Why girls SHOULD be concerned about their appearance

Do you worry that your daughter is too concerned with her looks? Don't. It's all good. Here's why, and how to support your teenage daughter through it all.

Recently, I’ve overhauled my make-up bag. I’ve never been that big on cosmetics, and apart from a brief rebellious flirtation with blue mascara in the school toilets in Year 9, I’ve worn pretty much the same look for nearly 4 decades. But I have a twelve year old daughter, and she has an Instagram account. She knows exactly how to create the perfect eyebrow, and took me to task over my own straggly excuses until I gave in, and allowed her to do me a makeover. She was right.

But I feel strangely uncomfortable. Strong women everywhere tell me that the world is rife with misogyny and sexism, and that the focus on how women look is hugely detrimental to every aspect of life, from our economy to our mental health. And I agree. I really do. In a world where the Daily Mail leads not on Brexit discussions between Prime Minister Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon, but on the visual appeal of their legs, we clearly have a lot of work to do on quashing stereotypes. But should this mean I side with those who tell me my daughter should be thinking about daisy chains, not contour? Should I heed the woman who commented on my blog to tell me I was sexualising my eight year old by allowing her to have a bath bomb making party? Or should I use my common sense about where to draw the line on my 12 year old’s interest in how she looks?

Should girls be preoccupied with how they look?

Last week I walked into my daughter’s room to retrieve her washing from the various corners where it lands as she takes it off (see, normal 12 year old, right there). As I stuffed my laundry bag with her teen paraphernalia I noticed that she’d worn the new clothes I’d bought her a few days earlier. “But she hasn’t been anywhere interesting since then, why did she waste them?” came my immediate reaction. I sat down on her bed, amidst the chaos, and told myself off. She wore them because she wanted to feel good. Just like she does her make-up when she’s only seeing me and the rest of the family. It’s not for anyone else. It’s for her.

A while back I was part of a discussion about young girls and their interest in how they look. The usual comments came out – they should be playing on swings, not in front of mirrors; they shouldn’t be shaving their legs till they’re 16; time enough to get them a bra when they have something to put in it… What law says that?! Occasionally I’ve perused my daughter’s Instagram feed, and whilst I do see things that are heavily influenced by Ariana Grande, I also see self-assured girls who don’t feel the need to make excuses for the way they look. Amongst the scary hashtags there are also proclamations of confidence and security in their own skins. I can’t shake the thought that some of that comes from feeling good about the way they look.

So whilst Daily Mail behaviour makes me insane with anger, I’m left with an uncomfortable dilemma about which voices to join. Do I condemn the girls who are obsessed with make-up, and their parents for allowing it? Or do I side with them and tell them to do do whatever makes them feel good – so long as they’re not hurting anyone else, and they’re doing their best at school? Should I care that the press report on a female figure’s outfit, or do I nod along with the outraged?

You see, the Daily Mail may be one-dimensional, but our girls are not. Yes, some of them may be a little more interested in crop tops than they need to be, but they’re learning, and if they’re making mistakes that’s normal behaviour for their age. We wrongly identify their preoccupation as shallowness, but that’s patronising. These girls – the ones who have perfected the eyeliner flick – are also debating politics and ethics in class; they’re performing on stages with more aplomb than most adults I know; they’re discovering their own minds, and they’re not afraid to voice them. We should give them more credit than we do.

I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I say yes, girls should be concerned with how they look, if it gives them confidence. As grown women, we seek out the perfect lipstick, and we post it on Instagram. We choose our outfits carefully before a night out, and we preen a little in the mirror before we leave. We spend money on hair colour, bright scarves, and the de rigeur pompom hat. We like it (how dare we?!) when people admire our new shoes, and our glamorous coats. And contrary to feminist rhetoric, we’re not letting down the sisterhood by enjoying the feedback. We care about how we look, so why should we expect our children not to?

Did I really need my brand new (and if I’m honest, slightly expensive) eyebrow gel? No. Of course not. But do I feel twenty times better when I’m wearing it? Absolutely. Now, tell me that’s wrong…


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25 thoughts on “Why girls SHOULD be concerned about their appearance”

  1. I absolutely agree Helen. My teen wears makeup not because she feel she should or because if someone else’s expectations but because SHE wants to wear it.

    It makes her feel good and while I know she’s beautiful without, I have to admit she’s a master at putting it on and has taught me more in the last six months than I’ve learned in the rest of my life before that.

    Makeup isn’t a necessity but if it makes her feel
    More confident in herself then why would I object?

