Supersized brows, strobing and scented eyeshadow. Sharon Walker takes beauty lessons from her 16-year-old daughter Edie
I’m sitting on my daughter’s bedroom floor surrounded by beauty paraphernalia. Bags of it. There are tubes and palettes and many bottles, most of which are missing their tops, and enough brushes to inspire a new generation of modern-day masters. I am being painted. Or rather I’m being blended – blend, blend, blend, as the beauty bloggers bleat – by my 16-year-old, Edie.
Next are the eyebrows. “It’s time to fill in those babies,” she says. “Eyebrows frame the face, Mother.” Mine are diminished, anaemic worms, far from the desired dark caterpillars of her eyebrow mentor, Cara Delevingne. We’re 30 minutes into my new face and, I fear, a long way from finished. I could be here for years. Possibly a decade. Or at least three episodes of Made In Chelsea.
Her reaction? Pure delight: “Mum, you’re going to feel caked!” Until she realises this means she must endure a night in my meagre scraps.
In her eyes my face is the cosmetic equivalent of the Australian Outback: empty, parched plains devoid of interesting contouring. “No one will recognise me,” she wails, looking stunning in moisturiser, mascara, a tap of blush and a little gloss on her youthful lips, yet refusing to leave the house. Or worse: post a selfie.
I can’t blame her. Today’s teens and make-up go together like the Kardashians and Instagram: 67% of parents say young teens are spending more time on make-up (whether watching tutorials, buying, applying) than anything else, with 46% agreeing that they’re “using more make-up than ever”. The same research by Mintel found teens spend £24 a month on make-up. That’s… a lot. No wonder cosmetics companies are buzzing about the power of the “neon pound”. And it’s the reason the august figures of Joan Didion and Grace Coddington, who not so long ago were gracing ads for high fashion, along with the first generation of supermodels, have been set aside in favour of the Gigi Hadids and Cameron Dallases (google him) of this world.
What strikes me is how rudimentary my own teen beauty bag was next to edie’s.
A sticky sweet shop of watermelon lipgloss, copper lipstick (Miss Selfridge), a black eyeliner and mascara. That was it. Today’s teens don’t just do mascara. They invest in full sets of eyelashes. Edie’s friends arrive like doe-eyed camels, lids heavy under the weight of their fringing, applied lash by lash, the IRL (in real life, for those with no teens to hand) equivalent of Snapchat’s Golden Butterfly filter, because, of course, all this primping, contouring and filling in of eyebrows is all about what you look like in pictures. Technology has once again changed everything.
Today’s teen girls live through the filter of Instagram and Snapchat (Facebook is for “old people”) and they’re much bigger on photo-sharing apps than teen boys the same age.
“They’re continually exposed on social media and, of course, if you’re being photographed or filmed generally you’re usually wearing much heavier-definition make-up,” says Millie Kendall, co-founder of Beautymart, the online beauty emporium that has branched out to a concession in Topshop (target market 16 to 24). The contouring, heavy brows and latest beauty obsession, strobing (“It’s just highlighting with a different name,” reassures Kendall), is all about accentuating features so they don’t disappear online (in every sense).
Though it’s not just their own image-sharing that’s changed things – it’s all the many, many vlogs and blogs and tutorials that they watch all the time. One study shows that 21% of teens would buy a product if a blogger recommended it, something the brands are all too aware of: leading vloggers like Tanya Burr and Zoella command tens of thousands of pounds to promote a single product.
But alongside the selfies and strobing sticks comes a sense of belonging – and that is just as vital to young girls. “Conformity is a very big issue from 13 to 17. It’s a crucial age for exploring ‘who I am and what I want to be’,” explains chartered psychologist and social media specialist Dr Arthur Cassidy. His advice? Get on board. “When they feel that parents don’t understand the world they’re living in it can cause greater anxiety.”
Back in Edie’s bedroom I’m almost ready for a bit of Insta exposure myself (and it’s only taken 30 minutes). “Right,” she announces, “you can look.” And there I am. Looking just like me, but more. Quite a lot more. More eyebrows, more cheekbones, more lips. After the initial shock of seeing myself in full face, I’ve got to admit it works. And I swear the man in the corner shop (I’ve been sent to buy chocolate as a payoff for Edie’s hard work) pays more attention than usual, but it’s on Instagram that my new look really pops. I’m so taken I post a selfie.
What do I learn from our experiment? Well, it’s time to invest in some brushes, an eyebrow pencil and highlighter. Young folk are big on the ‘triangle’ of light (check it out on numerous make-up tutorials), where you take a nice, fluffy concealer brush and use a blend of concealer and highlighter to create a luminous area just beneath your eyes. I’ve been doing it and… it works.
And despite Edie’s initial horror, it turns out my more minimalist approach has had something of an impact on her, too. “I don’t wear foundation any more,” she tells me one month after our experiment. “Or eyeshadow. Now I just do my eyebrows, mascara and lip liner all over my lips. I feel like it suits me more. Whereas before I was just following the tutorials and what my friends were doing, now I realise I’m more myself when my face isn’t caked and I feel more confident.”
By the time they’re 18, says Cassidy, most girls will have found their own identity and have the courage to break away from the group. So if your daughter’s eyebrows are looking a tad Mexican Gangster, or her lips have taken on Kardashian proportions, be patient, it’s all part of growing up in this strange era. Just take a deep breath, think back to your own experiments with Rimmel’s Heather Shimmer lipstick and Sun In – and thank your lucky stars Instagram didn’t exist in the ’80s.