Am I right in giving "Dress Up" a dressing-down?
June 13, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

My wife wants our daughter to have a makeover party for her 8th birthday. Manicures, pedicures, hair-styling and all that. Am I being overly-sensitive in thinking it's a bad idea?

To me, playing dress-up is one thing. It's fun to put on costumes and pretend, and I'm all for that. But "Beauty Shop" play is not something I want to encourage. It seems anti-feminist. All the emphasis is on glamour and beauty and I think that's the wrong message to send to girls her age. Plus, it excludes boys from her party.

My opinion is that she's got the rest of her life to play at being a grownup lady, she should remain child-like as long as she can. That means parties that are centered around fun and play and not "adult" things like makeovers and looks. Also: parents of young girls: would you be hesitant to let them go to a party that was so "beauty" oriented?

Am I over-thinking this?
posted by ColdChef to Society & Culture (97 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What does your daughter want?
posted by maya at 10:39 AM on June 13, 2012 [40 favorites]

I'd feel the same way you do, but the deciding factor for me would be how much your daughter loves that stuff. Is she a big fan of dress up and makeup and all? If so, that might tip it in favor of such a party. And things like manicures, pedicure and hair styles can be done in ways so that they're age-appropriately fun (instead of creepily adult) - sparkly nail polish and stickers instead of blood-red talon nails.

So, to sum up, your feelings are Awfully valid. But if this is the sort of thing your daughter would Love, I wouldn't keep it from her, either. Maybe ask to postpone this party till next year, and go with something that can include boys this year?
posted by ldthomps at 10:41 AM on June 13, 2012

Best answer: My short answer is perhaps, but I also believe that there's a way to spin this that might make it more empowering and inclusive to everyone concern.

My nieces, who are close in age to your daughter, love them some Disney Princesses.
Perhaps reframing it as a Prince and Princess party would allow the boys to bang each other with wrapping paper tube swords and moving box shields while the girls play dress up with tiaras and tu-tu's and whatever.

Removing the makeover aspect - manicures, pedicures, hair-styling - brings it back down to the 8 year old level, as opposed to the teen or pre-teen level. This also removes the female-centric part of the party as well.

Save the painting each others nails and make up and hair-styling for something like a sleep over or slumber party, where the participants are all female.

I think hitting this from the 'we need to include everyone' angle would help.

Upon review: My assumption here is that your daughter is cool with the above and just wants to have fun and open as many presents as possible, which is mandatory 8 year old behavior.
posted by THAT William Mize at 10:42 AM on June 13, 2012

Does your daughter really want to do this, or is it just your wife's idea? I would have loathed this kind of party (and frankly found an opportunity to skip it, if one of my friends tried it) at that age or any age. But I was definitely on one end of the bell curve, and if she's super into makeup and whatnot, it makes as much sense as anything.

It's probably more valuable that she learn about this stuff with some feminist framing (you can do this or not, it's up to you, there's no "right" amount of makeup you have to wear, don't do it to please other people, etc etc) than pick it up purely from advertisements. Because I am a grungy old dyke, I'd probably make sure I had a couple of magazines and spent a bit of time talking about what magazine ads were trying to do and identify some of the iffy ways they go about it.

tl;dr, she's going to get this one way or another, you may as well try to steer the boat. But if it's just your wife's dream not the kid's, skip it entirely.

(On preview, Prince and Princess-themed stuff is actually worse. Enforced gender conformity sucks.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:43 AM on June 13, 2012 [29 favorites]

This kind of party also makes me uncomfortable. It's the kind of thing my mom would have wanted to organize for me when I was your daughter's age, and at the time I would have gone along with it but felt pretty weird.

That said, obviously your daughter isn't me? Maybe she likes girly things and girls-only socializing more than I did when I was young?

If your daughter is pushing for this kind of party and your wife is just helping to make it happen, you know, there probably isn't any harm in letting her have what she wants. But if your daughter doesn't have a specific idea of what kind of party she's interested in and this theme is entirely your wife's creation, then I would absolutely agree that steering your wife toward something less gender-role-enforcing would be great. Girls have enough "beauty"-related pressure as it is, and if your daughter isn't pushing in that direction herself there's no reason to shepherd her toward it.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:44 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's hard on daddies for little girls to grow up! And a makeover party seems too grownup for an 8 year old, I agree. But, it is "pretend," right? I mean, she's not going to start wearing heavy makeup and getting mani-pedis every week after the party. (Right?) So if she wants to do it, I think it's pretty harmless.

As far as the feminist angle: my daughter enjoyed dress up and make up stuff when she was little and, as you know firsthand, it did not prevent her from becoming a kickass young lady!

I sympathize with your daddy-pain. But it's probably not a huge deal.
posted by The Deej at 10:46 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you do have this party, I would let the moms of the other kids know way beforehand. As a kid, I would have opted out of this party.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:47 AM on June 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

No way. Your daughter is 8. She shouldn't be wearing make up, she shouldn't be worried about how pretty she is, she shouldn't be trying to be sexy, she shouldn't be comparing her looks to her friends and worrying about.

This sounds like a fabulously terrible idea for me.

The whole message of "make over" is that there is something wrong with how you naturally look, that it needs to be changed. I think it's great that you don't want to send your daughter that message.

That said, it sounds like there's a bigger conflict around values with your wife that you're not mentioning here. Did her suggestion surprise you? Do you talk about issues like this and how they affect girls as they grow up?

There's the question of this party, but then there's the broader question of how you are raising your daughter. The party is just one small piece of it.
posted by alms at 10:50 AM on June 13, 2012 [17 favorites]

I agree that you should clarify (for yourself) whether your daughter wants this, or is it that your wife wants it *for* your daughter. Also, are there boys your daughter would invite if she were having a different kind of party? If so, she could have a boy-inclusive party, then some Saturday down the road, if she's so inclined, have a couple of girls over for some hair barrettes and blue sparkly toenail polish. But yeah, if I had an 8yr old daughter, no way would this be an option.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:55 AM on June 13, 2012

Response by poster: What does your daughter want?

That's a valid question. She'd like to do a makeover party. But last week, she was equally excited about having a party at the zoo. I don't think she'd be crushed if we put this party off for a few years.

That said, it sounds like there's a bigger conflict around values with your wife that you're not mentioning here. Did her suggestion surprise you? Do you talk about issues like this and how they affect girls as they grow up?

Yeah, this has opened up that whole can of worms. My wife feels that it's a harmless, "special occasion" kind of thing. I think that by having it be a birthday party, she's elevating some negative gender stereotypes by having it be a special occasion. My counter-argument was if she'd let our son have a "War" party when he was eight. And her answer, "If that's what he wanted." really surprised me.
posted by ColdChef at 10:56 AM on June 13, 2012

My daughter is 9. She would love this kind of party. Maybe kids "shouldn't" be worrying about their looks, or thinking about makeup. But the plain fact is that they /do/. They want these things. My daughter adores pedicures and manicures, and she steals my makeup whenever she gets the chance. She begged for a mani-pedi before her last birthday.

If your daughter wants this, and it's not mom-directed, then I say go for it.

Some more context: my mother was also a hardcore feminist. She refused to allow me makeup for a long time. I was made fun of for a long time as a kid and teenager, because I was the only one who was forbidden this. It didn't teach me a thing about "inner beauty." All it did was mean that when I got to be an adult, I had no idea how to apply makeup. When I wanted to do it, I didn't know how. I had to walk into a mall and buy several hundred dollars' worth of makeup that someone else told me how to apply in order to be barely competent. I'm still not very good - and now I'm old enough to have a 9 year old, so let that tell you something.

This kind of stuff sounds good. But one of the things about childhood is that it's a great time to try things out - to test them to see how you like them, to play around with things. And some of those things might be makeup. They might be beauty-related. In fact, that's the most feminist that you can be - having the choice to be what you want to be, whether it's traditionally girly or traditional boy.

