The issue - A brush with the tyranny of make-up

As a strange eyebrow trend sweeps through schools, teachers must join forces to tackle the root cause of teens' reliance on cosmetics

Caroline Ross

As Yves Saint Laurent once said, "Fashions fade, style is eternal." He had obviously never set his immaculately turned out foot inside a British state school.

Teenage girls love to experiment with their "look", but they tend to take every fashion they embrace to the extreme. My students are well and truly fed up with my asking if they have been ravaged by a pack of wild animals on the way to school. Indeed, my moans and groans have been so effective that female students now either run away or tidy themselves up when they see me approaching.

It is currently in vogue to model ripped tights, a jumper tucked into a rolled-up waistband, scuffed ballet pumps and the ever-popular unbuttoned blouse. Let's not forget the ubiquitous partially picked-off nail polish - one of my pet peeves. And don't get me started on falseacrylicgelshellac nails (circle the type prevalent in your school).

The most troublesome area for teachers, though, is make-up. Schools generally permit very little, if any, but these rules fall on deaf teenage ears. And trying to enforce the rules often leads to trouble. Mandatory modifications to clothing may prompt a grumble, but brandish a wet wipe and students will recoil as if you are about to commit a war crime.

This is particularly true of the latest fad. Like all trends, the "in thing" with make-up at the moment is a recycled look. Not from the 1960s - more like 600BC. This particular fashion statement (or, as many would call it, faux pas) was last seen on the inside of a pyramid in the Valley of the Kings. And it is so heinous a fashion error that it has taken thousands of years for it to be resurrected. It is "the brow".

I defy any teacher not to experience a flash of coulrophobia when one of their tutees boldly strides (or, more likely, shuffles because their ballet pumps have suffered a sole meltdown) into class on a Monday morning, having shaven off their natural eyebrows and replaced them with big, russetcoloured substitutes that look as if they have been applied with a crayon.

Even more horrifyingly, it is not just students who are afflicted. A friend's daughter told me that three teachers in her school shave their eyebrows and then draw them in with the make-up equivalent of a marker pen. The students find this spectacle both fascinating and disturbing since, as the day progresses, the broad strokes start to crack as they dry out. And this phenomenon was further confirmed by a friend who regularly waxes a teacher's eyebrows completely off and then artfully completes a paint-by-numbers look on her face.

It is difficult to condemn the behaviour of young people when adults are also indulging in it, but I am in charge of make-up enforcement in my school and I cannot excuse the students because the odd teacher breaks the rules - I can only appeal to the school leader to sort his staff out. My duty is to police the faces of the students.

It is not an easy job. Emotions can run high as students plead for clemency when I insist on the removal of make-up. Some girls feel naked without their brows or say that the boys make fun of them. And body dysmorphic disorder is not uncommon among teenage girls, who may feel that putting on a "face" and effectively wearing a mask is essential to boosting their confidence.

We must remember that make-up is a symptom of the problem, not its cause. However, symptom or not, it still needs to be removed, to ensure that the school rules are respected. So, here are my top five tips for clean faces.

  1. Invest in good-quality, hypoallergenic wipes that remove make-up (many schools even have a budget for these).
  2. Be consistent in your approach. Check the faces of your tutor group every morning for two weeks, then follow up with sporadic spot checks. It pays to really invest time in the youngest students, as they will then progress through school knowing the rules.
  3. Lead by example. It is far more difficult to police a make-up situation if you look as though you are dressed for dinner rather than school.
  4. Arguing is pointless. If a student in your tutor group is a persistent offender, follow the school sanction procedure.
  5. Use tutor time to encourage healthy discussion and debate of body image.
    1. Make-up patrols cannot occur in isolation. Personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons should investigate the topic of body image with all year groups - covering the impact of the media, for example, as well as how we are perceived by ourselves and our peers. TrueTube is an excellent PSHE resource that I use with my students. It offers a series of short video clips that explore body image and other problems.

      Caroline Ross is a secondary school teacher in the South of England

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Caroline Ross

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