I have a confession to make. During the recent 'no make-up selfie' phenomenon, in which women – and some men – across the country posted snaps of their bare faces online, to raise money for Cancer Research, I donated and joined in with debate over whether the enterprise was a vanity project or an important comment on the unrealistic ideal of female beauty, but there was no way I was showing the world how I looked without eyeliner. You could call it conceit, or you could make assumptions about my self-esteem, but the truth is that the face I present to the world has become integral to my sense of identity – and without it, I just never feel quite like 'me'.
Make-up: wear it or don't wear it, it's something some of us struggle with more than others. And many are vociferous in their battle against images of Photoshopped perfection. Two-time Grammy winner Lorde shared two thought-provoking images of herself on stage this weekend in Santiago on Twitter – one showing evidence of her very normal, acne-pocked, 17-year-old skin; the other altered to hide it. 'I find this curious – two photos from today, one edited so my skin is perfect and one real. Remember flaws are OK,' she told her 1.3m followers. Last month, she also posted a bare-faced snap of herself with the caption: 'In bed in Paris with my acne cream on'.
But sometimes it's difficult to remember those all-important mantras: that it's what's inside that counts; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have friends who are radiant in nothing but moisturiser, whereas I remember spending hours in the harsh brightness of the school toilet mirrors, slathering on inches of foundation in a futile attempt to hide my typically teenage skin. I started early – at 13, I got hold of my mum’s mascara, and felt terribly grown up. I never knew, however, that you had to take it off; adding a layer a day until teachers commented on my panda eyes, concerned that I wasn't getting enough sleep.
Yet recently, my long-lasting love affair with Audrey Hepburn-style flicks and lashings of kohl has given me pause for thought. For new research has found that young girls are starting to wear make-up sooner than ever – at 11, three years earlier than a decade before.
Online beauty retailer Escentual, who ran the study, put this dramatic drop in age down to peer pressure. Some of the 1,000 women surveyed blamed ‘classroom politics’, while 40 per cent thought it more to do with young girls wanting to feel more 'grown up' – as well as the influence of reality TV shows such as The Only Way Is Essex, famous for its spray tans and cosmetic beauty treatments. An overwhelming proportion (89 per cent) said they would prefer girls to wait until they were 14 before wearing foundation to avoid developing an ‘unhealthy obsession’ with their appearance. The average age most felt appropriate for young girls to wear make-up regularly in public was 15.
And now I have an all-too pressing reason to hold back before reaching for my eyebrow pencil. My daughter is two, with dewy skin, rosy cheeks, hair that sticks up in tufts and eyes that sparkle with mischief. “She's not a girly girl,” I say, often, with pride. Yet despite my conscious efforts to steer her away from the gender-specific social stereotyping of little girls, there's one thing I can't change – her love of sitting on my lap, copying ‘mummy's make-up’. It’s natural, of course, to mimic those we hold up as role models, and 'playing mum' is as much a rite of passage as pretending to cook, type or drive a truck across a messy floor. Yet it pains me to see her stroking blusher across her perfect cheeks, dipping her fingers into eyeshadow palettes, putting what she calls ‘sparkles’ on the backs of her hands.
I think often about what I'll say when she asks me what I'm doing. Is it ‘mummy's toy box’? Something I do as 'play', like dressing up as Batman, Spider-Man or a pirate? Or, in making it part of my daily routine, something I do as naturally and rigorously as taking a shower, am I in fact giving her the message that it's not okay to leave the house without wearing make-up; that it's not 'normal' to bare your face to the world, except when making a concerted attempt to raise money for charity, with its own hashtag, in a move described as 'bold', 'groundbreaking', or, more disturbingly, 'brave'?
Of course, millions of people choose to go ‘au naturel’ every day, I just don't happen to be one of them. But when we have paparazzi shots and headlines screaming about celebrities going 'make-up free', seven-year-olds smothered in lip gloss, teens getting Brazilian bikini waxes and posing in their underwear online, we've got to take so much more care about when and where it starts, and the messages we project.
I can't hide my daily routine from my daughter, nor do I want to give up something that, frankly, I enjoy. But I can tell her, every day, that she's clever, creative and kind, as well as being the most beautiful person I've ever seen. And I can only hope that as she grows up, and faces all of the inevitable pressures to be ‘sexy’, ‘gorgeous’ and ‘thin’, she will believe that there is more to being a woman than having a pretty face.