Tweens Embrace Makeup, Reject Miley

Teen Starlet a Cautionary Tale for Media and Marketing: This Young Audience Wants to Feel Like Adults, but Not Too Much

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BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Tween girls are using a lot of makeup these days. In fact, regular usage of mascara and eyeliner by girls ages 8 to 12 almost doubled between 2007 and 2009, according to NPD Group, even as teens and young women reported using less makeup and fewer beauty products.

COLD SHOULDER: Miley has had a harsh falling out with tweens.
COLD SHOULDER: Miley has had a harsh falling out with tweens. Credit: WENN
Tweens show up in NPD research as users of 30 categories of beauty products. Six in 10 tweens at least once a month use lip gloss -- their most popular item and a traditional point of entry into beauty products. Surprising enough, some even use firming anti-cellulite cream.

Tween girls, in fact, are the biggest drivers of what's been the fastest-growing category in cosmetics of recent years: eye makeup. Even as tweens embraced it, mascara use actually declined among older teen girls from 2007 to 2009.

Yet there's something more going on behind those raccoon eyes. Judging from the NPD numbers, it may seem like tween girls are trying to grow up faster. But tweens live in a sort of in-between world, nestled between childhood and young adulthood -- which can be seen in how they reacted to an older role model who's also been growing up awfully fast as of late, Miley Cyrus. Signs point to Ms. Cyrus having alienated lots of her young fans through a variety of controversies in the past two years.

First, there was that naked (from the back) cover shot by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair in 2008. Ms. Cyrus followed that with what looked to many of her 25 million YouTube viewers to be a pole dance during a performance at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards. Then came the May release of a year-old video unearthed by TMZ of Ms. Cyrus, then 16, performing what looked like a lap dance for a 44-year-old film director at a party, followed by a faux girl-on-girl kiss during a June appearance on "Britain's Got Talent."

Who knows if all that will help Ms. Cyrus establish a more successful adult career than prior graduates of the Disney star system, such as Hilary Duff or the Olsen twins. But it has made her what Henry Schafer, exec VP of the Q Scores Co., calls "a highly polarizing figure" among tweens.

Ms. Cyrus enjoys 95% awareness among tweens ages 9 to 14, according to Mr. Schafer. But her positive Q Score with the group is only 30%, compared to 41% negative.

Q Scores began breaking out tweens as a separate category only last year, so it's hard to measure exactly how much Ms. Cyrus' widely publicized behavior has hurt her popularity. But a few signs point to a substantial negative effect. Fellow Disney star Selena Gomez has a smaller 80% awareness among tweens than Ms. Cyrus, but nearly double the positive Q Score at 58%. A notch down the awareness ratings , Disney star Demi Lovato has a lower 69% tween awareness but a positive score of 38% -- still higher than Ms. Cyrus.

A TV star or any content that veers sharply into adult areas is likely to turn off tweens, said Greg Livingston, partner with Curiosity Advertising, Cincinnati, and co-author of the book "The Great Tween Buying Machine."

"You're likely to get both a negative reaction and a lack of interest," he said. "Kids will say that's inappropriate for kids. They don't always know exactly what it is, but they know it's going in a direction that's uncomfortable as defined by society and particularly their parents. ... They don't want to get themselves in situations that are uncomfortable for them. Seeing Miley Cyrus in a magazine where it's not fun any more, and it's seen as something they know their parents feel uncomfortable about, would put them in an uncomfortable situation."

When polled, most tweens, particularly younger tweens, list their parents as their best friends, Mr. Livingston said. Their peers still aren't as big of an influence as their parents, many of whom aren't too happy with Ms. Cyrus' new direction.

Meanwhile, that tween interest in cosmetics appears possible only because parents approve, and are buying the products, NPD notes.

While five of 10 tweens say they've used skin-care products, and four of 10 have tried cosmetics, 51% say they're happy with the way they look, according to NPD. Most of the girls listed their moms as the biggest influence on the beauty products they use.

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