I feel more confident if my makeup looks good. —Ellie Goulding
Kat’s Little Man is bright. He reads well beyond his grade level, excels at math and problem-solving, and is quite sure he already knows everything (and isn’t afraid to say so). That part’s good. Where things become challenging are with his social skills. He likes people, but they annoy the crap out of him. Many of you can relate. They can also hurt his feelings quite easily and one of the most frequent reasons is he likes to wear makeup.
He’s asleep as I write this, but if I were to take a picture at this moment you’d see fingernails with chipped remnants of the nail polish he put on his fingers the other night. He did it himself and did a very good job. That’s about as much as he can get away with at school. The dress code prohibits any child from wearing makeup until fifth grade. If he could, though, he would probably wear makeup to school every day. He likes makeup. A lot. Unfortunately, his expression of that pleasure comes at a price.
So, when Covergirl Cosmetics announced James Charles as their first male spokesmodel, Kat and I thought it was a big deal. I waited until the Tipster had gone to bed before calling Little Man over to the computer. “Hey look!” I said, excited to show him something cool. “Here’s another boy who likes to wear makeup!”
His response was not what I expected.
Biases Start Early
“Yeah, I know. The girls at school still say that nail polish and makeup is only for girls and that boys can’t wear makeup.”
No excitement. He looked at the computer then down at his fingernails. I didn’t need to ask to know how he felt, but I did so that he can learn to express how he’s feeling. “I’m sorry they said that. How did that make you feel?”
“Angry,” he said. “I like wearing makeup and I want to wear makeup but those girls are just stupid.” He was visibly, physically agitated. Not wanting to get him upset right before bedtime, I tried to distract him with this:
— COVERGIRL (@COVERGIRL) October 11, 2016
That didn’t work. “Yeah, but they still won’t let ME wear makeup to school,” Little Man mused as he returned to his seat on the couch.
“Well, maybe that could be you on that cover one day,” I tried, grasping at straws. I wanted him to be excited and encouraged and that just wasn’t happening.
He looked back at the picture on my monitor and said, “I can do better makeup than that.”
All About The Makeup
At this point, I should probably emphasize that sexuality is not part of the conversation we have with Little Man. He’s not close to understanding that topic yet and we see no reason to push him in any direction. That decision is his to make when he’s ready to make it. At this point, we try hard to not separate our friends into groups. Whether they’re gay, straight, bi, trans, or gloriously somewhere between all those choices, we still refer to them simply as our friends. The sexuality conversations can come later.
What matters for the moment is that Little Man really likes makeup. He always has. Kat has pictures of him when he was only two after he had gotten into her makeup. To some extent, that exploration is quite normal for a little boy at that age. I remember my middle son, the one who is now a Marine, coming out of the bathroom when he was four, his face covered in his mom’s makeup. Many parents have similar stories. Where other boys move on, though, Little Man never has. He loves makeup and is constantly “borrowing” his mom’s best makeup (always the expensive stuff) for his “experiments.”
Since the kids were on fall break last week, Kat took some time with her little guy to teach him how to apply makeup properly. She gave him a palette and the appropriate applicators, then let him put the makeup on her face. While his color choices made it appear in pictures as though his mom had a black eye, his general application and blending were surprisingly good. His eye shadow application was spot on. The kid may well be a natural.
Supporting Little Man’s interest in makeup isn’t difficult. We have plenty of makeup appropriate for experimenting. Kat has the knowledge of how to teach him to use the makeup correctly. No one at home judges his choice in any way (though we might sometimes wince at his color combinations).
We can’t control what happens when he leaves the house, though. He’s not content only wearing makeup at home. Little Man wants to look good when he goes out, even if it’s to the store, and we can’t control the responses he encounters in those situations.
Building A Better World
The atmosphere for boys like Little Man is improving. We have male friends who wear makeup when they visit so he knows he’s not alone. People around him who know him help by not reinforcing old gender stereotypes. There are no “girl” colors or “boy” colors.
Attitudes, though, are a different thing. Seeing that even in second-grade children have already developed opinions about what boys can do or girls can do is disappointing. We not only limit our children’s means of self-expression, but we also limit their ability to explore and try new things. We limit their goals and their desire to achieve when we tell them that they can’t do something simply because of their gender.
As adults, our responsibility is to build a better world for our children. We make sure the air remains breathable. We make sure the planet can continue to provide food. Their safety, education, and ability to achieve are matters we take seriously. We fail all children, though, when we establish limits because of their gender. Boys can wear makeup. Girls can sport crew cuts. Neither should ever feel that anyone is limiting them because of who and what they are.
If we do not provide that world for our children, we all have failed.