Walmart’s Geo Girl: Eco-friendly Cosmetics for 8- to 12-year-olds

Walmart is rolling out Geo Girl, a new line of cosmetics in recyclable packaging for tweens (8- to 12-year-old girls) in March 2011. Walmart has hit all the cosmetic buttons: natural ingredients, sensitivity to young skin, low price point and recyclable packaging. It sounds good, except the target audience age range. Should 8- to 12-year-olds wear cosmetics?
 
If you are talking about the occasional silly dress-up day with friends where they paint each other’s faces at home and wash it off before going outside, then I can see using it sparingly for that purpose (didn’t we all love to do that?) However, Joel Carden, executive vice president, marketing and sales for Pacific World says, “These are real cosmetics with natural ingredients that will create return purchases and create a true beauty consumer.” Translated that means that Walmart wants to cash in on the reported $2 billion tween market, so most likely they will not be promoting the occasional dress-up day, but daily use – otherwise there wouldn’t be those frequent repeat sales.
 
Among the 69 Geo Girl product offerings are blush, mascara, face shimmer, and lipstick as well as anti-aging products (no details on what those are). Why would an 8-year-old (or 10- or 12-year-old) need blush or mascara, not to mention an anti-aging product? The most common reasons women wear makeup are: to look attractive; to feel more confident; to look younger (mature women); to look older (teens); to hide blemishes, wrinkles, bags under the eyes, etc.; and to be sexually appealing. Of course there is nothing wrong with adult women wearing makeup, but for which of these reasons should tweens wear cosmetics?

Encouraging repeat sales of an essentially unnecessary product for this age range, eco-friendly packaging or not, is still environmentally unfriendly. All those used up tubes and jars have to go somewhere. During this past holiday season much ado was made about not buying in excess and not buying unneeded products. Although Geo Girl will sell in the $3.99 to $5.99 range, cosmetics for tweens could be seen as an extraneous line item in the household budget.

Studies show that girls are susceptible to body image issues and developing low self-esteem, as well as being confronted with issues about dating and sex at younger and younger ages. The NYU Child Study Center (NYUCSC) reports that girls’ self esteem peaks when they are about 9 years old and then declines steeply. 20 to 40 percent of girls begin dieting at age 10. As early as age 10, girls are faced with “teen” issues such as dating and sex, and 73 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds dress like teens and talk like teens. 
 
Why does self-esteem drop? The NYUCSC says that starting in these pre-teen years girls become hyper-aware of their bodies and equate them to their perceived worth to others. Their self-esteem is tied to physical attributes and appearance, and girls feel like they can’t measure up to society’s standards.

While Geo Girl isn’t the first cosmetic line to be marketed to tweens, there is a disturbing trend in product marketing to treat this age group as older and more sexualized than they should be. If you walk down the girls’ aisle at any major department store, you’ll see narrowly-cut, tight-fitting clothing, belly-baring fashion trends, shirts that emphasize developing breasts and high-heeled shoes – all in sizes for girls as young as 5 or 6.

Promoting “beauty care” to tweens says that 8- to 12-year-old girls are not attractive without looking sexy. Tampa dermatologist Dr. Seth Forman has spoken out against the line claiming that it not only focuses on superficial looks at a crucial age, but the skin care products themselves could harm young skin. Psychiatrist Dr. Henry Paul cautions that the use of makeup can sometimes be addictive, resulting in girls who are addicted to being “beautiful” and don’t see themselves as anything else which can lead to an erosion of self-esteem in the long run. 

Of course, parents play a huge role in building girls’ self-esteem and combating the relentless sexualization and unattainable body images girls are bombarded by in the media every day. It is also, ultimately, a parent’s decision whether their tween daughter buys and wears Geo Girl. Cosmetics, themselves, aren’t evil. It’s all in the message they can send to young girls who are already struggling to maintain their self-esteem, compounded by a society that seems determined to cut their childhood short.

top image credit: My Brown Baby

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.