Salons and spas for little girls: harmful, or harmless?
The New York Times, that bastion of meaningful news, published a story yesterday on how cosmetic companies and retailers are targeting six- to nine-year-old girls. Salons for little girls are springing up around the country, apparently, with parents hosting “beauty primping parties” for daughters and their friends.
The demographic the Times targets with this type of story is obviously quite small—a privileged minority, usually urban. One gets the feeling that the reporter saw a bunch of young girls piling into the elevator in her building, admiring their manicures, and thought, now there’s a story. I doubt that the majority of parents out there would be able or want to pay $150 for “pink limo service,” so that their daughters can arrive at the salon in style.
I’m not saying there’s no cause for concern: the very existence of kiddie salons, however prevalent they may be, is fairly disturbing. Girls have always been more than a little fascinated with makeup and the other rituals they associate with womanhood. This is nothing new, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with it. (It’s not just the girls, by the way—Henry will often grill me about what I’m doing to my face, ask to check out my lipstick or have a swipe of powder. Of course he calls it “disguise paint,” but then, isn’t it? Last summer he asked for blue toenails—which, he decided, made him look like a rock star. (He was going through a glam-rock phase.) )
The problem is not the makeup or nail polish per se, but that the products and services are now being targeted to little girls. Once the message is sent out that it’s legitimate for little girls to concern themselves in these matters, beauty and upkeep leave the realm of playacting and become a real area of concern for girls. The message: this isn’t just fun—it’s necessary. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, is quoted in the story, and she sums it up perfectly: “It’s one thing to have them play around with makeup at home within the bubble of the family. But once it shifts to another context, you are taking away the play and creating a consumer, and frankly, you run the risk of having one more person who feels she’s not good enough if she’s not buying the stuff.”
Just the idea of letting your kid go to a nail salon is, in my opinion, a tad horrifying. I think what bothered me most about this article was the picture accompanying it: the little girls having their toes worked on, looking completely at ease with adult women kneeling before them. The first time I had a pedicure I was in college, and I found it to be disconcerting, to say the least. I like the way the pedicure looks, but lord I hate getting them, and not just because I’m incredibly ticklish (although that’s certainly part of it). Having someone literally kneeling at my feet or hunched over my hands and serving me makes me squirm. Especially when it’s something I could do at home. Not as well, mind you, but I could do it. And I don’t think the experience would have seemed to strange to me if I had started getting them at a young age. I think if I had been six the first time I had my nails done, I might not have accepted the imbalance of the exchange; I might have assumed this was acceptable because the grown-ups were doing it, and I wouldn’t have taken a step back to look at what was really going on. I would hesitate to introduce an activity into my child’s life that acclimates her to being waited on in such a manner.
Not to mention, nail salon workers are typically underpaid, overworked, and risking their health through constant exposure to dangerous chemicals. That’s not a practice I wish to support. The sanitary practices at most nail salons are often questionable, and the risk of infection is too high. Given all that, if my kid wants to wear nail polish, I don’t see why it has to be applied by anyone but me.
And you, dear readers? What do you think? Is taking your kid for a pedicure a harmless afternoon of fun, or a dangerous message?