Lipstick Isn’t Love – Teaching Our Daughters to Love Themselves

Am I kissable?

The recent uproar surrounding Ashley Judd and the ugly media speculation on her changing appearance and her thoughtful response really got me thinking about a conversation I had with a close relative (who wishes to remain anonymous). It started something like this:

“I need this new lip gloss.”

“What? Why? You have tons of makeup.”

“It will give me more confidence.”


“That’s what it says.”

“You’re joking.”

She was not joking.

That was the beginning of the most disturbing conversation I’ve ever had with her. Voices were raised. Tears were shed. It was very uncomfortable for both of us. When we finally got down to the heart of  the matter, she revealed that she thought of herself as some disfigured troll that couldn’t go out among normal, flawless humans without a coat of protective camouflage hiding all of her most hideous deformities, and that she actually needed this new lip gloss to feel better about herself.  The Kissaholic Lip Gloss from Victoria’s Secret did not promise to boost one’s confidence as it turns out; it only promised to “increase lip volume for a fuller, sexier, more kissable pout”, apparently something my young anonymous female relative, who has very full lips to begin with, was in desperate need of acquiring. The advertising went on to say that it was “infused with an exotic blend of aphrodisiac ingredients designed to inspire desire.” How embarrassing to have to explain to me that she wanted, needed to feel desired by someone. And how embarrassing for me to have to explain that she had been duped by a marketing campaign aimed at her vulnerable heart.

I was in shock. Did she really think that beauty was all she had to offer anyone? Had I myself influenced this young woman in any way to be so dependent on her looks for her self-esteem?

I hoped not. I knew better. I had taken some enlightening college courses in the past and I was amazed at what I learned from a paper I read on toy advertising; how we as women are subjected to not only societal expectations, but blatant marketing strategies encouraging us even as young girls in toy commercials to find satisfaction and pride in our physical appearance and care-taking skills, unlike boys who are encouraged to take pride in skills like problem-solving and risk-taking.  One of my favorite passages came from another paper I read entitled Analysis of Gender Identity Through Doll & Action Figure Politics in Art Education by Anna Wagner-Ott, an associate professor at California State University at Sacramento:

“It is from popular culture that most people weave their identities and establish their relationships with others and the environment. Mass media images saturate our lives, structuring much of what we know beyond personal experience.” (Duncum, 1997, p.70)

She wanted her paper to help other art educators to “gain insight into how cultural forms, marketing, and aesthetic productions are generating gender identities” and to help them emancipate their students from these contemporary forms of domination. Heavy stuff.

After studying these subjects, I wanted to make sure my own daughter knew that she was more than just a pretty face. I made sure I told her often that she was smart, compassionate, a talented artist, and a tough soccer player among many other things. I couldn’t help it that she heard from other people that she was also beautiful.

Then puberty hit and that struggle to find her unique identity within the crowd and “Mom you couldn’t possibly understand what I’m going through” period came along with it.  Although I do know exactly what she’s going through, there is no way she’ll believe it and there’s no way I can make it any easier for her. My compliments hailing her many fine attributes now fall on deaf ears. She’ll have to survive her own battle of self-esteem.

So how do you fight against that overwhelming tide of societal norms and let your children know it’s okay to be exactly who they are and that they are more than a beautiful face? As with Ashley Judd’s comments, I am reminded just how much other young girls – other women – help perpetuate the obsession with YOUTH and BEAUTY and devalue those who stray from this path.  How quick are we to say something snarky about someone else gaining weight or a cosmetic surgery job gone wrong? How many women hold real positions of power? What do we say about them? Do we value each other as women for traits NOT tied to appearance? Do we cheer other women on for their accomplishments or tear them down? If we want our daughters to be valued and teach them to find value in themselves, we need to lead the way. Do you agree? How do you teach your daughter to love herself for all that she is?

I leave you with a fantastic performance by slam poet Katie Makkai that I am stealing from another awesome blog. (thank you, Cassie.)

12 thoughts on “Lipstick Isn’t Love – Teaching Our Daughters to Love Themselves

  1. Sad, but true, Valerie. I see it every day in the halls and notice the same girls every day spending countless minutes in front of the bathroom mirror seeking perfection. Sounds like good writing material for you. Hmmm?

    1. funny you should mention that. this theme will feature prominently in my next book, From Super Geek to Queen Bitch in 60 Days – just a working title. 🙂

  2. This is a wonderful post. All women need is someone to show them that beauty is not the end all be all thing to have. Just have to remember, beauty is skin deep but wisdom and humor come from deep within.

  3. This is amazing. You are amazing. I bought that lipgloss in high school (I wish I didn’t have to admit to that) because I wanted to “feel sexier.” Now that I’ve really come into myself and let myself just do its thing – I feel sorry for that girl I used to be who only cared about being pretty, and not even PRETTY CREATIVE, but just plain pretty. Who are we if we just base everything on that? We’re make-up, blush, lipgloss…not heart, cries, joy, life.

    1. it IS hard to just let ourselves feel the thrill of our accomplishments alone and know that we can be sexy for things like being funny and smart and embracing joy and it’s still okay to enjoy the makeup, it’s just not all that we are. great comments. thanks so much for stopping by!

  4. I think about this with my 5 year old. She already wishes she could have hair like her cousin. The cousin has fine straight hair with bangs. My daughter has messy curly hair that can probably never have bangs because they won’t sit right. Unfortunately she got my genes. She says this even thought people (including me) say they love her curls all the time.

    I don’t know what else to do other than be a good example. I do not wear make up, so that one will be easy for me to show by example. But I color my hair to keep the gray away. I’m not a big dieter in general, but I am very aware of not talking about dieting. We talk about being healthy and one part of that is losing weight if you are overweight.

    Just yesterday my daughter started in on me buy her Sketchers because they could help her dance better. We argued about whether they could help or not, but she’s convinced they’ll make her a better dancer. Thanks advertising. She’s not getting the Sketchers.

    1. i can relate to that. maybe another thing you could try is to ask her what is another way she can get better at dancing? maybe practicing her awesome moves will help. good luck!

  5. What a thought-provoking post for me. My daughter’s just a baby, but I do worry about raising her to feel confident and completely at ease with herself in a society that makes that so difficult for women. It’s so hard to shelter children from the world, but at the same time I think the example you set at home will carry them a long way.

  6. My mother did something I absolutely hated growing up, but I’m so very grateful for now – I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up until I was 15 years old, and even then I had to buy it all myself. Since I didn’t have a job, and we had very meager allowances (we got our age in dollars each month, and allowance stopped when we turned 18), I didn’t have a lot of make-up. Although I’ve always been blessed with very healthy skin (minus the 14-yr-bout with eczema), I learned when I was young that make-up had nothing to do with my value as a person.

    To this day, I still prefer to NOT wear make-up. I don’t like the way it feels on my skin. A lot of the time, I don’t like the way I look with it. I’ll only wear it when I know it’s a special event, or when there are going to be a lot of pictures taken in strange light (let’s face it – there’s times when it’s impossible to take a good picture of someone’s face if they’re not wearing make-up).

    My (future) daughters won’t be allowed to wear make-up until they’re older, either. There’s absolutely no reason for it, and in today’s society, I think it would do more harm than good.

    1. although i didn’t have those type of restrictions when i was a kid, i do go without makeup now most of the time. i think my daughter gets to see both sides, but there is that issue of where kids get the messages of beauty from, especially when going through puberty. setting a good example is about all we can do. setting limits is important – explaining why we set those limits is also important.

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