Speaking of which, why /does/ a makeover party naturally exclude boys? I think it'd be kind of great if boys came and also got makeovers or mani-pedis.

On preview: Does your wife share your political beliefs and values around them? Because this stuff is going to come up way more than just at a birthday party. It's also going to come up a /lot/ in the next couple of years. The pre-teen stage is just chock-ful of these kind of landmines.
posted by corb at 11:00 AM on June 13, 2012 [14 favorites]

(Oh yeah: and I'm still a feminist. Just one who likes to wear makeup sometimes, especially for occasions when I'll be photographed.)
posted by corb at 11:01 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I understand that some little girls really enjoy this kind of thing but I would never have even considered it for my daughter, and especially at eight! With all due respect to your wife, I dislike this idea for a variety of reasons.

1) It excludes boys from the festivities 2) It's messy and fiddly and will require a lot of supervision and direction 3) It's not just promoting 'dress up' or 'beauty oriented' it's wide open for competition, hurt feelings and comparisons of who is the 'prettiest' 4) It's encouraging a culture of consumerism and maintenance which I do not subscribe to (I'm over 40 and have never paid for manicures or pedicures) 5) It just does not sound fun.

However, if your daughter really, really wants this, then by all means let it happen. It's her day, after all.

The most successful parties I ever had for my kids were those where we played old-fashioned games, like pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey, statues, musical chairs and the like, with small prizes like pencils, notebooks and stickers for the winners. (you can easily rig such games so that everyone ends up with a prize).
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 11:02 AM on June 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

I liked playing with makeup and dressing up when I was little (I was allowed to wear it in the house but not outside), and I am a feminist today (who still wears makeup). I think it's specious the idea that the two are mutually exclusive. I really understand where you're coming from but adults put too much of their own baggage on children who just want to have fun. Adults forget that a lot of children know the difference between reality and make-believe.
posted by girlmightlive at 11:04 AM on June 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think she'd be crushed if we put this party off for a few years.

Honestly, I think that is a Bad Idea. You either have a party like this now, or you don't have this party at all.

When she and her friends are 8, a "makeover" party really isn't about the makeover. It's about sparkly things and garish colors and pretending you're a grownup when everyone knows you're really not.

When she and her friends are 13, a "makeover" party is going to be about looking a certain way to attract boys. And no matter how much you don't want it to be about that, and even if your daughter doesn't want it to be about that, social pressures will make it be about that.

When I was a kid, I would have HAAAATED this party. I have never worn makeup, even as an adult, and while I do like to look a certain way and care about my appearance, it's in a different way than the traditional lady-type way. But I remember my friends having parties like this. It was usually fine when I was younger, because it meant I could get away with the bare minimum of high ponytails and nail polish and facepaint. But as I got older, it became more about eyeliner and eyeshadow and lipstick, and other girls forcing me into their short skirts and stuffing my bra so I would look "hot". For the boys. And I'm pretty sure that's not what you want for your kid.

Let her have the party now. It is, really and truly, pretty harmless at this age.
posted by phunniemee at 11:09 AM on June 13, 2012 [22 favorites]

I would agree with that the question "Is this what your daughter wants?" is crucial, and it sounds like she would be for this. That said, my mother was virulently anti-makeup: never wore it herself, refused to let me wear nail polish or own lipgloss, etc. The only two exceptions to this were a Barbie doll with lip gloss in a check locker thing [super creepy] and the makeup I needed for biannual ballet recitals. Oh man. I loved those makeup palettes with every ounce of my nerdy self, and when I got older, I had zero idea how to put on makeup that wasn't fit for being under intense stage lights, and often looked like a clown.

Makeup isn't always about being sexy, and manicures and pedicures are often an excuse to play with cool colors and patterns. It's not anti-feminist to enjoy glitter eyeshadow. Would you be more okay with it if it were framed differently for you? A spa day, instead of a "makeover"? There are even some cool chemistry activities they could do to make their own perfumes, lotions, or bath salts. I agree that "pretty" is problematic. Maybe it could focus more on cool and crazy ideas or hair stylings? I still like the crazier colors of eyeshadow and would have loved a party to just experiment with designs and patterns that you could never wear outside. If she does have guy friends, perhaps this would be a good experience in learning that crazy hairdos, spas, and make up are not foreign concepts and that everyone can enjoy them. (Admittedly, unlikely, but...)

That said, you could split the difference and have crazy face painting at the zoo party!
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:09 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would feel the same way. but what about a makeover party where the whole point is to be totally ridiculous? blue lipstick, insane hairstyles, hilarious clothes?
posted by changeling at 11:10 AM on June 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

As the mother of an 8-year-old girl, I'm really not crazy about this idea. But my daughter is way more into lizards and bugs than hair and nail polish -- so it would never come up.

You might want to consider what some of the parents of your daughter's friends might feel about the makeover party. I wouldn't be a definite "no" on it -- but I would have real reservations about sending my daughter to a party like this. I know a few of the mommies in my circle (pretty lefty feminists sorts - your group may be different) who would be violently opposed to it.

While you should obviously put your daughter's wishes first, you also don't want her 8th birthday to be the one that caused a big rift among your circle of parents/friends.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:11 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Eh, I grew up to be a staunch feminist, and I see no problem with this because I have memories of sleepover birthday parties where we had "makeovers" that involved:

*layering on glittery lipgloss until we looked like clowns
* "doing our nails" by covering them in those fabulous, tiny, circular stickers of unicorns and hearts and peace symbols (specifically designed for little girls' nails)
* "doing our hair" by giving each other French braids.
* "fake tattoos"
* layering ourselves in cast-off sheets of lace, bright pink fabric, whatever
* topping it all off with tiaras and scepters

In short, the makeover did not in any way resemble what you'd get at the counter in a department store; it was pure girly fun that had nothing to do with boys and was really very akin to putting on costumes and imagining ourselves as the heroines of our favorite tv shows/games/books/toys (She-Ra, to date me!)

I don't wear much makeup in Real Life, but this kind of dress-up game is great fun, and I wish I could still get away with having such a party. :)
posted by artemisia at 11:11 AM on June 13, 2012 [15 favorites]

Go to the zoo. Seriously.

If she does a makeup party when she's eight, what's she going to do at ten, twelve, fourteen?

Why force her to grow up any faster than she has to?
posted by BlueHorse at 11:15 AM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

Kids don't have the same social awareness about this stuff that adults do, of course that is why we're the adults, but to a kid it's just a fun thing. If she's not being pressured to have one kind of party or another and just wants to have fun with her friends, I don't see the long term harm. Would an 8 year old get the rationalization for why this type of party feeds in to a specific set of stereo types and gendered behaviors? My guess is probably not.

Let the 8 year old be an 8 year old, if she wants to have fun with her friends and this is how let her, is my perspective. There are plenty of teachable moments as she grows older to explain the social implications.
posted by iamabot at 11:17 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a non-girly girl child, I would have not known I could opt out. I would have gone to this party and felt absolutely terrible about myself. As a middle-aged woman, I can still instantly get in touch with that sick feeling of knowing that I wasn't like the other girls. This party would have elicited that reaction. I may be enough of an outlier that this is an unlikely outcome for her friends. But if your daughter is good with a party at the zoo, why not just do that instead?
posted by Wordwoman at 11:17 AM on June 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

Corb, no 8 year old boys would come to this kind of party, unless they were transgender (is that the right word?) which is a whole different issue. Trust me on that, I am a mother of all boys, I am not one to promote gender stereotypes but you have to be realistic too, and kids do have to live in the world. I am sorry you had to spend all that money on makeup you did not need, when I was young nobody wore makeup until they were teens, and we survived and learned how to use it later just fine. No, our mothers were not even feminists, just old-fashioned.

