kids

'The genius 15-minute mirror rule Zadie Smith has set down for her daughter.'

Zadie Smith’s daughter Kit is just seven years old. But already, Smith has had to bring in a rule to stop Kit spending too much time in front of the mirror.

The UK author recently noticed that it was taking Kit a lot longer than her brother Harvey to get out of the house in the morning.

“I saw that she had just started spending a lot of time looking in mirrors,” Smith said at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last weekend. “It was infuriating me. I decided to spontaneously decide on a principle: that if it takes longer than 15 minutes, don’t do it.”

She says she didn’t want to give Kit “a big lecture on female beauty”, but she did want to save her time.

Listen: Mamamia’s parenting podcast This Glorious Mess discusses Book Week. (Post continues…)

“I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a sh*t if you waste an hour and a half doing your makeup.”

It’s scary to think of a seven-year-old girl spending more than 15 minutes in front of a mirror trying to make herself look beautiful. In fact, it’s scary to think of a seven-year-old trying to make herself look beautiful at all. Seven year olds should just be doing stuff, not worrying about how they look while they’re doing it. But I guess this is our world now. When teens have perfect hair and perfect pouts in their Instagram photos, that’s what these younger kids are aspiring to.

One of the greatest things my mother ever did for me was to not wear makeup (apart from one pink lipstick that she applied on special occasions). I grew up believing that makeup was optional. By her example, my mum taught me that it was what was inside my head that mattered, not what was on my face.

I never experimented with makeup at high school, which gave me more time for other things. (I probably spent that time reading Flowers In the Attic and all its sequels, but still, it was time.)

When I got to my late teens I started wearing makeup, and I ended up in a TV job where I couldn’t avoid it. But it’s easy to learn how to put on makeup. It’s harder to learn how to feel comfortable without it.

It’s scary to think of a seven-year-old trying to make herself look beautiful. Seven-year-olds should not worry about how they look. (Image: Getty)
ADVERTISEMENT

Some people have criticised Smith for her comments. A piece in W magazine says the reality of today’s society is that wearing makeup is a norm. The piece claims that women who wear makeup make more money and are treated better.

A gross generalisation, surely, that doesn’t apply in every industry. Anyway, Smith isn’t insisting that women go makeup-free, just suggesting that they should spend less time on their makeup. Specifically, she’s talking about a seven-year-old girl.

Do seven year olds need to be discouraged from spending more than 15 minutes at a time in front of a mirror? Hell yeah.

I thought about this issue a lot before I had my daughter. How would I stop her from caring too much about the way she looked? I decided I wouldn’t talk about appearances in front of her. Wouldn’t stand in front of the mirror and complain about how haggard I was looking. Wouldn’t praise her for looking pretty, wouldn’t suggest ways she could look prettier.

At the same time, I call both my kids “gorgeous”: “Hey, gorgeous!” or “Night, gorgeous.”

“Yeah, you’re beautiful, just as you are,” I want them to know. “But it’s not a big deal.”

It’s about self-esteem, but as Smith so rightly points out, it’s about time. A UK study recently found that the average woman spends 38 minutes a day putting on her makeup.

Imagine if that was just eight minutes, or, as Smith suggests, 15. Imagine what you could do with that extra time. Go for a walk, or meditate.

Imagine what a seven-year-old girl could be doing if she wasn’t standing in front of the mirror. Learning to ride a bike. Jumping in puddles.

Smith is doing something. She needs to do something. All of us parents need to do something. We can’t just sit back and let the world convince our daughters that they don’t look good enough, that they need to do half an hour or more of work on themselves before they’re worthy of going outside the house. If that takes rules, we’ll make them.

00:00 / ???