Already Lovely

“Be sure to bring some blush,” Katie’s ballet teacher said, “and lipstick.”

“You’ll want some eyeshadow, too, just to accentuate her features…the stage lights will wash the girls out during the recital.”

And I’ve battled with the idea since.

How do I put makeup on my four year old?

How do I apply blush, eyeshadow, and lipstick without explaining why?

But, how do I not, when her peers will undoubtedly be polished and made up?

We struggle to protect her from our society’s pressure to be physically beautiful.

To be better.

To be more.

To be perfect.

She’s four.

And she’s already so incredibly lovely.

I’ve packed and unpacked makeup no fewer than three times.

Her recital is tonight and I still don’t know what I’ll do.

How do I explain to her why she needs makeup?

How do I show her that true beauty lies within when I’m applying makeup to her face?

Her father and I work so hard to stress just how beautiful she is on the inside…how she is already just perfect.

How much will applying makeup to her sweet face contradict what we’ve worked so long to teach her?

I just don’t know how I can do it.

This amazing photo was taken by my dear friend Yuliya, who blogs over at She Suggests. She captured Katie’s essence and I will always treasure this photo. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, Yuliya.


  1. Gorgeous photo! Just tell her it's part of the "costume" not necessarily to make her "prettier" – kind of like Halloween when they pretend to be a ballerina or cat. The make up adds to the fun? This reminds me of when I'm trying to explain to my daughter why she can't sit and eat McDonalds everyday – I'm so careful not to attribute foods to getting "fat" more than it's just to be "healthy". So I choose my words carefully. Not sure that this is helpful…….

  2. tianyu

    Wonderful photo and I hear you, always a tough call between follow the social norm and your heart. She is an angel inside and out and you sound like a great mom because you care enough to worry about her choices and yours.

  3. temysmom

    When my girls did dance recitals I never put makeup on them. I know a lot of other parents did, but at 4 years old you are there to see your little girl perform… it's not a beauty contest. She'll be washed out? So what? Is she going to disappear? I doubt it. Obviously I've been thru this before. Just do what you feel is right for both you and your daughter.

  4. Cheryl @ Mommypants

    I put makeup on Sage for her recital and it was fun – she loved it.

    Gotta tell you, it didn't affect the way she values herself in any way.

    Altho she still asks me to put mascara on her. ;)

  5. MamaWantsThis

    Oh what a beautiful photo!

    I don't know what I'd do either, Nichole. All I can say is, do what your heart tells you. xo

  6. Rachel

    What a GORGEOUS photo!!! I would just tell her the make up is part of performing.

  7. JoAnn

    I think my mom put makeup on me for my one and only dance recital. I remember wearing lipstick. I was also wearing a leopard leotard with a feather boa tail, and I sort of remembering putting the makeup in the same category as the costume…it was all dress up. My mother wouldn't let me wear lipstick in real life anymore than she would let me adopt the tail as a regular part of my wardrobe.

    I was five. I threw up before the recital due to a massive case of stage fright. I wasn't scarred by the makeup wearing, but I'm still sort of bitter that my mom wouldn't let me eat cake afterwards, thinking I had a stomach bug. So, just be sure to let your daughter eat cake.

  8. BigMamaCass

    She is breathtaking! I can't even begin to give you advice on this…I have been sitting here for five minutes stumped. Ugh. I don't know what I would do but I would be livid about the teacher putting me in the position! :-(

  9. Kimberly

    Oh my gosh that picture melts me! I don't know how I'd handle this situation either. Do what's right for you and your family, not what others are telling you to do.

  10. Mrs. Wonder

    It really will help you see features from far away in the harsh light. It isn't a beauty thing, it's a performing thing. And her face will show up better on all the pictures taken while she is danding!

  11. Yuliya

    Oh gorgeous Katie, she doesn't need any help from make up! But as a theater person I do understand where your dance recital peeps are coming from.

  12. She IS lovely.

    Try & explain that stage makeup is a lot different than daily makeup. In the theater we would have to wear makeup or the lights would make it hard for the audience to see our faces. It's not to make her "pretty" but to simply give her a face while on stage. :-)

  13. Klz

    I can't imagine Katie ever needing make up

  14. John

    Yes, she already is lovely. What you need to do is tell her that being on stage is a wonderful world of make-believe. Things are exaggerated. You have to pretend a little. You want to make your lips look bigger so that the audience can see themove better. And you want to make your eyes stand out so that they have see her expression a little bit easier.

    I'll never understand blush.

    Don't make it about beauty. She has that in abundance. On stage, make-up is merely a tool to help The people at the back of the auditorium see her face and what she's doing with it. Nothing more.

  15. tracy

    I agree to tell her it is part of the costume and it is just for fun. I am not even a big make-up wearer – but my little girls LOVE it. They sit here and put eyeshadow, blush and lipstick on and dance around and pretend to be people. Never do I hear them say "Oh I am so pretty now" as I don't tell them "You are so pretty with make-up." – It is just for fun, a costume, a silly thing. Just like face paint or the fun activities they do at Disney.