I think 8 is too young for this, the zoo would be much better and more fun for the kids. 12 or older is plenty of time for the makeover birthday. And if she wants boys at the party, everyone enjoys the zoo. Plus even if your wife is cool with this kind of party, some of the other mothers of girls invited may not be. Not that it is an awful idea, but it is not age appropriate. I would say wait on this one until she is older.
posted by mermayd at 11:17 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If this is something your daughter would love, then it's not a horrible suggestion. There is nothing inherently antifeminist about doing stereotypically "girly" things; feminism is not about the wholesale rejection of traditional gender norms, it's about expanding them from a narrow set of outdated rules to include many different aspects of gender expression.

If this is more about something your wife thinks would be adorable than what your daughter wants, though, then it is not really a great thing do to.

If this is something you guys do end up doing, be aware that there will absolutely be a nonzero number of girls at the party who may be varying levels of uncomfortable with this and may end up going along with it anyway because they feel pressured to do so. That alone would stop me in my tracks, personally. There may also be parents (of any gender) who are uncomfortable with this, for a wide range of reasons.

Also, overthinking or not, it is A Good Thing that you are giving this kind of situation thoughtful attention! (I hope this doesn't sound condescending, omg.)
posted by elizardbits at 11:18 AM on June 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I really draw a line between mani/pedi/hair stuff and makeup stuff. I'm not a makeup wearer and to me it's all about trying to be sexay [I know people disagree and have other reasons for wearing it, this is my opinion] whereas hair and nail care [and skin care generally] is more of a health and looking good thing. So this may be a really arbitrary distinction that makes sense to no one but me, but I think there are ways you could have this party that would be fun and not crossing your lines while still honoring your wife's feelings at the same time. because seriously, if your daughter doesn't care THAT much then this is really something you and your wife need to come to agreement on, so I'd try to think about the most useful ways to do that and compromise [hair and nails and skin care stuff] so that it's fun for everyone. Make face masks out of kitchen food. Do each other's nails. Use those biore strips and look at the weird stuff that comes out of your nose [I don't even know if these work if you're eight], watch youtube videos about how to do hair braiding.

I would have not gone to a makeup party when I was an eight year old, but just a goof-around dressup thing would have been fine. There's probably a decent line you can draw there. That said, if she wants to have a co-ed party and has always had co-ed parties I think I might be a little more "Eh, don't" about it.
posted by jessamyn at 11:20 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

ZOO. Keep it gender neutral because even some of your daughter's female friends might not be into makeup.

And hey, it's the zoo.
posted by sonika at 11:22 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would've avoided a party like that like the plague at age 9 (and still would). I agree with those upthread who say to see what your daughter wants to do, though.

If it were me, I might go with a variation of artemisia's suggestion, assuming your daughter would have fun with something more outlandish. I had friend who even in college would get together to paint each other's faces and do other ridiculous fun circusy stuff rather than beautify, and it was always very festive.
posted by mlle valentine at 11:24 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Oops, age 8, sorry.)
posted by mlle valentine at 11:25 AM on June 13, 2012

My personal favorite kind of feminism is the kind that says women can be whatever they want to be, even if that turns out to be something that fits into a traditional gender role. I know that kind of nuance is hard to explain to kids, but still.

Are the plans to do this at your house, or to actually truck a bunch of 8 year-olds to a spa? I assume it's a home setup, so maybe one option is to rethink the "stations" at the party to include some non-beauty activities like arts & crafts (paper planes? modeling clay? finger paint?) and other neutral non-personal-beauty-type activities.
posted by juliplease at 11:27 AM on June 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

Best answer: 9 years ago, my daughter the little tom boy surprised us with a request for this type of birthday party. We agreed as it was what she wanted. She graduates from high school this week as the captains of both her lacrosse team and basketball team. She is planning to wear makeup for the 2nd time in her life at her graduation.

This is an 8 year old's birthday. Do not read more into it than that.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:27 AM on June 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

How about a compromise? A mom & daughter day at the spa for funtimes and then a zoo party for everybody else. I also have seen "spa" days where the kids mix up their own scrubs and scents using chemistry. It ends up with a mani/pedi but the kids get to play with smelly things and figure out the science of what makes which smells and colors. I was a little jealous that I didn't get to do that, to be honest.

One of the biggest things I ran into as a tomboy was the automatic assumption that girly-ness was black/white kind of thing. Because I loved climbing trees and playing in the dirt, I could not like getting my hair done or nails done. My friends who loved Barbie and manicures couldn't also love to read science fiction or play light saber. Setting girls up that there is only one valid way to be a girl is very anti-feminist and I think you have an awesome opportunity to teach her that if she wants to, she can participate in traditionally female oriented activities and still be a bad ass feminist girl.

The whole point of feminism is we get to choose who we want to be and how we want to express that. Giving her a foundation of understanding that womanhood has multiple paths and her interpretation can change at anytime is a good thing.
posted by teleri025 at 11:40 AM on June 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

I wouldn't do it for my daughter, I wouldn't be happy if she were going to a party like that, and it would've made me miserable to have gone to one when I was that age.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:40 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does your daughter generally socialize with boys as well as girls? Because if so, I think a "girls only" party is a shitty idea. My inner circle of best friends always included as many boys as girls at that age, and I would never have had a party that excluded Jimmy and Matt and Brian just so I could do makeup with my female friends.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:40 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

The idea that an 8 yr. old would need or want a "makeover" is obscene! I think maybe you and your wife need to have a serious discussion about this. Read up on how corporate media promote consumerism among children. Read up on the ways that girls are made to feel insecure, to focus on their imperfections, to desire products that will supposedly make them feel better about themselves.
posted by mareli at 11:41 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

She's Eight, she wants to play dress up and do what the adults do. I would never have gone to such a party as a kid, my niece on the other hand would think it was the best idea ever and was wearing sparkly nail polish at that age and had a mani/pedi with me for a girls day out at that age, they painted flowers on her toenails and she thought it was awesome. My SIL is super strict on her daughter looking age appropriate in clothing and makeup and even she thought it was all just in good fun.

The important thing is the makeup is age appropriate fun, lip gloss and sparkly nail polish kind of thing not Jersey Shore style. They are not trying to look sexy they are trying to look like a princess or just get to play at doing things a grown up does. It's how kids learn, better she learns around her family what is and isn't OK in a fun environment, that is sneaking off and wearing makeup to school behind your back.

If you are really uncomfortable, try distracting her birthday plans with some other ideas, maybe mentioning how most of her male friends/family probably won't want to come. IF however you trust your wife and you are usually both on the same page in regard to how you want to raise your child/ren then talk it over with her.
posted by wwax at 11:42 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Like jessamyn, I think there's a line between nails & hair, and make-up, with the make-up being a bit more "toddlers and tiaras." But brightly-colored kid nailpolish, with stickers you put on, and braiding hair and putting it up in clips? It's temporary, it's fun, it can be girlish (rather than sexy or womanly), and it's culturally appropriate; it can be very much about little-girl taste and little-girl looks (bright, clashing colors, etc.) and NOT about body or beauty comparisons. Whereas make-up on little girls signals something a little different.

Maybe include disgustingly over-scented skin lotions so they can all smell like fake peaches and strawberries. At craft stores you can get kids to make soaps or bath salts or scented lotions, they could do that as an activity.

I think it's pretty harmless, personally, and I'm not a very girly-girl. (But I do get pedicures like all the time, because pedicures are fun! And then I wear closed-toe shoes mostly anyway, which means I'm the only one who knows my toenails are bright blue, because bright blue toenails are fun! But I haven't had a manicure since my wedding, as manicures are annoying.) Although if while I was supervising it the girls started in on body or beauty comparisons, I would shut that shit right down. (The talking about bodies and beauty, I mean. I'd redirect it to fun and colors.) I actually think that you as dad should be in there getting a manicure and unicorn stickers on your fingernails. It will make you the coolest.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:42 AM on June 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

(at craft stores you can get KITS to make those things.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:43 AM on June 13, 2012

The problem I have with this is calling it a Makeover Party. As said above, the word "makeover" implies that women aren't good enough in their natural state. However, just calling it a Dress Up party changes the dynamic of the thing. I'm a hard core feminist but I loved painting my nails and wearing sparkly clothes. My daughter is also a feminist and she would have loved this kind of a party, too.