    • Exactly this! My daughter has the most amazing skin – I’d love her to go with that till she really needs something to cope with teenage years. But if she prefers make up I’m not going to argue. And I’d let her do mine any day, she does it really well!

  2. I love this post Helen, my girls are just heading into this stage and one of them is already obsessed with make-up and fashion but it all seems to be rooted in what she likes, not imitating others or fitting in. So I’m OK with her expressing herself and feeling confident. Mich x

    • Encourage that! Unfortunately, for most of them, there does seem to come a time when they feel the need to dress similarly to everyone else. But you know what, if that’s what they need to do, I’m fine with it. They will come out the other side eventually. You don’t ever see a bunch of women all wearing exactly the same thing do you?!

  3. YES, excellent post. We don’t make girls and women feel more free and empowered by creating MORE rules about what they can and cannot do. So many people get this wrong and it’s so important as girls can be so self conscious at that age and it’s so crucial that they can explore who they are without feeling like they’re doing something wrong.

    Also a bath bomb party sounds awesome. How anyone can claim that’s sexualising needs to take a loooong hard look at themselves.

    • Self conscious – exactly, you nailed it. Feeling self-conscious is awful, and if wearing the ‘uniform’ takes that away, and allows you to focus on the deeper stuff, feeling pride and confidence in yourself, then it’s all good in my book.

      • I agree as well. I just have to opposite with my daughter she has no interest in makeup or hair care. It makes me said. I always wanted to help and show her how much she has no interest

        • I honestly wouldn’t worry as long as she’s happy in her skin. My friend’s daughter was the biggest tomboy for so long, but she’s started to find her own way of feeling confident about how she looks, and that’s perfect for her.

  4. Agree! We’ve just broken into the realm of crop tops so these issues have been very much on my mind. I wrote on the same topic a couple of years ago – hope it’s okay to paste my conclusion below – it sums up how I still feel:

    “Pink paraphernalia, make-up and glitter aren’t going to put my daughter in a pigeon hole from where she can’t see the stars. There are things in our world far more powerful and pervasive that will try to inflict such damage. What matters is her having confidence – the ability to define who she is by herself, rather than be defined. If the biggest enemies to achieving this were the colour pink and a bit of nail polish then the need for feminism would have ceased to exist a long time ago.”

    • LOVE this! You’re exactly right. In trying to raise confident, strong girls, and respectful boys we risk being very one-dimensional and puritanical if we don’t accommodate natural wishes. Boys like to look good too! The amount of hair gel year 6 upwards is enough to start a salon empire, and Adidas seems to be a uniform. And much as we might like to keep our kids in colourful Next and M&S till they’re 18, it’s not going to happen. I remember my Dad being horrified that I’d gone out in an ankle bracelet. “In my day that meant something…” Which was rather the point. It wasn’t his day, it was mine, and there was no way he could understand. Rather than berating our kids for being too girly, caring too much about how they look, wanting to fit in, we’d do better to try to understand their motivations, and make sure that they come from a position of strength and confidence.

  5. Love this post! My daughter is 11 and in year 6 and although she isn’t wearing make-up, she is choosing slightly more grown up clothes for herself and has perfected a very photogenic pose every time a camera is pointed at her. It’s taking some adjustment for me, but I realise it’s just part of growing up, finding herself and fitting in. And who am I to argue with that?!

    • Yes! I think sometimes a lot of our discomfort as parents comes from the fact that our kids are growing up and finding their own identities. It is fraught with stress for us, but we have to find a way to go with it when we can. I pick my battles!

  6. I’m torn about this… My little girl is only 3 but I do already worry about how she will cope with the pressures of ‘fitting in’ to an increasingly demanding world. I can’t help but think that: yes, girls wear make up because it makes them feel good but the reason it makes them feel good is because they are fitting in to society’s perceptions about beauty. And it doesn’t feel right or fair to me that these pressures are so (arguably) shallow…

    However, (hypocrite alert!) I am guilty of this myself – my own confidence levels have grown so much since I’ve started to take more time and care with my appearance (I was a laid-back hippy type in my 20s and thought that hair straightening etc wasn’t ‘for’ me but I was miserable and self-conscious with it). And I was an outsider in school because I was never ‘taught’ how to be a proper girl by my mum (again, I was sort of led to believe that that sort of stuff wasn’t for me – still a bit resentful about this!). I’m therefore determined that my daughter won’t miss out in this way.

    As I said, I’m totally torn… wish there was some easy middle ground to follow.

