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Friday, October 19, 2007

Rites of Passage - Wearing Make-up

Make-up has been worn to enhance or to cover one’s facial features since 4,000 BC and most of the ancient civilizations, from Egypt to Rome and Greece participated in the wearing of make-up. From antiquity throughout the Middle Ages, makeup ingredients included everything from arsenic, lead, animal fat (still used today), to crocodile excrement. While the ingredients may have changed over the years, the reason for make-up hasn’t.
According to Dr. Anthony Napoleon, noted plastic surgeon and PhD in clinical psychology, “Make-up and all other rites of passage are the expression of secondary sexual behaviors”. In our phone conversation, he maintained the role of makeup in society is like a weapon in the arms race of sexual behavior. For example, the enlargement and rounding of the eyes and the coloring of lips are biologically intended to be sexual cues to attract a mate. One young lady wearing make-up to school means that in order to compete for male attention, other young ladies are forced to wear make-up as well. He urges parents to realize this before allowing children to wear make-up, ensuring they are ready for this step.
In a related manner, self-esteem issues are wrapped into this parental minefield. The research I reviewed suggests that self-esteem, particularly in girls, is a product of two primary influences. The first influence is body shape, with body weight the leading aspect. The next factor is the mother’s self-esteem, with high maternal self-esteem correlating with high self-esteem in the daughter. Low self-esteem is consistently the highest predictor of high risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse issues and engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviors.
I caution parents to realize the cosmetics industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that permeates our society in a myriad of direct and subtle ways. One way not usually realized is through sociological and scientific research that encourages girls to use these products to improve skin and to raise self esteem. Both of these claims are debatable at best, so be very careful when reading such “research”, and try to ascertain if you are reading real research or a marketing campaign. Real research is usually peer-reviewed and the sources used are listed, allowing the reader do further digging if desired.
I have always thought it odd; on the one hand we tell our daughters that they are beautiful, and roughly at the start of puberty when their self-esteem and self-confidence are typically at their lowest levels, we hand them make-up suggesting that it will make them more attractive. Your daughter is far more likely to enjoy self confidence and self-esteem if she exercises her inner beauty of developing academically and athletically, while becoming a moral, ethical person. These things coupled with active mentoring from her mother and a few select positive female role models will go infinitely further than “self-esteem/confidence in a bottle”.
Not to be underestimated in this process is Dad’s contribution to his daughter’s self image. Dad can help by providing positive lessons based on his own early experiences of what he found attractive both as a young man and now as a mature person a little further down life’s path.
Make-up use permeates our society, and such a high percentage of women have used this self-esteem crutch for so many years (6,000 and counting), that parents have their work cut out for themselves in helping daughters find a more authentic and lasting source of positive self image. However, because of earlier menarche in young women, lowering dating ages and the constant media bombardment of false images and poor role models, the stakes have never been higher for our young women.

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