Zadie Smith, British writer, author of the bestselling „White Teeth” has been recently caught in the spotlight because of the „15 minute rule” she established at her home. During the Edinburgh Literary Festival, Smith confessed that her 7-year- old daughter can’t spend more than 15 minutes in front of the mirror.
– „You’re wasting your time. Your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a sh** if you waste an hour and a half doing your makeup.” – she explained her idea. Metaphorical or not, the problem is real – the WHO study shows that 52% of Polish 8-year- olds (sic!) are not happy with their body. Can pulling these girls away from mirrors be the way to improve these statistics?
Among numerous comments made by Smith’s statement, the most indignant fact was that a 7-year-old can do makeup at all. It should be noted, however, that easy access to YouTube and makeup tutorials gaining millions of views cause even the youngest of children to start „the adventure with makeup”, as this YouTuber girl puts it. It is difficult to state with certainty whether Smith spoke about the real rule, or maybe it was a metaphorical approach to the author’s way to raise her daughter – you are beautiful, and you will always be, no matter what they try to tell you on TV.
First of all, there is nothing wrong with doing makeup. Except for extreme cases (vide – 7-year-old who spends more than 15 minutes in front of a mirror a day), this „ritual” has been celebrated for millennia. At the court of Egyptian Pharaoh, Totmes III, women used eye pencils and blush, among others. Makeup is a tool for conscious self-creation that can improve self-confidence and help build relations. Before we can blink, our brain performs a facial or hair density analysis of the newly encountered person, and in a millisecond it evaluates whether we like them or not. It is possible to partially influence this process (if we care). However, if we put makeup into the category of taking caring for yourself, it is difficult to blame someone who finds this pleasant. No one deprives the boys of the need to use the gym, to shape the muscles or get tattoos, grow beards and take care of them or carefully matching the individual pieces of clothing. We consider it culturally normal; So why do we throw the baby out with the bathwater and stigmatize makeup entirely?
The problem starts when the (increasingly younger) girls use makeup to cope with the pressure to be beautiful. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization, 52% of Polish 8-year- olds is not satisfied with their body. 61% of 15-year- old Polish women consider themselves too fat (HBSC report). Maybe it has some actual grounds? No way – just 7% of the 15-year- olds have a real problem with being overweight. It’s plausible that trying to ban the mirror after 15 minutes will bring the opposite effect. So it would seem sensible to take a step back and reflect, where the need for this time-consuming process of correcting own appearance comes from. Parent’s role is to reinforce positive self-esteem in child, enough to balance the intrusive marketing message.
Obviously, this issue is complex. In the United States alone, the cosmetic industry generates over 60 billion dollars a year. However, only a small percentage of this amount is spent on marketing – magazine covers, entire magazines, editorials, star interviews, suggestive sponsored articles. The famous cover of two magazines for teens – for boys and girls – which circulated the world last year is all too meaningful in this context:
Anyway, this is no news – this type of content is the norm. During her speech at TEDx, Reshma Saujan, originator of the „Girls can code”, drew attention to the way in which we educate girls. In general, they are taught perfection, while the boys are taught courage (which is perfectly visible on the aforementioned covers). This perfection manifests itself in the obsessive care of one’s own appearance as well as in the accomplishment of the entrusted tasks. In risky situations, adult women abandon their goals – fearing failure. As we all know, only those who never take any action can lose – and this may partly explain the scandalously low percentage of women on supervisory boards or in IT companies.