A PEEK inside Amelia Ross’s bulging make-up bag reveals a £150 collection worthy of a connoisseur: products from the latest brands including her current favourite, a pink cheek highlighter, which she says elicits ‘loads of compliments when I wear it’.
Having watched endless make-up tutorials on YouTube, Amelia, who can ‘easily spend two hours’ doing her make-up, has perfected her technique. The result certainly makes her look older — which is not the desired effect for most women. But then Amelia is only 14.
She is one of the army of girls her age who wear more makeup than their mothers and are astoundingly clued-up about enhancing their appearance.
So is this harmless fun, or a worrying symptom of our increasingly looks-obsessed society?
If young girls are already so adept at making their eyes appear larger and their lips fuller, some wonder what lengths they will go to in five, ten or 20 years’ time — and how this make-up mania will affect their self-worth.
Then there is the attention they attract when fully made up. Amelia’s mother Debbie, 54, an events manager from Ascot in Berkshire, admits this makes her anxious. But for her and many other mothers, the issue of make-up is too complex to just forbid it.
She explains: ‘While it makes me scared for her going out made up, I accept that experimenting with your appearance is an inevitable part of growing up.’
Most of us recall our initiation into the world of cosmetics — usually via a slick of lip gloss or cheap blusher. The difference is that these days the legions of beauty bloggers and social media ‘stars’ inveigling their way into young girls’ lives via YouTube or Instagram mean make-up seems more alluring than ever.
A recent survey by lifestyle website Nuyoo of 852 young women found that 66 percent started applying beauty products when they were between the ages of 13 and 15, while 11 percent admitted to using cosmetic products at the tender ages of ten to 12.
The reasons why they started experimenting varied, but more than half said they wore make-up because they felt self-conscious about their looks. A further 9 percent said they did it because they were bullied about their appearance, while the same proportion said they had copied people on social media.
Psychologist and writer Emma Kenny, who specialises in eating disorders, warns: ‘Our children are under so much pressure to present a filtered image of themselves looking “perfect”.’
And such is the normalisation of heavy makeup that it doesn’t stop at the school gates, either.
‘Twenty years ago, you would have been sent home for wearing anywhere near the amount of make-up girls routinely apply these days,’ says Emma.
‘For some, certainly, those who are more insecure, there is a definite “need” to wear makeup. They think they look nicer with it — and if others tell them they do, they’re going to wear even more.’
Amelia’s mother describes many of the new, more affordable brands as ‘magnets’ to girls of her daughter’s age.
‘When I was a teenager there was much less choice,’ she says. ‘Now there are numerous make-up stores on the High Street which have sections specifically aimed at teenagers. Amelia’s current favourite is a make-up chain store called Kiko Milano, which thankfully is reasonably priced.’
She continues: ‘When I was 14 I wasn’t allowed anywhere near my mum’s make-up, yet Amelia has been “borrowing” my products since about the age of ten.
‘She has always been fascinated by it and used to love watching me do my own make-up. Now she wears more than me.’
Yet Debbie wants to be more lenient on the subject than her own parents were.
‘If I carp on at Amelia about it, I’ll be the “nagging mum”,’ she says. ‘I don’t police how much she wears. My philosophy is that she’ll learn from her own mistakes.’
At the same time, Debbie is not impervious to the possible effect on her daughter’s self-esteem: ‘I do worry about it,’ she admits.
Amelia herself says she is simply having fun and describes the make-up advice she finds on YouTube as invaluable.
She explains: ‘My best friend was much cooler than me and had an older sister who showed her how to apply make-up properly. There is a fine line between looking too “done” and looking cool. So I went to her house to learn how to do the same.
‘The first time I attempted a full face of make-up, the end result wasn’t great. My friend’s sister introduced me to beauty bloggers; my favourite is Jeffree Star. Now I wear makeup most days. At school, I’ll wear mascara and concealer.’
While Amelia insists she’s not wearing make-up for anyone except herself, it’s telling that after these pictures of her favourite makeup look were taken, she did what every other teenager does and took to social media. ‘I uploaded a selfie on Snapchat and immediately got 17 replies, including: “OMG you’re so pretty!”
‘I was really happy. It boosted my confidence.’
Make-up artist Oonagh Connor volunteers in schools, going to talk to young girls about how to wear makeup in a subtle, natural way. She says make-up should be fun, but these days it is often taken much more seriously by young girls who view it as an essential tool in their attempts to appear perfect.
According to Oonagh, the younger generation is particularly fixated on techniques such as contouring (a complex process in which contrasting shades of powder are used to emphasise cheekbones, slim the nose and generally create the appearance of sculpted features).
And today’s look is very heavy compared with what their mothers wear. She says: ‘I talk to lots of young teenagers who say they wear make-up because of a lack of confidence and self-worth.’
Fresh-faced, with sparkling eyes and a smattering of pretty freckles over her clear skin, 14-year-old Remi Walker is a natural beauty. But she says make-up makes her ‘feel better’.
Hence her finely tuned beauty routine: ‘First I put on some moisturiser, which is just a cheap one from Superdrug, then I use Benefit’s Porefessional primer. I’d seen it advertised on Instagram and it’s brilliant.
‘I use Benefit bronzer and a Goof Proof brow pencil to give my eyebrows more definition, then I add some mascara. Finally — and this has been a revolution — I use an amazing fixing spray which I’d also seen on Instagram. It sets my makeup so I’m ready for the day.’
