Friday 20 September 2019

Catherine O'Mahony: 'Make-up becomes child's play as manufacturers of make-believe turn girls' heroines into millionaires'

‘Stranger Things’ actress Millie Bobby Brown (15) is launching a make-up range. Photo: AP
‘Stranger Things’ actress Millie Bobby Brown (15) is launching a make-up range. Photo: AP
Catherine O'Mahony

Catherine O'Mahony

'Want to look beautiful in just minutes?" is how the promotional bumf of the make-up set reads. "Glam girls should always be ready for beauty on the go. The ultimate make-up carry case box is all you need for a complete stunning look!

"So many looks to go for with a variety of beautiful eye shadow colours, shimmery lip glosses and glitter nail polish! Ideal for ages eight and up."

Say what? Age eight?

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You read it right. In a week in which sceptical eyebrows have been raised over teenager TV star Millie Bobby Brown's foray into make-up - the 'Stranger Things' star has just launched her own range - it's true to say anyone who has been paying attention to such matters won't be remotely surprised.

At 15, in fact, you might argue Brown (pictured right) is a little advanced in years to be venturing into make-up promotions.

She herself - being a bit of a Hollywood veteran - has certainly been wearing full make-up since the age of 10. But even if she were a normal, modern kid, one who's never been near Hollywood, she'd likely have been prepping her skills for considerably longer than that.

Because I hate to burst anyone's innocent bubble, but clear-skinned climate activist Greta Thunberg is not a typical teen; the age at which the average tiny female is encouraged to "glam up"/gain expertise at make-up has dropped to the point at which you'd be hard pressed to find a three-year-old not in possession of at least one lipstick.

Consider the success of Claire's Accessories, a $1.4bn (€1.26bn) global retail business predicated wholly on little girls' appetite for sparkly stuff that runs the gamut from soft toys and furry pencil cases to the conveniently adjacent displays of glitter nail-polish and cubic zirconia earrings.

It is here that JoJo Siwa - the 16-year-old former 'Dance Moms' reality TV starlet who has built a base of millions of six- to 12-year-old fans - has been selling her oversized bows and a make-up kit that recently had to be removed because of minuscule levels of asbestos content. It's just a childlike skippity-skip from here to Victoria's Secret, ladies.

Or check out the toy section on Amazon. There are more than 50,000 - yes, fifty thousand - results when you search in the toy category for make-up sets.

You can get them themed according to ice cream flavours, or ones that look like cupcakes, or have pink and purple unicorns all over them, or fairy princesses.

There are hundreds of Disney make-up toys. You can spend €12.99 on a make-up carry set that's recommended from the age of eight - that's the one described above - but which is registered as safe (hold on to your hats) from the age of three.

What, you say you disapprove of loading your home with pink plastic? Not a problem!

Even the wooden toy makers are in on the act - you can get your little princess a 100pc cotton make-up bag with a wooden realistic imitation set of make-up brushes and palettes.

After all of that, if your daughter is still a bit behind the curve as regards her application skills when she approaches her teens, you can always pack her off to make-up school - available at assorted venues across Ireland for anyone aged 10 and above.

Or just direct her to the maze that is YouTube, home of hours of every possible brand-endorsing variation of eyebrow shaping tutorial. Claire's and Amazon aside, this is the real space where Generation Z hones its tastes and aspirations. Endless fun for all.

In any case, by 14, on average you'll find the average young female has make-up skills - and tastes in brands - well beyond those of the typical adult aged over 30, who's probably merely been vaguely slapping on foundation and eyeliner since her teens.

This additional expertise can prove handy for parents, I can attest, when you are struggling to manage to co-ordinate a decent face of slap for a big occasion. The trouble with teenagers' advanced make-up skills, however, is that they will also acquire a scarily precise attuned awareness of any deviation in their own appearance from whatever Instagram deems is the prevailing beauty ideal.

And with that comes a rather chilling downside. The fact is that by the time it dawns on you that your kid - who you so recently imagined was just having a bit of innocent fun - has more accurately been primed to be a lifelong target of messages from the cosmetic surgery industry, it'll be too late to do much to stop it.

(At this point we should give kudos where it's due to the group of parents who last year at least managed to organise a petition to stop the makers of cosmetic surgery gaming apps from targeting small children.)

It all adds up to a potentially heavy additional mental load for the present generation of teens as they head into early adulthood. That's one thing they definitely don't need since - as a rather sad survey revealed this week - more than a third of Irish students are currently reporting elevated levels of anxiety or depression, often related to financial worries. I would hazard a guess that concerns about image play a role as well.

Actor-turned-entrepreneur Millie Bobby Brown, meanwhile, had an estimated net worth of around $4m (€3.6m) before she launched her make-up range, so all bodes well for her. So well that she devoted a chunk of an interview last week about her new make-up range to discussing the challenges facing her generation. "Young people are growing up in an age full of social media, judgment and cyber bullying," she said. Indeed, Millie.

And Jojo Siwa - who you may never have heard of but who is set to arrive in Dublin in November on her global solo performance tour - is estimated to be worth $10m (€9m), which is a lot of hair bows.

Materially at any rate, at least two members of Generation Z have nothing to worry about.

Irish Independent

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