As far as excluding boys - most kids go through a stage where they only want to hang around with their own gender. This is pretty normal, and I don't really think it will damage anyone.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:46 AM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

As far as excluding boys - most kids go through a stage where they only want to hang around with their own gender.

Yes, but if the daughter isn't at that stage (i.e., if she would have invited boys to her party if it wasn't going to be a makeup party), I don't think it's a good idea to impose the gender segregation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:50 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have some friends with kids that are seeing this become a popular thing for little girls' parties. Some of the parties are all about getting the girls looking sexy and posing sexy and pouting and Making Eyes For the Camera (ew), which I think is absolutely terrible and wrong for kids of any age.

But other makeover parties I've seen are about putting on feather boas and crazy tutus and lots of glitter everywhere and, basically, glamming up in the most ridiculous way possible and I think that sounds fine. Really, it sounds kind of fun!

I also know I would have LOVED to do a party like this when I was 8. I wouldn't have wanted the sexy/pouty/serious/Making Eyes For the Camera kind, though. I would just want to have big hair and a ridiculous amount of blush and some wacky "fancy" clothes and laughing at/with other girls.

So, I guess it all really depends on what kind of theme this party is taking. As long as it's not in the vein of Lets Get Sexy, I think it can be fine. Maybe calling it a dress-up party rather than a makeover party will help too, because it sort of avoids the idea that there is something wrong with the way girls look and they need to be "made over"?
posted by joan_holloway at 11:50 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe 8 year olds have changed in the last 20 years (we certainly didn't have pushup bras and playboy pencil cases!) but when I was that age a makeover was something like this. The makeup came from the toy store and it smelled like bubblegum. It had nothing to do with being sexy or feeling insecure about our looks.

I also loved candy cigarettes and temporary tattoos as a kid but I don't smoke as an adult and I don't have any tattoos.
posted by missmagenta at 11:52 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think Eyebrows McGee has described the line I was trying to come up with. Super-creative nails are a huge thing right now, and I could see that being a fun and relatively non-sexualized crafty-type group fun thing. And it's even begun to blur over previously distinct gender lines, so more power to it.

And while I get that many little girls think makeup is cool, I think that making their lips look more like engorged vaginas and replicating orgasmic flush is something that could maybe wait a while longer? Little girls in makeup make me hideously uncomfortable (which might be my upbringing - my mother was kind of forced to put lipstick on me for a ballet recital a couple of times, but I otherwise wasn't even allowed cherry chapstick until I was in junior high).

And the word "makeover" has really grim connotations to me. It seems like a silly dress-up party, or just mani-pedi party, comes with far less baggage.

But if you gave her three choices: zoo, dress-up party, or bounce house (or whatever it is that's cool now, I don't know, are there still roller rinks?), would she really tremendously prefer Option 2?
posted by Lyn Never at 11:53 AM on June 13, 2012

Consider this from the Mom's point of view: she probably sees this as something fun that she can share and teach her daughter, which would be really nice for her. I'm pretty sure that's how my Mom saw it. It's important to keep Mom's feelings in mind if you're going to try to persuade her to do something else.

I agree that this is not maybe the most empowering thing you could do with a small girl who's still discovering her interests, and who is lucky enough to have friends who are both boys and girls.

How about finding another activity that Mom (and maybe you, too) can enjoy sharing with them? A craft activity, making bead bracelets (they're old enough not to swallow jewelry supplies now, yes?), sewing carryall bags, cooking or decorating cookies or cupcakes, making greeting cards, making blank books (awesome if you want to encourage them to write), sticker activities -- there are all kinds of creative, aesthetic things you can encourage kids to do that don't focus them on their own attractiveness.

Plus, at this age, the parents *might* want to attend (sorry, not a parent, not sure about this), so craft activities become much more do-able; you don't have to worry about groups of kids running through the house with scissors :) because the parents will be right there with their own kids.

Mom will have lots and lots of time to do makeup/dress-up activities with your daughter and her girl friends, maybe closer to age 12-13. Also, doing hair and so forth is a fun activity for mom and daughter to do with just the two of them.
posted by amtho at 11:53 AM on June 13, 2012

I'd divert to the zoo if at all possible. If only to avoid having my daughter see me grimace throughout the party.

Failing that, i might try to make it more costum-y. Like, have a styles through the decades party and have the decades of the 40's through the 2000's represented. And I'd be tempted to have the girls assigned randomly to the decades. Have a hairdresser come in and do hair for each era. Maybe have wigs for some of the decades?

That way, they're getting exposed to a range of women's styles and it let's them know that current (booty-centric trashware) sexualization of girls is going to fall to the wayside, too.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:55 AM on June 13, 2012

I think you are overthinking it. Let your daughter have fun with this if that's what she's into right now. After all, birthday's come once a year and aren't parties for doing something you don't usually get to do? As long as it's all age appropriate, I think it's harmless. My girls loved doing stuff like this as young as 4 & 5 years of age. They still love that stuff, but they also love reading, sports, and all kinds of other things. To me the word makeover when it comes to kids just means getting made up, like for a special occasion.
posted by daydreamer at 11:55 AM on June 13, 2012

My girls love everything frilly and girly. They have been to a makeup party at a professional place before and loved it. They had their hair styled and nails polished. They left with goodie bags full of make up and nail polish. They also go camping, climb trees and are good in math in science.

It did not change who they are as people.

The best part about being a kid is pretending to be whatever you want to be. Don't let your political beliefs affect the best part of your kid's childhood. Let her play glamour. It's fun. It won't hurt anyone. It will not change who she is as a person.
posted by myselfasme at 11:56 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sort of a side-issue, but my wife and I have a policy that for non-essentials, when it comes to decision making, one person can veto it if it's something that makes them very uncomfortable. Both have to be on board for a major decision. We've applied this primarily to living locations, major purchases and such, but I think would bring something like this to the table if I was worried about the well-being of my child for something like this. The reason being, there's no harm in going to the zoo instead, and would be equally enjoyable to my daughter. But one person is worried about a makeover party. Why insist on it? Who gains?

If you are just wondering, though, if it's worth pushing back on this particular issue, I have similar feelings about these things, too. As a father, I'm already grieving how much society encourages children to grow up faster than they have to in some areas. I tend to bristle at things that even hint at moving this along too quickly, just for the sake of fun or conformance.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:57 AM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

My wife wants our daughter to have a makeover party for her 8th birthday. Manicures, pedicures, hair-styling and all that.

Nthing that it's not no much the hairstyling and the manicures and all that, it's the "makeover" bit. I would stay far away from that language.

Things that are totally fine in my book: Playing dress-up and playacting as grown-up. Decorating yourself for fun and to express yourself. Being indulged for a special occasion.

Things that I would never, ever want to encourage in a young girl: Thinking that you need to make yourself prettier than you "really" are. Elaborate styling and preening as an everyday thing for little girls.
posted by desuetude at 11:58 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Decorate and bake cookies, then eat them.

It's sorta gender-neutral, and, hey, you end up with cookies at the end.
posted by schmod at 12:00 PM on June 13, 2012

Oh yeah, for additional data:

When my daughter and her friends wear makeup, none of them even really want to wear the fire-engine red super-big lips and suchlike that a lot of people are thinking of here. They like wearing lipstick that's kind of pinkish, and blush that's super-pink, and all kinds of funky eyeshadow because EYES OMG. When they get mani-pedis, it's never blood-red nails - it's blue, or sparkle, or glitter, or purple, or ZEBRA OMG ZEBRA, MOMMY, IT'S THE BEST.

