Too Young for Lipstick

By Christie Tate


If you are Southern, or were raised by Southern women, you may understand my complicated relationship to lip gloss. If not, this may all sound absurd to you and you will be in good company– with my husband, all of the other mothers in my playgroup and my Yankee neighbors. 

Like most new-ish mothers, I am starting to see the ways in which I am just like my mother who hales from Baton Rouge and raised me in Texas. Like my mother, I cook decently but don't particularly like it. We both were extremely high achievers and both of us opted to take time off the career track to raise our children. We also both have lip gloss stashed all over the house: in the secret pocket of every purse, in the kitchen junk drawer and behind the family portrait on the mantle. You never know when the urge to gloss will strike and we both plan to be ready when it does.

Not surprisingly, my daughter Sadie, who is not yet three, already has a long history with lipstick. By ten-months-old, she demonstrated the ability to find my gloss stash no matter how well I thought I hid it. She's christened both her bedroom wall and her bed with my favorite shade of sienna brown. She’s eaten about $40 worth of Sephora lip gloss.

Never once has Sadie exhibited behavior that suggests she is emotionally or developmentally mature enough to shoulder the burden of lipstick. So, why do I keep buying it for her?

My latest gaffe involved an innocent, transparent glittery gloss in a tube adorned with Snow White. This gloss was not for a beauty pageant tot; it's just for fun. It's not to make Sadie look sexy. I am not going for Jon-Benet Ramsey. I am a feminist for God's sakes. I kept my own last name; I refuse to color the gray out of my hair; and I don't want Sadie to see herself as a sex object, a doll or a decoration. But I still love lip gloss. So I find myself buying it and giving to her over and over, with predictably bad results. 

For example, less than three hours into Sadie's relationship with the Snow White lip gloss, I found her in the kitchen smearing it all over her toes and the silverware drawer. 

"Sadie! What are you doing? You know lipstick is for lips. Why are you doing that?" I wish I could report that I calmly uttered those words, but I didn't. I shrieked 'em. 

"Mommy, I am too young for lipstick. Maybe when I am four."

I froze, taking in that my two-year-old was grasping that the lipstick I kept foisting on her was too much for her to handle. The temptation to gloss the furniture and her extremities was too great. She was too young; she just said so herself. 

After a deep breath and some strenuous cleaning of the kitchen drawers and Sadie, I conceded fully that it was a mess of my own making. The evidence had been clear.  Sadie wasn't having fun with the lip gloss– to her it was agonizing to limit it to her lips when she could see that there were so many things just lying around begging to be lubed. This wasn't fun. It was torture. 

And as I reflect on my insistence that Sadie and I share some connection around lip gloss, I can see a deeper wish to make manifest the connection between myself as daughter (to my lip-gloss-obsessed mother) and myself as mother (to my daughter who so far only wants to eat it and smear it on appliances).  There must be a better way to connect these parts of myself and these generations. Something less sticky. 

I don't know what that “something” will be, but I am open to suggestions. In the meantime, I have promised Sadie, my husband and myself that lip gloss is off the table for a minimum of 58 weeks, while we explore age-appropriate activities… like mascara and Brazilian waxing. 

Christie Tate is a Chicago-based lawyer, legal writing professor, and mother to Sadie and Simon. She's obsessed with Costco, Zumba teachers, and her blog. Visit her there at


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