Middle school is arguably the most graceless time in a young girl’s life. As if the raging hormones and extra homework weren’t enough, girls have to deal with a lot of peer pressure. The peer pressure is sometimes real and often imagined (can’t you just put yourself back there and remember how awkward it was to live in your own body? I already knew I was a train wreck – I did not need confirmation of this from my classmates).
For the first time us mamas are not side-by-side with our kids – there are no room moms in middle school – so they’re navigating the social construct on their own, finding their place and working within the narrow labels today’s middle schoolers use to describe one another (jock, nerd, popular, slut…ah, memories). Our only option is to sit back and hope it’s nothing like it was when we were in junior high (I hate to tell you? It’s actually worse now…they’re sexting).
When my youngest finished 5th grade (no, she did not ‘graduate’…she finished), she looked adorable in her little yellow sundress. She was every bit the little girl, ambling up the auditorium steps to collect her certificate (no, it’s not a ‘degree’). All of her friends looked the same…little girls all dressed up in little girl dresses with their hair curled and big, innocent smiles plastered on their faces.
I get that whole scene, and I get summer, but what happened to these kids the night before their first day of middle school? Did a goblin sneak in their bedroom and graffiti their faces? Because I just saw your kid on campus wearing shiny hot pink lip gloss and 1/4″ of around-the-whole-eye black eyeliner. As my own (un-made-up and saggy, wrinkly) eye traveled down, I noticed that she complemented this new look with a pair of airbrushed Abercrombie skinny jeans, a spaghetti-strap stretchy tank (I can see the outline of her belly button) and knee-high slouchy boots.
Remember the movie Grease? Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) is the epitome of purity for the entire movie, until she decides she has to get Danny (a very skinny John Travolta) back. Then her beauty-school-dropout-friend-and-sidekick, Frenchie (I don’t know who played her), transforms Pure Sandy into a chain-smoking red-lipped streetwalker and, guess what? It works! Danny goes bananas when he sees her at the carnival (he can’t even smoke his cigarette!) and Sandy lands her man – finally. It’s a happy ending, because everyone gets back together and Rizzo’s not pregnant, so the car flies away into the horizon. Everyone loves Grease and the story of transformation.
I remember wanting to rush through the puberty phase, get my braces off and get to the point that I actually needed a bra. I looked up to the older girls as world-class cool. I wanted to be Sandy at that carnival, but even back then I saw the difference between Sandy and me: Sandy & Danny were in high school. They were Seniors, about to graduate. Once I got over how amazing Sandy looked in her black hot pants, I began to realize how much of a sell-out she was. I mean, it wasn’t enough to be herself. She had to transform into someone else’s ideal to fit in…
…wait a minute. Hold the phone. Wasn’t I just talking about another major transformation before the Grease discussion? What was that again? Oh yes, we were talking about your daughter. You have allowed her to start wearing make-up. My guess is that you think she’s ready because she’s in middle school, and you thought it was appropriate. Let me tell you something: there are two reasons a girl wears make-up, and one goal. The first reason is because she wants to look older; the second is because she wants to look prettier – and by attempting to looking older and prettier she is really just striving for the age-old goal that’s at the root of every middle school experience: she wants to fit in.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing your daughter of being boy crazy or insecure just because she’s wearing make-up to school, and obviously I’m not saying she looks like Carnival Sandy in Grease (well, she kind of does). What I am saying is – what do you think the boys are thinking? Girls that wear make-up look older and more mature (and not necessarily prettier, although I understand that’s what they’re going for). It is probably safe to assume that older, more mature girls have more experience. More experienced girls tend to get more attention from boys that are seeking…well….experienced girls.
By allowing your middle school daughter to wear make-up, you may be opening a Pandora’s Box that neither you, nor she, had even considered.That made-up face may be sending a signal to boys that she’s ready to explore. Perhaps wearing make-up is a stepping stone to other adult behaviors (whether we like it or not). Kids are programmed to try to get away with just a bit more every day. First it will be lip gloss. Then mascara. Then eyeliner. Next it will be texting a boy. Then hanging out with a boy. Then holding a boy’s hand. It’s bracket creep of the scariest kind, and it will happen so innocuously that you won’t notice until one day it will be too late and the transformation will be complete: she’s Carnival Sandy. You’ll be wondering what happened to your little girl.
Not convinced? Here’s a thought: If she’s wearing make-up in sixth grade, what’s left for her to look forward to in high school?
We can probably all agree that kids are being exposed to far more at a younger age. They have Facebook pages and watch Glee, picking up a lot of adult material along the way. They simply do not have the necessary life experience to filter what they see and draw responsible conclusions about how they can or should apply it to their own lives. They need us for that. There’s not much we can do to shelter them from media overexposure because it’s everywhere, but we can keep up some simple rules at home to mitigate what they’re seeing. In our house make-up is out of the question until high school, and even then it’s a topic for discussion, not a guarantee. It’s a little line we’ve chosen to draw in the sand to keep our kids focused on being kids for as long as possible.
You may have different rules to slow the progression, such as monitoring what they read or not allowing Facebook. These steps are productive and if they work for you that’s great, but I doubt people (boys) are drawing inferences about your daughter based on what she’s reading. I’m asking all of you moms of middle school girls to re-think your household make-up policy. Don’t let them wear it until high school. Why? Wearing make-up is a very public display of progression: the need to be prettier and act older is literally written all over their faces for the world (and boys) to see. Do you really want people (boys) putting inaccurate labels on your daughter just because of her outward appearance? That’s the risk. Isn’t middle school hard enough without her having to deal with that?
So, let’s hear it for ‘Pure Sandy’…can’t we keep her around for just a little while longer? Danny can wait until high school.