Also, Mr. Corb went to a mani-pedi with said daughter, and got his toenails done, and she was incredibly happy about it. (Red and black alternating toenails, for the curious) So I think that Eyebrows' suggestion that you should get it done too would be fantastic - and also help to subvert any gender roles.

Also: there are absolutely spa chemistry sets and chemistry sets for perfume and things like that. They market for around thirty dollars and if memory serves, serve 5-8 girls.

Sort of a side-issue, but my wife and I have a policy that for non-essentials, when it comes to decision making, one person can veto it if it's something that makes them very uncomfortable.

That could be problematic, though - ColdChef said he tried to suggest something she might have problems with, and she simply didn't. Introducing a veto dynamic when only one person is likely to veto can have longterm relationship problems.
posted by corb at 12:00 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's worth remembering that one of the battles feminism was being allowed to wear makeup (and pants).

In short, I think you should leave the choice up to your daughter, because the whole point about makeup is that it is/will be her choice. Within that, you can guide her towards age-appropriate makeup, like water based nail polishes and glosses instead of lipsticks.

Any activity-based birthday party is going to have a couple of people who just aren't into that activity. When I was eight I wasn't into makeup, but I wanted a roller skating party. My party was snowed out and I'm sure someone out there was incredibly grateful for that because they were dreading it. (Also when I was ten I wanted a horseback riding party, which would probably also have ended in tears and would have had zero boys. Conclusion: Boys just don't know anything about the fun things in life.)
posted by anaelith at 12:01 PM on June 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

A friend's 4-year-old just had a "spa party." The mom had some other adults come over to help with stations, which included nail painting (with peel-off nail polish) and hair styling (with inexpensive colorful hair accessories). They also did yogurt and honey facial masques. Mom put up the pictures on facebook, and I had to giggle at the half a dozen oh-so-serious 4-year-olds lying on the living room floor in their party dresses with cucumbers over their eyes, playing at being older by doing something that older people do to look younger.

I'm a hardcore feminist, and I think it's a little bit of harmless fun. Humans like to make themselves look attractive, and it can be done in a way that's appropriate for the girls' age.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:02 PM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

One of my Boys loves nail polish, but got teased to hell and back for it, so he doesn't wear it anymore. So there's that data point.

As for this, yeah, it hits my "yuck" buttons, but there's a lot of good points here:

1. Having the party now, to please yourselves, and not be about getting boys, I think deserves a lot of thought.
2. You're pretty squicked, because she's 8, and if the feeling is that strong, then maybe SpacemanSix's policy could come into play.
3. Shouldn't be a problem to have a makeover slumber party some other time, which ought to thrill the girl (you mean I get TWO PARTIES!?).

*phew*, that's a lot to navigate. You're beanplating a little, but that's why we love you. (✿◠‿◠)

Yes, I wear flowers in my hair and I'm a total tomboy.
posted by lysdexic at 12:05 PM on June 13, 2012

That could be problematic, though - ColdChef said he tried to suggest something she might have problems with, and she simply didn't. Introducing a veto dynamic when only one person is likely to veto can have longterm relationship problems.

A better way to put it, probably, is that we have a policy of not forcing the other to do things if they are uncomfortable with it, if there are other viable options. And one person is always able to make those concerns known. It's really a sensitivity issue in the context of ongoing and open conversation that protects the interests of each other.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:05 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

There is a waiting list to get the Princess Make-Over at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
It is a very popular thing, that thousands and thousands of 8 yr old girls do every year.

The succcess of the 8 yr old make-over at Disney tells me that it is not that unusual.
posted by Flood at 12:21 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

9 years ago, my daughter the little tom boy surprised us with a request for this type of birthday party. We agreed as it was what she wanted. She graduates from high school this week as the captains of both her lacrosse team and basketball team. She is planning to wear makeup for the 2nd time in her life at her graduation.

Never thought I would quote myself, but I just mentioned that party to my daughter. She remembers it and said she loved it. I was surprised. She said it was fun. All her friends had a great time and the party was the talk of school for a few days. She also mentioned that her best friend at the time, a girl who wore halters and make-up at the age of 10 because she was so into being like Britney Spears, will be taking a gap year before college to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for a year of service.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:23 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Let her have the party, as long as the theme isn't "sexy makeover." When I was 8, I was so into makeup and clothes, and I remember being absolutely elated when I visited a best friend's house and her older sister let us choose a hair accessory or a glittery nail polish from her stash as a prize for winning a game. It had nothing to do with boys or even (for me) with competing with other girls-- I just wanted to play with pretty things, and feel "grown up" in the most innocent way. In fact, part of the fantasy for me was being cool having cool girl best friends, like Cher from Clueless (a lot of that movie went over my head, like the sex and the pot smoking). To me she was just a stylish, confident girl who could drive a car (badly, also over my head) and had fun. Even the things that seem inappropriate in retrospect (halter tops, knee socks, miniskirts) were totally innocent to me back then. They were just trendy and made me feel totally, you know, as if.

By the way, that best friend was a boy, and he was also into clothes and nail polish. He isn't transgender. Certain boys will balk, but there are boys out there who are interested in "girly" stuff too (I can think of at least three of my male playmates who would have been sooo into a party like this).

Something I think a lot of parents forget (or in the case of dads, never experienced) is the way little girls fall in love with older girls-- they seem so cool and pretty and confident. It's not about sex, it's about some mythical life of maturity and smoothness that we are excited about having. Same as even younger girls who dress up like mommy. To me, my older cousin was beautiful and read interesting books and had a pretty sundress and jumped on the trampoline with her other girl friends and to the extent that "boys" were involved, it seemed like a silly, fun game.

I also think a lot of people freak out about what they "let in" to their daughters' lives, when the truth is the real danger isn't in hair or makeup or Barbie dolls, it's in the power structures in the world, which they can't avoid. I did all this girly stuff and poured over Seventeen magazine and still had two best guy friends, played video games, read like crazy, and became a huge feminist in junior high.

I should also add that in this same time period, the boy best friend and I started sneaking into AOL chatrooms and finding out what "cybersex" meant (we also made jokes about HA HA SEX constantly, while having no idea what we were talking about). So even though we knew sex was out there, puberty was still awhile off, and the idea of dressing the right way to attract boys didn't really compute.

On that note, it's so true, if you put this party off it's going to become much worse. Right now it's innocent. Things I was into when I was 8: rainbow, peace signs, looking like Cher Horowitz. Things I was into when I was 12: What is a blow job? I can find smut on the internet? Will I be more popular if I smoke and wear sexy clothes? Am I suicidal?
posted by stoneandstar at 12:37 PM on June 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

*"best friend's house and HIS older sister," sorry
posted by stoneandstar at 12:42 PM on June 13, 2012

Best answer: I grew up as a total tomboy and always hung around with the boys in the neighborhood but for some reason, now that I think of it, my birthday parties were always all girls. It was always my decision who to invite, but that's just how it worked out. So there's that.

Also, despite growing up as a tomboy, I still loved my peel-off nail polish and I always had lots of Lip Smackers flavors in my backpack. This had 0 impact one way or another on my decision, later in life, that I would start wearing "real" makeup on a regular basis, and 0 relation to my talent at applying said makeup. (Still can't do my own nails without looking like I just dipped my hands in fingerpaint.)

I really don't think this is a problem. If they're all getting Clinique makeovers, well, yeah. If it's cheap drugstore kids' stuff, let them have a blast!

My favorite thing I've seen recently was a girl's birthday party on Boston Common. Each 7 or 8 year old girl was in a princess dress and a tiara. And they were all lightsaber fighting.

Like someone said above, feminism is about having choices and not being forced into one little box, one way or another. If these girls want to be girly, let them be girly! And then hand out the lightsabers.
posted by olinerd at 12:43 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd have this as a separate bonding get-together for my daughter's femme friends once she's 10, with maybe some "glam-lite" shebangs after this b-day.