    I guess I equate it to her "pretty" costume – would the dance look not a nice if they all just had their street clothes on? The make-up makes a huge difference for the audience to see the girls faces as the lights will completely wash them out. That is all.

    Also, that picture is fabulous.

  16. She is so gorgeous, and I understand the knot in your stomach over it.

    Abbey heard about the make-up, and there was no question about her wearing it once she heard. I'm positive she thought about it as part of the costume, because she hasn't mentioned it since. Also, she was much more concerned that it was sparkly than if her features were accentuated. But she wanted mascara, and that's my fault, because I love it and wear it every. single. day.

    Also, when I cleaned off the make-up at the end of the night, I made sure to comment about how we were taking off her costume and would put it back on tomorrow. And kissed her pretty face.

    Do I worry sometimes that it's a slippery slope? Yes, absolutely (in fact I have a post marinating in my drafts about it), but I try to remember that for the little girls, at least, it's about dress up and pretend.

  17. Jaime

    Beautiful picture of a beautiful girl.

    I struggle with this a bit as well. Ainsley is already obsessed with everything GIRL. I go to work every day, so she sees me applying make up. She so wants to be able to wear it. So every once in awhile we play dress up with make up, but she knows that little girls don't go out in make up. And I tell her how much prettier she is without it.

    We had dress rehearsal on Monday and will have the recital on Friday. At first, I was just like you. I'm not putting makeup on my not even 4 year old! But the director is a good friend of mine and I know how she raises her children, so I trust her. We do stage make up and actually up close she looks a little like a clown! And I try to explain the difference to Ainsley.

    Hope everything went well.

  18. You could say that it's part of the costume? That's a hard one. I remember getting dolled up for recitals. I loved it. Not once did I feel less of my beauty…I was just excited to wear make up like my mom ;)

  19. TheKirCorner

    that is a GORGEOUS picture, wow, she's stunning.

    I think that if you make it like "Halloween" or a "costume" and not to Enhance her inner/outer beauty you're not stepping on anything you've taught her, plus with parents like you it will be reinforced in the love you give her.

    I loved my recitals, loved being "dolled up" and still do. It made me feel "girly" :)
    have e a great recital

  20. Such a beautiful photo, and I feel your pain. Makeup on a four-year-old. Great. It sounds like you have already done an amazing job building her with inner self confidence and love. She'll be okay. Thanks for sharing. Beautifully said.

  21. Megan -Best of Fates

    I know *exactly* what you mean – my mom hated the make-up we were suppose to wear in dance. Especially 'cause it's crazy, skank make-up. But she ended up having me wear it, and I don't bother putting on make-up most days, so it probably didn't psychologically damage me. Moral of the story? Even if you do put it on her, it certainly won't undo all the effort you've put into making her realize she's beautiful just the way she is.

  22. Sharon O

    Oh this hits a nerve with me. I think your daughter is beautiful just the way she is that picture is outstanding and gorgeous. In fact I just did a blog writing about toddlers and tiara's because I dislike that show so much. My husband said 'You must have been mad'. Well I am more sad and disappointed that parents "in this show" force little ones to do things they don't want to do. And wear things they don't want to wear. I have never watched the show in its entireity because It angers me.
    You are sensitive and right to ask the question… am I teaching her a double standard? you are beautiful but you need makeup to be more…beautiful even if it is for a 'recital'. I am sure you will handle it well and appropriately.
    God bless you as you ask the difficult questions.

  23. Let me be clear: I fucking hate makeup on children.

    Makeup is made for adults to look younger, not for children to look like grandma got a lifetime supply of cheap product.

  24. AuntBT

    I danced for 10 years, I began at age 6. I used to wear makeup for the pictures and on stage, both when I was wearing my costume. Never when I didn't have my costumes on. I knew that it was just part of it. I rarely wear makeup now. It didn't ever effect me, in that I felt I needed to have it to be pretty. I don't think it will that big of a deal, I like the idea of telling her it's just part of the costume.

  25. Mama B

    Knowing a bit about stage lighting, using makeup to keep the lights from washing out features is not the same as using it to make a child "prettier." It really is just part of the costume and has nothing to do with beauty or worth or anything else like that.

  26. supermomboots

    This is a great suggestion. And it then has nothing to do with makeup being pretty but more like playing dress up. I am going to remember this for when my daughter is dancing.

  27. Sheena

    I'm a dance teacher, and I watch parents struggle with this every year. I understand the struggle because yes, these little precious girls are already beautiful! I always let the parents make the final call, but I also explain it like this: "Stop signs are BRIGHT RED so that we can see them.'"

    We explain to the children that yes, you are lovely and fantastic, but on stage it's hard to see little eyes and little lips from very far away. That's why we use makeup, to help family members in the audience SEE that lovely and fantastic smile! Once they come off stage, you can always have a wipe to remove the make up (for it served its only purpose!) It's really nothing more than that: Helping loved ones see beautiful smiles from far away :)

  28. Jessica

    Beautiful photo and I agree with the other comments, just refer to it as part of the costume and having nothing to do with beauty or being "pretty." As we can all see from that photo, she is perfect just the way she is.

