Drop That Lipstick: Three Arguments Against Walmart's New Makeup for Girls

Why some object to seeing gloss on an eight-year-old

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When Wal-Mart announced the launch of geoGirl, an eco-friendly line of cosmetics, it probably thought it was announcing a breakthrough: cosmetics for the tween and pre-tween set that come in recyclable packaging and has natural ingredients like willow bark, green tea extract and chamomile. In an interview with Begorgeous.com, which pegged the new line as tapping into a "group with an estimated 2 billion dollars buying power," a Walmart spokesperson said cosmetics offered a chance to teach "this generation about beauty care in a responsible way. This [line] is a great learning experience for us to determine how to communicate with this generation.”

Not everyone saw it this way.

Instead, geoGirl, whose site goes live February 25, has ignited a flurry of criticism. It sort of looks like the products are being marketed to girls as young as 8. Then there's the perennial problem: should we be okay with that?

Below are three arguments against lip gloss for girls still in elementary school:

  • It's a Gateway Drug  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Anjali Athavaley, Leslie Gibbs, a spokesperson for the makers of Bonne Bell lip balms, a peer of the group behind geoGirl, says pre-teen makeup is a great industry to be in, because girls usually start playing with makeup by the time they're six, and that first taste develops into demands for grown up things. Or, as Slate's KJ Dell'Antonia says, "the earlier you start with lip gloss, the earlier you start feeling that lip gloss is for babies." The key thing to note, Gibbs said was that once kids trade up to adult brands, makeup is no longer about imitating Mom, but using "cosmetics as an enhancement." 
  • Cosmetics Damage Self-Esteem  Blog Her's Andrea Newell worries that makeup sexualizes pre-teens and lowers their self-esteem. Her evidence: research by the NYU Child Study Center that shows girls feel fantastic about themselves when they are nine, but once they turn ten, forget it-- they start dieting and stressing about boys and stress. Add that the study says pre-teens " become hyper-aware of their bodies and equate them to their perceived worth to others," and a cosmetics line like geoGirl isn't about looking nice, but tells girls they "are not attractive without looking sexy."
  • 'Anti-Aging' Ingredients? What's Next, Botox at 11?  Like Blog Her's Newell, The Informer's Sarah Wilson says pre-teen cosmetics pave the way for an Ophelia moment, but what really angers her about geoGirl's makupe line is that it has anti-aging ingredients and represents a larger trend for which parents and marketers share the blame.  She notes that "outward appearance isn’t typically a concern for girls at age 8. However, with mothers who insist their children need Clinique to perfect their still-maturing skin, and cosmetic lines implying 'you need this to look better,' girls are being thrust into a world where appearance plays a main role far too early." The sheer absurdity of it, says Blog Her's Mir Kamin is that "I've yet to see a kid roaming the halls there where I've thought to myself, "Hmmm. She could be really pretty, if not for all the fine lines and wrinkles, y'know?"

Others are less worked up about the whole thing. Take, for example, Vivian Seltzer, professor of human behavior and development at University of Pennsylvania, who told The Wall Street Journal,  "When they get to be 14 or 15, they're going to be wearing clothes you don't like either."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.