Definitely on the side of birthdays being an occasion to celebrate with all the friends who are part of your life, which means picking options that don't alienate specific gender expressions.

I put it that way because I was a tom-boy at that age, and I wouldn't have felt comfortable at a friend's party focused on those things, and certainly didn't have the maturity to reframe it beyond, "these people are not like me what am I doing here why is she even my friend?", and I'd not want to create an atmosphere where a kid with that same frame of reference was pushed away as a friend because of the mighty peer pressure of BIRTHDAY EVENT.

Anyway. I do think of birthdays as an inclusive event (if celebrated at all) up to a certain age, especially if one is attending mixed gender birthday parties for other friends. Parity and diversity and all that.
posted by batmonkey at 12:46 PM on June 13, 2012

I think when it comes to making sure boys can come, you shouldn't worry too much. I had a lot of guy friends as a kid and I went to their birthday parties and was bored to tears by all the laser tag and batting cages and Star Wars. I know, some girls like those things, but no boy's family I ever knew was concerned with what all the prim girly girls would do at their amazing obstacle course paintball birthday bash.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:52 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Knowing your family insofar as I do (from your Flickr :) ), I feel confident that should a makeover party happen, it won't turn into "dress like Snooki". Like others have said, I'm sure that your daughter and her friends will be wanting things like these and to braid their hair and put clips in it.

I think boys could be included too, there could be hair gel to style hair into mohawks and maybe face paint? To look like a football player or Navy SEAL, etc? And every kid can stand to scrub and trim their nails. Maybe they could learn how to tie a tie. Or pretend-shave their faces.

Maybe there could even be the third option of baking cookies, although for myself I'm anti-food-as-entertainment. I might go with painting suncatchers.

My friend's pre-teen daughter begged for a makeover birthday last year. It happened under strong objection. But this year? Outdoor rock-climbing and zipline party. Also her idea.
posted by halonine at 12:59 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think eight is too young for this kind of thing. Actually, I think the "makeover party" idea is kind of weird in general, especially if it's adults giving little girls makeovers. It seems in a way very much like teaching girls a set of values and ideals around femininity--this is how to be pretty, pretty means makeup and nailpolish, this is what being a "big girl" is, this is a fun activity every girl should want.

I am not saying letting a little girl play with makeup is wrong (I myself would have killed for a princess makeover at that age), but I don't think a party like this is a good idea. Besides inviting boys, other parents of girls might not be comfortable with this idea either.

You could make it a costume party instead. There could still be makeovers, although you could do zombie, pirate, or monster makeup too. Go to a party store and get some costume accessories, make a "photo booth" station. That way the girly girls can still get their princess makeovers, but if someone wants to be a vampire robot they can still have fun.
posted by inertia at 1:05 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think folks are getting too hung up on the term "make over".... we're not talking kids wanting learning to apply concealer to minimize their noses, we're talking a fun afternoon at playing princess/grown-up/fashion model whatever. A lot of little girls happen to enjoy this, even if later on they end up being not-so-girly girls. When I was that age you could buy children's nail polish and lipstick that barely worked/stayed on but was fairly expensive for what you got. My Mom's solution was "here's my old lipstick, play with that." It's something you do in the privacy of your home, vamp in front of the mirror, maybe take a few pictures that you can laugh at during your 16th birthday party. I think the 8 year olds would enjoy putting on sparkly lipsticks, nail polishes, eye shadows and having their hair braided and beaded or gelled/sprayed into outrageous styles at a party. Such an activity doesn't say "I'm ashamed of my looks", it says "let's pretend", which every kid should play once in a while.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:07 PM on June 13, 2012

I think that if this kind of party was truly your daughter's heart's desire, you wouldn't be asking this question, at all, you'd be asking mefi how to have an 8 yo's make-up party in a tasteful way that was fun for everybody. Because, I know, as parents, when our kids are really into or passionate about something reasonable, and we have the resources, we find a way to make it happen in the best way that makes sense for our families and our values.

But you're asking if your family should have this party at all. Which tells me that your daughter must not be on tenterhooks waiting for her dad to get hip enough to clear out the Hello Kitty cosmetic aisle at Target. She's already told you it's okay to wait on this kind of thing, for now. I like SpacemanStix's algorithm for family decision-making.
posted by rumposinc at 1:07 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure how I would have felt about it as an 8 y/o girl. I can tell you that I have a fairly close relationship with my mother and choose to overlook her comments on how pretty I look with makeup on (the rare times I slap some on my face). That self-image shit's complicated--why start now? They'll have a whole lifetime of spending too much money on beauty products and wondering how "pretty" they look. If she's excited about a zoo party as well, I'd go for that.

Not to mention a makeover party brings up issues for the little girls who don't like it but feel the pressure to be into it. It'd be nice to live in a world where makeup was makeup and didn't have that gendered baggage, but that isn't the case.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:09 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Although it is not something I ever thought I would do as a mom and a feminist, I have done both girly parties and 'war' parties. And the first thing that occurred to me when I heard the makeover theme is"Oh, that's and easy way to entertain 'X' amount of girls on a budget". You have three kids, right? There are only so many times you can shepherd groups of kids to events. It's nerveracking to keep a head count at a zoo sometimes. Staying in one place and letting them go wild with cosmetics, if that's what the birthday girl wants, is a blessing. I'd say it depends also on who your daughter's best friends are. Are they goimng to make a trip to the zoo a pain either because they are hard to handle or whiny when outdoors? This is pure pragmatism.

That is my take without putting any gender spin on it. The pre-kid me would have balked at giving girls makeup. But the prekid me wouldn't have been comfortable bringing boys to laser tag or paint ball either. Or the trip to the Military Museum to go inside the tanks and recreate war scenes.

So far everyone has turned out OK and least in regard to gender roles and sexism.
posted by readery at 1:13 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know I had some difficulty working out for myself that it was okay to like some traditionally "feminine" things. It's sort of an easy knee jerk reaction, if you're not a big fan of enforced gender roles, to reject everything associated with them - but you're still letting those gender roles dictate your behaviour, in that case. I have had to learn not to be ashamed of liking dresses and romantic comedies, and so on, and to embrace the choices which feminism has won me.

That said, I think the zoo sounds more likely to be fun for everyone (although I don't envy you trying to keep a group of kids together at a zoo). If your daughter genuinely wants some kind of dress up party, perhaps you could hire/borrow some costume pieces, face paint etc to take the emphasis off the girly-makeup stuff and into role playing imaginative fun. It's not quite the same thing so I have no idea if your daughter would like it, but it might make it more fun for the kids who aren't quite into the princessy makeover thing.
posted by lwb at 1:15 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

That means parties that are centered around fun and play and not "adult" things like makeovers and looks.

Playing adult things is sort of central to it. I agree with those who said you do it now or never -- it wouldn't make sense at 11 or 12, because by then it wouldn't be playing, it would be practicing.

I would be fine with this except for the good points people are making about 'not having been that kind of girl' and I think it's nice for parties to sort of serve the needs of different people and be inclusive. So as an adult mom who would be fine with it who remembers the younger llama who would have been super-uncomfortable I would opt for one of the suggestions that took the high focus off of make up and opted for a lesser, more open-ended inclusive version with other activities.

That said, what you are feeling kind of needs to be wrestled with -- the process of watching her become a woman It isn't something that can be put off until you're ready. It happens incrementally -- it's not something you can move on the calendar to 2017, and it sounds like you're struggling with it some so maybe talk to your wife about it and do some inner exploration on the whole thing. You'll really be in a much better position to help your daughter when she's upset because some boy doesn't like her if you've already sorted out your own feelings--that part matters a lot more than one party.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:47 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was around 7 or 8, my mom was big into the idea of having "theme" parties. So my birthday party that year was Alice in Wonderland tea party where we all dressed up in our moms' clothes and ate finger sandwiches and wore makeup and jewelry and decorated sun hats and were all very dainty and ladylike.