  29. Jayme

    I was a dancer for 12 years and I so agree that your daughter obviously doesn't need any makeup and hopefully never will but that is not the point of the makeup. When you are under those bright lights it could wash your face out. It is just about being able to see the dancer's face in the audience. Nothing more. It really is just part of the costume. I always remember that we were asked to wear eyeliner. I never did. That was a little too much, especially for my little sensitive eyes. I also remember the gaudy blue eyeshadow that we wore and the bright red lipstick. Ick! I hope that her dance recital is a blast! I just took my daughter to a dance recital from my old dance company. She was so excited and we are signing her up this fall! Nothing makes me more proud of her than following in my footsteps. =)

  30. sherrikuhn

    That is an incredible photo of Katie! Wow….so beautiful.

    I totally understand this, even though my daughter never took dance. The first makeup battles we had were around makeup SHE wanted to wear!

    I think I would just approach the makeup as part of the costume, something to help the audience be able to see the expressions on the dancer's faces even in the harsh light. Like she's playing a part, suiting up for the dance. I know it sounds like a bit much for a four year-old, but when I see little girls made up for their recitals that how I see it.

    I can't wait to hear all about it, Nichole!

  31. Natalie

    Wow! The picture is stunning, Nichole…she is beautiful just as she is.

    I understand what you mean about her not needing makeup and agree with the others that it's like dress up. That is how I will explain it to my girls when they start dance :)

  32. Elena

    I'd go the "part of the costume" route as well. That's one thing I don't have to deal with since I have all boys and I guess I never really thought about it. Great picture. Hope the recital goes well!

  33. PhaseThreeOfLife

    I would struggle with this, too…. I don't think there's a right or wrong way to handle it. You can only handle it the best way you can. Let us know how it goes – and enjoy that recital!

  34. Tonya

    Beautiful girl…. keep her innocent and pure just a little while longer.

    Can't wait to see more photos from this shoot and hear about the recital!

    Hugs to you, my friend. xoxo

  35. BalancingMama

    That is a fantastic photo! She is gorgeous. I agree, part of the costume. Because dancers wear makeup… Not b/c she ever needs it.

  36. Cate

    What a stunning picture. Katie is so beautiful, and her sweetness shines through so much.

    I would posit the makeup as part of the costume…it's true that stage lights wash out faces.

  37. complciatedmama

    Beautifully written! and I echo your every word with my daughter.

    Your daughter is beautiful — great picture!

    I look forward to meeting you at The Big Toy Book's Sweet Suite in San Diego! :)

  38. oh dear. that's like my story right there. I was wearing more makeup than drag queens by the age of 5 to every dance recital. *sigh*

    I don't know that the makeup itself changed me. it's part of the costume and we all sort of accepted that. what affected me was my mom's need to dress me up, make me a star, flaunt me in front of the world. and then by the time I hit high school, I hated makeup and didn't develop a healthy relationship with it until my twenties. it was more about what the makeup represented for me as my mother's daughter, her expectations of me.

    you're clearly going to be an amazing mom whether she wears the makeup or not. <3

  39. Dolli-Mama

    She is absolutely beautiful! Your right, she doesn't need make-up.

    But stage make-up is a completely different thing. I was in a couple dozen community plays before the age of ten and spent a lot of time caked with makeup, but it never felt like I needed it in real life. It wasn't about being beautiful, it was simply part of the costume.

    I hope everything went well. Whatever decision you made was the right one. This was beautifully written.

  40. Corinne

    she is beautiful.

    I agree stage makeup is different then everyday makeup, as long as you let her know that, then she'll be fine.

  41. tulpen

    I don't know what I'd do either.

    My four year old pretends to put on make up when I do. I am glad that all she sees is a quick brush of Bare Minerals and some lip balm…

    Stunning photo!

  42. Oh, great questions. When I watched Toddlers and Tiaras, it broke my heart to think that mothers really believe their babies need fake tanner, make-up, hair pieces and dental implants to be beautiful. It warms my heart to think this is something you think about.

    Not that my opinion matters ;)

    I found you through the red dress club.

  43. Katie

    so you don't need my advice because the recital happened already and I am all late to the party here.

    BUT! Yuliya did a fantastic job on that photo. it is beyond breathtaking. really.

    and i do agree with what everyone said here about the make-up being part of the costume. I was in theater too…and the make up wasn't what would be worn "for real" it was for the stage. totally different.

  44. Such a beautiful photograph!! I remember putting on make up for dance recitals as a little girl…and now that I look back on it (as a mother), I do feel a little strange about it. As a mother of a little girl who will be (undoubtedly) starting dance lessons sometime soon, I can completely identify with this.

  45. Wow, I totally agree. How in the world can you cover up those beautiful features with makeup?? She is a STUNNING little girl.

  46. sweetbutterbliss

    She is really beautiful. I struggle with the same things with my girls. I guess explain the same way the teacher did, that it's just so she doesn't get washed out on stage. What did you do?

  47. Kara

    Wow. I, too, have daughters and I know just what you mean. My constant wish for them is to see themselves as I see them. Kind, smart, and beautiful – make-up or no make-up.

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