the sexualisation of children, and of children having shorter and shorter childhoods meaning they are thusly exposing themselves to the complexities of adulthood long before they should have to deal with such issues.
'What complexities?' I hear you cry... 'it's just a bit of make-up'. But that is not the case. Children as young as 9 or 10 are investing serious time to watch online tutorials to perfect beauty techniques which make them look older, and in their eyes 'more beautiful'. This online portion of the industry plays on the vulnerabilities and insecurities of young people who are more exposed than ever because of the pressure to have a visual online presence in the form of selfies, video stories, snap chats, and Instagram posts. They are the visual generation, and they want to look like adults as well as be treated like adults (the latter not so much of a new phenomenon). Of course they are entitled to feel beautiful and empowered, but this should not be their priority and should be powered by who they are not what they look like. They should first be allowed by society to feel comfortable in their own skin - not this second one they plaster on.
They can't win. They get bullied for not wearing enough make up, and get equally taunted with a full face of the stuff - in real life and online. The song lyrics written by one of the young people experiencing this demonstrates how even those who partake in the world of tween make-up feel as though they are losing themselves in the process. 'Outline the lips with liner, so non one hears the words' - she feels that people don't see her or hear her when they look at her, they see 'just the girl she makes up'. She is 'concealing' her true self and is conflicted about how to feel about this. She knows it is wrong, but still continues because it is easier to fit in than to be your true self. Heart-breaking. This is a situation we as society, have allowed to evolve, and it is shameful.
A 2013 survey showed that 1 in 5 8-18 year olds using make up have negative feelings about their looks, and a staggering 65 per cent started wearing make-up before the age of 13. We can only project that if the same study was completed today the numbers would be even more alarming what with the rise of YouTube make-up tutorials and the fandom that surrounds it. Many girls see make-up as a need now, and resultantly they are growing up thinking that their natural face isn't good enough. The industry is undoubtedly psychologically damaging to our young girls. Moreover a full face of make-up is often (rightly or wrongly) construed as an act of sexuality, and being made up can make a very young girl appear older than she is, thus increasing the risk of child sexual exploitation.
It is deeply worrying that swathes of our young girls are more worried about what they look like than spending time on more important and valuable things such as building friendships, studying, advancing their hobbies. Make-up and YouTube has become their hobby. When I ask the question 'what do you want to be when you grow up' to the young people I work with the answer I hear most often now is 'a YouTuber'. When I then ask what kind of YouTuber they often don't have an answer, which is when I gently suggest maybe getting a specialism or a career in something such as graphic design, beauty, game creation, or whatever else they like as the first step, and then creating videos out of that specialism as the second - but this isn't the way they think.
This is where PSHE comes in. Surely schools should be tackling the make-up obsession epidemic beyond merely banning it within their walls? And with it instilling realistic expectations about potential career paths and suggesting more practical ways for them to achieve their dreams. Children need to be taught, that contrary to the media saturated, celebrity obsessed world we live in, that inside beauty really is more important than out.