I was not into this idea and only agreed to it on the condition that towards the end of the party we could all change back into normal play clothes and go run around in the backyard. So my memories of that party are a) sitting eating daintily wondering how much more of this I had to put up with and b) going down the slide in the backyard.

Your daughter sounds kinda like me. I turned out okay.
posted by agress at 1:51 PM on June 13, 2012

Best answer: As a feminist, I can get pretty growly about pink everything and Toddlers and Tiaras and Disney Princesses... but when I was a kid, I was the girliest girl who ever girled. I used to run around outside with my arms outstretched so birds would land on them, and my favorite dress-up outfit was a sequins-and-tulle thing that was supposedly a lion costume, but really it was almost a Sexy Vegas Lion costume. (Nope, I don't know where it came from.) When I was your daughter's age, I was grinding up sidewalk chalk to put on my eyes and cheeks. I would have begged for a makeover party if I'd known it might be an option.

Current me would have all sorts of conniptions at kid me. But kid me just naturally evolved into current me, without any lectures or sudden realizations or awful disillusioning incidents or anything.

Encourage your daughter to pursue whatever interests she likes, gendered as well as non-gendered. The trouble starts when she feels pressured to participate in stereotypically feminine activities. If it's possible, have a party with different optional activities, makeovers being one of them, so it's a choice and not a requirement.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:55 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

The fact that this is approximately what I'm throwing... AS A BACHELORETTE PARTY... makes me think, yeah, find another theme.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:15 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I actually like the idea. It will allow the kids to try on different aspects of themselves and possibly expand their identities of themselves because of it. I see where you are coming from, that it is about 'definition of beauty' etc. But I do believe it would actually turn out more like a costume party and be much sillier and more meaningless than you imagine. I do not think 8 year olds with tons of makeup on will be 'transformed' in any stereotypical way. You can absolutely make it a form of self expression with more 'extreme' costumes, etc.

(and, yes, lightsabers. That will change everything and be awesome!)
posted by Vaike at 2:15 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just out of curiosity, does you daughter actually "want" the makeover party, or does she merely agree if your wife asks, "what about a makeover party, doesn't that sound like fun?"
posted by rhizome at 2:31 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

as others have said, calling it a "dress-up" party instead of a "makeover" party makes a world of difference, both in terms of minimizing icky gender normativity and making it more inclusive for all kinds of kids-- you can dress up as anything, and you can call it makeup or facepaint or whatever you want, and you can paint your nails any way you like before running around and getting them all smudged anyway.
posted by dizziest at 2:38 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I vote for letting her have it, if it's what she wants. Although I'd call it a spa party instead of a makeover party. (To be honest, I'd call it a sparty because that's the sort of word play I like.)

I have regular pedicures. I'm also a qualified stunt driver who services her own car and enjoys beer and football. Some days I wear a skirt and heels. Other days I wear jeans and a car-racing team shirt or a black band shirt. I feel blessed to have the option of being girly or boyish, depending on my mood at the time.

Mani's, pedi's and a day of plastering your face with sparkly lipgloss and eyeshadow do not turn you into Paris Hilton. It's just girly fun, that's all, and if she's a girly girl, why not let her do it?
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:42 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

(as a slight aside, while playing with dolls, wearing mummy's makeup and having everything pink did not in any way inhibit me from becoming a successful independent woman with a house-husband. The scary feminist lady across the street who at my neighbour's 5th birthday party gave a lecture to someone who got her a Barbie on how unrealistic the proportions are and said if she were real she'd be 7ft tall and wouldn't be able to stand because her boobs were so big... made a lasting negative impression about feminists)
posted by missmagenta at 2:53 PM on June 13, 2012

I was never a makeup wearer, but around that age I really enjoyed playing fashion designer - making outfits and accessories out of trash bags, plastic wrap, foil, etc. Maybe finding a way to make it more creative/artistic would be a good compromise.
posted by hishtafel at 3:04 PM on June 13, 2012

I would have hated this kind of party at that age, and I'm now a woman who enjoys clothing and makeup and occasionally painting my toenails. I was also pretty aware of gendering then, though, so I probably wouldn't have liked it for the same reasons you're unsure. But I was quite a weird kid and your daughter might not be a tomboy (for want of a better word). My mother never wore make-up, so that was something I had to figure out myself, but most teenage girls spend a few years looking like mini-Jordans or mini-Robert Smiths until they learn how to use the stuff properly, so I don't think that aspect of it held me back any more than having to learn how to shave my legs or put together a girly outfit by myself did, even if there were times when it would have been easier to have someone to show me. If she changes her mind, there's always room to do the grown-up grooming stuff when she's older with her mom or a couple of friends.

Could you put a more kid-like spin on it? Like a dress-up or fairy party (fairies don't necessarily have to be as pink and submissive as princesses are), or a nail-art/face-painting thing, which could be more creative rather than 'let's see who's the prettiest'? Making hats or something that's an activity but also part of the dress-up theme? Dressing up then doing karaoke as their favourite pop stars? If it's the 'makeover' or grown-upness that's making you uncomfortable but she really wants to do something that feels like Proper Ladies do, there's ways to tweak it a bit.
posted by mippy at 3:07 PM on June 13, 2012

Best answer: Am I being overly-sensitive in thinking it's a bad idea?

No. Your positions & explanations are thoughtful and, I feel, valid.

Also: parents of young girls: would you be hesitant to let them go to a party that was so "beauty" oriented?

Yes, absolutely. My first reaction - which applies to lots of things that have nothing to do with my feminist values - is that it seems inappropriate to push adult ideas on children like that, to me. My second reaction is etiquette-based: that drawing a gender line is rude because it's exclusionary (and moreover exclusionary based on something one cannot help), and that as well it is rude to have a type of party that may well make some of the attendants uncomfortable (since I am a stickler about hospitality to guests, and a party is about the guests having a good time first and foremost!).

FWIW I was never sure if I liked girlie stuff when I was a girl because I thought I was supposed to? or because I actually did? and I have to say that dissonance messed me up in both smallish and largish ways for a long time; so I am quite sensitive in matters like these, since I want to be sure my daughter has room to make her own choices while also understanding what those choices mean in the larger context; this is incredibly tricky to navigate, especially in communicating to a young child.

Am I over-thinking this?

I sort of feel in a society that seems to want me very much not to think about these issues, it is probably a good thing if the average person thinks I'm over-thinking it. These are my values - they are important & they help define who I am. These are my children, and I am an example for them: I should be honest about my values, and I should live by them, and I should explain my reasoning to my children, in ongoing & open communication, so they can understand, whether or not they choose my values for themselves in the end. But as their parent I am their first and (at least in their earliest years) their most influential model.

Values are not transmitted in black-and-whites. Values are subtle. I feel you are right to wonder about the messages a "makeover party" for an 8-year-old girl is sending, in this society (perhaps because I struggle with similar issues).

I think the personal mix of your child, yourself, your wife, etc. is going to be different from anyone else's in these matters; your family is its own unique dynamic to navigate! You should be able to be honest with your daughter about your concerns (at an 8-year-old level of discussion), at the least, no matter what you all decide to do here.

And my particular flavor of feminism rests very much on thoughtfulness - whether any choice you make is a feminist one or not, you should always be willing to analyze why you're making it, and what it means to make that choice - because no one will (or even should, I'd argue) pick the feminist choice every single time, but one of the crucial steps of personal feminism, I feel, is to develop the self-awareness of knowing why you make the choices you do, know how it all fits in the larger context of the society we live in, and the ability to push through the natural defensiveness this sort of analysis provokes.
posted by flex at 3:31 PM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Zoo, for two reasons, that have little to do with the problematic cultural aspects of a "makeover" party:

1) It precludes many or all boys from attending
2) Other parents may have a problem with it, and their kids won't come or they'll be uncomfortable with it (I definitely would fall into the later category as a parent).
posted by smoke at 3:46 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let your daughter choose, and for the love of god, do not make her feel bad or less than if she does end up wanting a dress up party. Feminism is about agency; if she wants to get dolled up to feel pretty for herself, then let her do it. Lipstick does not negate feminism. People trying to control what is and is not okay for girls to do does.