    • Yep, it’s not easy! I felt exactly the same when my kids were little. And I was very uncomfortable when the heavy make up experiments began to leave the house rather than just being for play at home. Which is why I got my daughter a make up lesson, so she at least knew how to put it on properly. Of course, I’d rather she stayed young, but it’s just not going to happen, and I have to be realistic. And if that’s what they’re all doing, and doing similar makes her feel good, then as her mum I need to be supportive. Just because I didn’t wear make up at 12 doesn’t mean she shouldn’t. Life has changed; when I was young I was able to walk home on my own after dark – we’d never let our kids to that these days. I think we all just feel uncomfortable with what we don’t know 😀

      PS, my mum was determined I should take care of my feet when I was young – consequently I had the most godawful shoes. I got round it by buying a pair of stilettoes and carrying them to school every day to change into on the way! So I think it’s probably better to work with our girls than be too rigid with our rules!

    • I’m totally with you. I never really perfected the makeup thing as a teen, because I thought it made me shallow and less cerebral. I have never worn makeup regularly but when I try to I always prefer the way I look with a little bit of coverage and lick of mascara. Girls shouldn’t be pigeon-holed so that we think that taking an interest in make up makes us shallow and silly. We need to make sure that young girls know that putting on make up to make themselves feel good and confident is brilliant. Slapping stuff on their face to hide themselves due to low self esteem, or because they feel they have to to meet someone else’s definition of beauty is not so good.

      • This is a really great comment Rose, thank you. Completely agree with you on the reasoning behind why they do it. As long as they’re happy in themselves, and not feeling insecure about their looks, I don’t think we can really criticise them.

  7. I love this post. I love seeing women supporting other women’s choices and I think you’re right. We should be empowering our young to be able to wear make up because it feels good and because they want to wear it for them.

    Besides, we all know what would have happened had we been told not to when we were young teens!

    • Haha, well quite! Yes, I think that is the ultimate credible feminist behaviour. Not judging other women for the choices they make. When women stop doing that, maybe men will too. I realise it’s not a simple as that, but it would be a great start!

  8. I feel SO much better with make up on, my hair done and a nice outfit. I guess it’s just deciding at what age our kids should really care about that stuff too. I won’t lie. I’m not sure I know the answer x

    • Well the thing is, we don’t get to decide, unfortunately, they do. I debated this with myself a long time ago, when she first started asking about hair on her legs, aged 7. I was probably a little older when I took my dad’s razor to my upper lip rather than push the issue with my mum. I still have the scar, so I was determined that when she started to feel self-conscious, I would take her concerns seriously. Of course I told her it didn’t matter, that she looked great, and pointed out all the other girls who had imperfections that were perfectly ok. And some things she’s settled for, and feels comfortable with. Those that still bothered her, we sorted. I’d much rather that than have her pretend that she’s ok when she’s not really.

  9. My daughters nearly 10 and really couldn’t care less to the point where I sometimes have to actually encourage her to brush her hair or think a little about what to wear to a party she has no clue why i put mucky make up on (every day) and laughed when i said do you think you’ll want your ears piercing one day. They are all so different aren’t they!

    • Yes! And that’s the great thing. Each of us needs to be happy in our own skins, whatever that takes. Though she’ll have a lot more pocket money and free time if she’s not spending it on make up and hair 🙂

  10. It is a complex issue and one that I believe should be determined by the parent of the individual child. This is purely my opinion and the intention is not to offend but to offer my perspective.

    I personally feel like these children are doing these things because of external influences. When I was younger, girls wanted to wear childlike make up. Pink glitters and lipgloss, sparkling nails; the kind of thing that is influenced by exposure to child like things.

    Why would a twelve year old with an instagram not also be influenced by the social norms of instagram. Contouring is ridiculous to even be on a childs radar tbh. Exposing children to these things is why reason why they want to do it!

    In some cultures shaving your legs is not a social norm for a woman, so little girls do not care about the hair on their legs. Are they different to our daughters, no!

    We have to stop being niaive enough to believe our daughters are comolete free thinkers, because they are not! They are sponges!

    A five year old wearing pink nail varnish doesnt look like anything other than a child but a 12 year old with contour now looks like a 15/16 year old young lady.

    The women who think wearing make up as a woman is being hypocritical are insane to me. All that is happening is you are enabling your daughters to do this from an earlier age! From 25 years old you have worn make up every day, and now your daughter does the same from age 10?

    • I would say, from the age that it interests her, and if it gives her confidence amongst others then I’m comfortable with it. I absolutely agree with you about contour, and so much of the heavier make up that makes young girls look much older than they are. But I do think it’s about advising your own child, in her own set of circumstances, and giving rules and boundaries that suit your family. Thanks for commenting.


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