When my daughter wrapped up her Harry Potter phase, I was prepared to discuss character development, symbolism, favorite spells. We even set aside a whole weekend to watch all eight movies in a row. My daughter was the exact age between wide-eyed credulity and “Jesus, Mom, please.” My window was closing. And the point I wanted to make was: “To me, Hermione is the real hero. She works the hardest, she’s the smartest, she doesn’t care what her hair looks like because she knows it’s not important.” My daughter listened, nodded. Success! (Wipes hands.) My work is done!
What a moron.
Now that I’ve crossed the Rubicon and am deep in the land of “Jesus, Mom, please,” I can report that Hermione did not become the inspiration I envisioned. Oh, but wait, because do you know who did? Bella Hadid, Megan Fox, Camila Cabello, and Victoria Someone from a band called Måneskin who wears eyeliner that looks like it was drawn by Tim Burton during a very dark ketamine experience. My daughter, in other words, dove headfirst into beauty. Not beauty as in beautiful art, beautiful literature, beautiful poetry. I mean the other kind.
Barely a teenager, Frankie is already versed in the language of fake lashes and flat irons, very long nails and very short tops, highlights and highlighter, something called a “wolf cut,” and man alive, the eyeliner. The eyeliner ranges from a subtle little wing, like the check mark on a correct answer, to a full 360 degrees, like Jackson Pollock. And sometimes she does two little black flicks—one at the outer corners, one at the inner corners. Eyeliner that is not actually lining her eyes. Eyeliner, interrupted.
What’s crazy is that she’s not an anomaly. She’s actually pretty normal for an eighth-grader. She might even be on the mild side. Her peers in Los Angeles, in New York, in Madrid (we move a lot) are even more committed. The lingua franca of eighth-grade girls is contouring and gel tips. Do you know what the preferred activity is for Frankie and her friends when they go out? Sephora. And she’s not sampling new lip gloss. She’s buying sheet masks and eyelash glue. She comes to play.
Recently, she expanded her purview. I walked into her bathroom and there she was, mixing (A mask? A scrub? It’s anyone’s guess) rice water, a neon-orange exfoliator that smelled like cantaloupe, and an anti-aging moisturizer in a small bowl. Sitting on the lid of the toilet: her younger brother, in a pink terry-cloth headband, obediently waiting for spa day to commence. As I closed the door: “This will be cold. It’s important to freeze a jade roller.”
Who was this young cosmetic dermatologist living in my house? Where did this all come from? The answer is TikTok. If you want to blame everything on TikTok, I will say that you are correct. If you want to blame Snapchat too, go right ahead. And Pinterest, which is apparently relevant again, if you happen to be female and 13. Somehow, the feeds for my daughter and all her friends are clogged with lipliner tutorials, opening beauty packages, and contouring everything. But as much as I want to blame beauty influencers, I can’t—at least not completely. How did the apple fall into a whole different field? In my more honest moments, this is when I raise my hand.
I was an editor at Allure magazine for 20 years. Twenty years of writing about lipstick and mascara and bangs and haircuts and fragrances and trends and all the girlie stuff and all the supposedly anti-girlie stuff marketed by the same people who make the girlie stuff to pretty much the same people. If it was something to swipe onto your skin or spray onto your wrists (or the back of your knees, fun tip!) or twist up into your hair, we wrote about it. I loved beauty. It was easy and light and felt like day drinking with a fun friend. It was PG-13, occasionally R on a raunchy Saturday night. Beauty now is doing NC-17 on a Monday morning. And I can’t help but wonder if all the time, money, and energy my daughter devotes to beauty today is the direct descendant of what I was writing about 20 years ago.
The lingua franca of eighth-grade girls is contouring and gel tips.
I would go to Milan and Paris for fashion shows and interview the best hair-and-makeup people in the world. Backstage at Chanel and Dior and Louis Vuitton, they spoke so much of freedom and breaking boundaries, you’d think the hairstylist Guido Palau was Jack Kerouac. “There are no more rules!” they loved to say. “Be yourself! Go crazy!” “Just how crazy?,” I would ask. “Apply lipstick with your finger!”
It was liberating and exciting and … oh, my God, it was quaint.
When I was a beauty editor, the experts demurely suggested looking in the mirror and taking off one accessory. Now Marc Jacobs makes backpacks. For schoolbooks. A second piercing? That was fun. Now ears come with an entirely new language of conches and lobes that must be “scaped”—as if all those hoops and studs and ear cuffs are hedges and hydrangeas. Take nails. The industry standard was short and “squoval” (find Merriam-Webster from 2002). In 2023, there are no nails in middle school. There are only talons—and if they can’t claw out the eyes of a predator, they aren’t long enough. There are actually girls at my daughter’s school who stuff their underwear with silicone implants to make their butts look plumper and bouncier. Girls who make the Kardashians look like political consultants.
The game has changed. And all I can tell you is that 2010 called and asked that I kindly stop saying things like “2010 called.”
Meanwhile, I’m trying to get used to it. Do I remind Frankie to hurry up with her makeup so she doesn’t miss the bus? Yes. Does it make me crazy when the whole apartment smells like Narciso Rodriguez for Her? Yes. Do I nag her about not using a washcloth as makeup remover? That too! Sometimes I find ways to half beauty-edit, half helicopter-parent my child: “Did you brush your teeth? Clean your room? Wash your makeup brushes?” If I really want her to listen, I can always throw out a “Smooth a nail-polish smudge with a tiny drop of remover” or “Switch your part to get more volume.” I’ve got a million. Catnip.
The beauty world of 2000 had offspring, and it did what offspring do: give its parents the finger and burn the rules like a cheap vape. The padded bras, the lash extensions, the influx of gardenia and oud on city streets: Didn’t those fashion shows—and I as their proxy—get us to this point? And, come to think of it, don’t I deserve some respect for that? (One of the first people Frankie ever met—she was a week old—was Chris McMillan, who created “the Rachel” haircut, a fact she never cared about until she discovered Friends. And now it’s her proudest moment.)
Beauty now is doing NC-17 on a Monday morning.
So why am I getting mad at her? She’s just doing all the stuff I told people to do for 20 years.
Frankie and I have always gotten pedicures together. I took her to James Corbett’s salon when she was in second grade to get her hair dyed red. (We both loved it.) She also reads old copies of Allure 5, 10, 15 times over. Beauty was always something we giggled over and did together. Then, in the last 18 months, she passed me, lapped me, and abandoned me.
She loves a world that was very good to me. But that world changed and it’s not Frankie’s fault. I just wish she understood that she doesn’t have to dive all in all the time. I want to tell her that she can slow down. She can pace herself. Figure out who she is first. Maybe I understand the world better than she does.
Or maybe I don’t.
The other day, Frankie and I were walking out of our apartment building when I noticed a new ad on the bus stop across the street. There she was: fully formed, hair cropped, lying on her side next to a giant bottle of pink perfume. Hermione Granger, looking right at me, all half lidded and sultry. Is that … ? Oh, my God, it is. On the corner of her eyes, and only on the corners, little flicks of black eyeliner. Eyeliner, interrupted.
I grabbed Frankie’s hand: “Hermione copied your eyeliner!” She glanced up and wrinkled her nose. “Nah, I’m over that look.” Then she put one of her AirPods into my ear. Lana Del Rey had just dropped a new single.
Danielle Pergament is a Madrid-based writer. The former editor of Goop, she frequently contributes to The New York Times