Covered in Makeup, Kids are Still Kids

According to the Daily Mail, there is a new beauty industry in the UK that caters to prepubescent children. Companies like Candy Girls, Party Princesses, Pretty Girl Parties, and others, provide facials, manicures, pedicures, makeup tips, temporary tattoos, and a variety of other cosmetic products and services traditionally associated with grown women, to girls sometimes as young as three years old.

Young girls are also being targeted by firms offering ‘Lipstick and Limo’ parties and U.S.-influenced ‘mini-model’ fashion parades, complete with pageant-style tiaras and scaled-down catwalks.

I agree with those quoted in the Daily Mail article that this is disturbing. It’s jarring to see young girls’ faces covered in professionally applied makeup. But I think the main reason that it’s jarring for me is that it’s something I’m not used to, not that there is something inherently wrong with young girls wearing makeup.

I should probably qualify that. I don’t think young girls need to wear makeup. I also don’t think grown women or teenage girls or anyone else in the world needs to wear makeup. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing makeup as a form of creative expression at any age, but I think the idea that women need to wear makeup all the time is both ridiculous and oppressive. Women and girls strive to reach an impossible beauty standard because anything lower is unacceptable. I think it’s a huge problem, and I don’t see much of a difference between that being the norm for women and these pamper parties for young girls.

I’ve heard people say that young girls shouldn’t wear makeup or dye their hair or basically do anything to change their appearance. Many of the people who say this around me are women who wear makeup, dye their hair, shave their legs, and probably do a bunch of other things to change the way they look. The reason they don’t think kids should do this, some have told me, is that kids already look great, so they don’t need to. I guess people stop looking great once they hit puberty. Women wear makeup to cover up zits, to hide wrinkles, to make their cheeks look hollow (and thus appear skinnier), to make their eyes look bigger. How is being unsatisfied with how you look at age 14, 40, or 84 any better than being unsatisfied with how you look at age 4? More importantly, how is it okay to teach kids that the way most women look isn’t good enough to show the public, but not okay to let them try looking like an adult?

Doctors and parents quoted in the Daily Mail article are complaining about two main things. One is that girls are getting the message that their most important quality is their appearance. The other is the sexualization of young girls. These are both serious problems that need to be fixed, but I would guess that parties like this are more a result of these problems than a cause of them. I also wonder how much these parties really contribute to young girls learning that it’s important to be sexually attractive. Adults tell children how beautiful they look all the time. Getting professionally made up and pretending to be a model at a party can’t be any worse than hearing people imply on a regular basis that your value comes from how cute you are. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of the younger kids thought of these parties as a game more than anything else. I’m not saying that kids should go to these parties. They reinforce gender stereotypes (Pretty Girl Parties has a whole list of stereotypical girly girl party activities, and then a Medieval Knight Party for boys) and they probably don’t give kids the space they need to play in a creative, unstructured way. But I don’t think that going to these parties is much worse than learning that a woman’s face only looks good when it’s covered in makeup.

Kids pretend to be grownups all the time. They play house, they play doctor, they play teacher, they build things, they destroy things, they act out stories they’ve heard or seen or read, they imitate adults in their lives. That’s all a part of growing up and figuring out who they want to be. I don’t think we should be worrying about children acting like adults. We should be more worried about what image of adults we’re giving them.

Victim Blaming and Speaking Up

So, it seems a Toronto cop thinks women tempt men to assault them by dressing like sluts, and decided to spread that misinformation while giving some safety tips. Since making this comment, the officer has apologized, and according to the Toronto Star, is also being disciplined and will undergo more professional training.

That professional training part is really important. It’s great that he feels embarrassed by what he said and that he apologized for saying something completely inappropriate, but there’s a much larger problem here. Telling women to protect themselves by not dressing like sluts isn’t a bad thing to say because it hurts people’s feelings. It’s a bad thing to say because it implies that women who dress like sluts (whatever that means) are responsible for being raped. It implies that men rape women because they’re horny and turned on. It implies that women won’t get raped if they don’t dress in away that turns rapists on. It contributes to a culture that lets rapists get away with raping because people actually believe that women who show off their bodies are inviting people to have sex with them and therefore anyone who rapes them is simply giving them what they asked for. At best, it’s a crappy safety tip because it doesn’t actually work. At worst, it makes the world a less safe place because it helps make rape accepted.

And what’s worse is that this police officer seems to believe all those things about rape. This wasn’t a safety tip that someone else gave him and he repeated. He said that he knew he wasn’t supposed to say it, but he said it anyway because he thought it was good advice. So that means that he believes it. Maybe not explicitly. Maybe if he really thought about it he would realize that he’s wrong, that assaulting someone is unacceptable no matter how they’re dressed. But clearly, on some level, he does believe it. He thinks that women should stop dressing like sluts so they don’t get raped. And that implies that women who do dress like sluts somehow deserve to be raped because they didn’t do everything in their power to protect themselves. And I’m assuming that by “dressing like sluts” he means wearing revealing clothing, but I can’t be sure because what people wear doesn’t necessarily reflect their sex habits.

What’s been great about this story is that so many people have been pointing out why that kind of thinking is wrong. In the first article I liked to, one commenter said that the officer had a point, and every other comment was an explanation of why that was not the case. Police Chief Bill Blair has said that this shows he needs to work harder to “sensitize [police officers] to the reality of victimization.” And that’s awesome, because it means that, when someone says something like this, people know that it’s wrong and are confident in saying so. But there are still people who think that that kind of thinking is right. And they’re spreading that message, either directly or indirectly.

I don’t know what kind of training this police officer is going to have, but I hope it includes learning about how rape happens. I hope he learns that rape is something violent that someone does to someone else, not something that just happens to people because of how they are dressed. I hope he learns that the way to stop rape is to teach people not to rape, not to tell people how to dress.