She says she started when she was 12 and, like Amelia, insists: ‘I’m not doing it to impress anyone, it’s just for me.’
At the family home in Romford, Essex, Remi’s mother Tara says her daughter’s fascination with make-up has greatly increased just recently.
‘She used to only wear a little bit of Vaseline on her lips and a touch of mascara, but I’ve noticed she’s getting more into the bronzer now,’ says Tara, who is married to Andy, 45, and also has a 15-year-old son, Mason.
‘Some mornings, I’ll see her in the daylight and say: “Oh no, back upstairs, you’ve caked it on, take some off.”
‘Personally, I didn’t even start to wear make-up until I was about 17. But her generation of girls are constantly watching reality stars like the Kardashians or the supermodel Hadid sisters on social media and wanting contouring kits and professional brushes.
‘I hate the way it has become “normal” for young girls to look this way. The make-up sexualises them too early.’
Emma Kenny agrees. ‘What’s scary is that young women certainly feel their value is being physicalised — that their worth is all about their looks,’ she says.
‘It must be very confusing for them. They’re too young to be worrying about relationships, but they are encouraged to look so sexualised via all this make-up.’ When asked why she doesn’t just ban make-up altogether, Remi’s mother Tara says: ‘Remi actually wears very little compared with her friends, so I’m prepared to turn a blind eye to what she’s wearing if it makes her happy.
‘I know she wouldn’t get bullied if she went bare-faced. Her friends are not like that, and she often comes home from doing something sporty without a scrap of make-up on — I encourage her with that side of things.
‘Besides, I’ve always liked make-up too, so I know it can help with self-esteem and make you feel good about yourself. I’m not going to ban it completely because there’s no point.’
What concerns her more is the use of social media. ‘They’re all on it,’ says Tara. ‘We’ve allowed Remi to go on Instagram but only because my husband keeps an eye on what she’s posting and who’s getting in touch with her.
‘But the competition for “likes” could break a girl’s confidence if taken too far. Thankfully, Remi has a strong personality and exudes confidence. But there’s a lot of pressure on young girls today and they are measuring success by what people look like, not what they’re doing.’
Psychologist Emma says we are raising a generation of youngsters terrified of being caught on camera looking anything less than perfect — and argues that online make-up tutorials can easily feed into this obsession.
She explains: ‘There was some American research recently that said centennials — those born this side of the millennium — are one of the most conservative generations we’ve seen in a long time.
‘They’re not taking as many drugs, or getting drunk or having promiscuous sex as much as past generations.
‘While that sounds positive, people do need to be able to make some mistakes to grow and develop resilience. This generation are so afraid of not looking perfect.’
Nia Friel is another 14-year-old girl who religiously goes on YouTube every night to watch a makeup tutorial once she has finished her homework.
‘I’ve been watching them for four years,’ she says, ‘ever since I started wearing makeup when I was ten. My favourites are Zoe Sugg [also known as Zoella], James Charles, Looking for Lewys and Nikkie Tutorials.
‘It was my aunt who first bought me some starter make-up and now, although I don’t wear it every day, I do wear it for school.
‘In the mornings I use Maybelline mascara. I’ll apply a Boots Seventeen eyebrow gel to smooth the hairs down. I use Rimmel concealer on my blemishes and I’ll also dust bronzer on my cheeks and forehead, which gives my face more shape.
‘I’ll wear a highlighting powder too, which adds a natural glow — it’s a very subtle look and most of my friends do it. It’s normal for our generation to experiment like this. It’s not about lack of confidence, we’re just having fun.
‘When I’m not at school, I love experimenting with eyeshadows. I particularly love the Morphe brand, especially their brushes.
‘Mum jokes I have a better make-up collection than her. It’s probably true. What’s in my makeup bag is likely worth at least £800.’
That’s an eye-watering amount of money no matter what your budget may be — and it’s all funded by her mother Clare, 33, who works as a business development manager for a construction company.
Clare says: ‘While I’m not too concerned about Nia’s hobby, the cost of it does worry me. The YouTubers whose videos she watches like to recommend brushes that cost £50 each. They even give advice on what to clean them with — it’s never good old-fashioned soap and water.’
Clare, from Ipswich in Suffolk, recalls one occasion when she unwittingly bought her daughter a £109 eye palette.
‘Nia mentioned a brand she loved called Huda Beauty and I spotted it in Selfridges,’ she says. ‘When I got to the till, I was astounded to discover the cost but was too embarrassed to return it.
‘She relies on the Bank of Mum but I am encouraging her to get a Saturday job.’
Despite admitting that her daughter and her friends can look close to 18 when they’re in full make-up, Clare says she isn’t too worried because Nia has a ‘sensible head on her shoulders’.
That is something Nia — and Remi and Amelia — will undoubtedly need in a bemusing world where appearance trumps all.
As for those parents who are worried, Emma Kenny advises them to ‘sit down and talk to their children about what they see on social media’.
She says: ‘I’ve got two boys and I’ve talked to them about Photoshop and shown them pictures of celebrities walking down the street looking normal and real, as all too often they are presented with the heavily filtered versions.’
We need to teach the younger generation to accept themselves — and each other — as they are: barefaced or otherwise.
* Additional reporting: Samantha Brick
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