Also, why can't you do a zoo themed dress up party? Everyone can be invited to do a costume makeover to look like their favorite animal. Zebra stripes are very fun to apply.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:09 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Selling point: even animals at the zoo get to have a spa day once in a while. ;) The point then becomes "look as much like this pretty zoo creature because it's fun" not "let's look pretty for other people".
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:35 PM on June 13, 2012

This idea is twerking your internal ick-o-meter for good reason and I don't think you are over-thinking this.

I asked for this birthday party when I was 9 or 10 and my mom refused*. Instead we had a "make your own character party." Mom brought out all the dress-up clothes, bought face paint and wash-out hair dye spray in wacky colors. Boys and girls got a chance to invent an alternate personality like an evil twin and then deck that personality out with crazy clothes, face paint, and wild hair. She pre-made little books and kids that wanted to could draw or write a story about their alternate personality/character. IT WAY AWESOME.

*Mom was a primary school teacher (K, 1st and 2nd grades) for 30 years. She was also the type of lady who wouldn't let me play the traditional musical chairs because it meant kids got excluded. She made up her own version that involved kids sitting on other kids laps and kids sharing chairs and stuff like that.
posted by OsoMeaty at 5:12 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would go with the zoo; reason: all the angst you are feeling about this is going to turn into the angst of many. I would let my daughter go to such party if she wanted, but I would think it trashy and be hand-wringy about it and spend too much time boring my daughter with my analysis of it and bothering her for her take, etc.

Say no because it is always in poor taste to host a party which will make others uncomfortable, and there is no way this isn't going to leave at least some other parents squirming, and likely a few of the invitees too. Teachable moment about etiquette; very useful.
posted by kmennie at 6:02 PM on June 13, 2012

If you do decide to have this party, I agree with the others saying to be very, very careful how you frame things. I went to a party like this as a girl. I was a tomboy and had no specific interest, but I also didn't have a lot of friends so when I was invited I just wanted to go to a birthday party. It was make-over themed and I should have known things were going south when no one could believe I'd never worn make-up before. I really think the adults thought that they were being nice but after a million exclamations of "There! Isn't that BETTER?" and "Oh my god, what a DIFFERENCE!" and, worst of all, "Tonight's most dramatic improvement definitely goes to troublewithwolves!", I wound up hiding in the bathroom and crying. Because I'd honestly never felt badly about myself for not wearing make-up or being girly. But everyone constantly chiming in with how much better and prettier I looked made me feel like I must look terrible the rest of the time. Granted I was shy and socially awkward, but that's not all that unusual in children. So even if your daughter likes the girly make-over stuff, please try to be mindful of what you say to small girls regarding their appearances. I wan't traumatized for life or anything, but I still remember it hurting my feelings.
posted by troublewithwolves at 6:53 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your thoughtful answers. After reading all the comments here, I think I can safely say that A. It probably wasn't a well-thought out party idea, B. I was probably over-thinking it, and C. Listen to my kid.

When I got home, she and I sat down and talked about the party she wanted. I brought up the fact that it was rude to exclude the boys and that maybe we should come up with an idea that included them, but also still included the "dressing up" she wanted.

About an hour later, she came to me with her new party idea. She called it a "Casting Call Party." She wants everyone to come and pick costumes out of a box and then "try out" for a part in a movie she's going to write. (We'll write it beforehand and distribute copies before the day of the party) Everyone will have a part, and after the casting is done, everyone will go into hair, makeup and costumes to get ready for the movie. Then, we'll act out the movie in the back yard. All of it will be videoed and then we'll cut it all together in a DVD to send out after the party is over. The movie will have titles and credits and music and all of that. Also: we'll take pictures of all the kids at the party and send them 8x10 "Headshots" with their copy of the video. Cake and ice cream will be "Craft Services."

She came up with almost all of this on her own, so I'm really proud of her. Thanks for helping to make an uncomfortable choice a lot better. Her mother and I are thrilled with her idea (if a bit daunted on how we'll actually make it work). I always appreciate the care and kindness that folks here put into their answers.
posted by ColdChef at 7:26 PM on June 13, 2012 [62 favorites]

Holy shit. That sounds amazing!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:31 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's just an incredible outcome and sounds like the kind of party everyone will really remember for a long time.
posted by Miko at 9:15 PM on June 13, 2012

Well, it was definitely worth reading the whole thread. I now have an awesome idea for my own next party.
posted by amtho at 9:35 PM on June 13, 2012

Good for you for taking a stand and for talking with your daughter about it, and better still, for listening to her. Kids are often smarter about such things than we give them credit for. Her party idea sounds great - I'm frankly hoping for an invitation.

All that said, I hope you take this opportunity to continue the dialog with your wife. It sounds like you may have some different ideas about how to handle gender issues in childrearing. You don't have to agree on everything - in fact, it may be easier if you don't, since kids have minds of their own, too. Sometimes, I think, a range of views openly expressed may lead to a healthier kind of self-examination than what can otherwise seem like an ill-fitting edict, no matter how well intended. But it would be better for everyone if the two of you at least clearly understand each other's views, so you don't inadvertantly undermine each other.

And did I mention that I'm hoping for an invitation?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:59 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

What a great solution! Can I hire your kid to plan my parties?
posted by rtha at 10:22 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your kid, she is awesome.

But give yourself a whole lot of credit. You did the most awesome kind of overthinking. You acknowledged that maybe your "I'm the Dad" gut-feeling doesn't know All The Answers and you did some research and got some other perspectives and thought about it. In ten years when you can tell your little girl about this conversation, she's going to be so fucking proud of you.
posted by desuetude at 11:55 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sounds fantastic! Hope you enjoy editing video!
posted by The Deej at 6:17 AM on June 14, 2012

This is awesome. I wish I'd had a birthday party like that.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:36 PM on June 14, 2012

I went through a brief phase of being into makeup. Since then, I've worn it for high school (but not college) graduation, my wedding, and the occasional job interview. I think George HW Bush was in the White House the last time I did anything with my nails other than cut them when they break. I work in IT and most of my friends are male. I'm about as non-girly as it is possible to get without actually being a butch lesbian.

During my girly phase, I even wore makeup in an attempt to make myself more attractive to boys. It didn't work- I didn't actually date until a couple of years after that phase ended.

Even if your daughter does go through a phase when she wants to wear makeup to make herself more attractive to boys, it doesn't necessarily mean much. It doesn't mean she's dating or having sex. It doesn't mean she's going to grow up to be anti-feminist or even traditionally girly.
posted by Anne Neville at 11:02 AM on June 27, 2012

Response by poster: FOLLOW UP: "Casting Call" party went great! When kids got here, everyone went into "Hair & Makeup". My teenaged nieces gave each of them a light touchup if they wanted it (more primping than actual styling) and then they had their headshots taken. We made them make happy faces, angry, crying, laughing...there were props they could use. It was very fun. Each kid got about two minutes of photos. Then, we had "Auditions". The birthday girl asked them a series of questions on camera and then they either sang, danced or gave some other performance. (One girl gave a karate demonstration). After the auditions was the "Dance Party". The girls danced around and we gave a few of them FLIP cameras to document it all. Can't wait to see that footage.

Afterwards, they went to "Craft Services" for cake and pizza. We didn't actually shoot a movie, because that was too high concept for the kids, but I've got plenty of B-Roll that I'll put on a DVD this week, along with the "Auditions."

A pretty successful party. Everyone got to be a star and surprisingly, no one got their feelings hurt.
posted by ColdChef at 12:27 PM on July 28, 2012 [14 favorites]

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