Prev Next

Salons and spas for little girls: harmful, or harmless?

By Alice Bradley

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?

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

...

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Amy
Guest
Amy

Ummm, I gonna have to disagree with you on this one (a first I think!). Perhaps having salons/spas dedicated only to kids is a little much, but I don’t see anything wrong with taking your kid (girl or boy) to get a pedicure. When I get a pedicure, I certainly don’t feel like the person is “serving me”, somehow subservient to me because they are sitting on a stool to get to my toes. They are providing me with a wonderful service. It is pampering and I love it. I thank them from the bottom of my heart ’cause when… Read more »

SuburbanCorrespondent
Guest

I just cannot believe how desperate some people are to be separated from their money. Can I have some of that, as long as you’re wasting it, anyway?

dd
Guest
dd

Amy – massages? for kids?
It does seem a bit much. As a birthday treat or something, maybe, but there is an already-growing sense of entitlement in teens; regular pampering can’t be beneficial in that sense.

Cassandra
Guest
Cassandra

I am just so glad that I have 2 boys. I don’t have to worry about this in my house – but I do worry about this in a society-as-a-whole kind of way.
I say targeting young girls in this way is wrong. I hate hate hate people who dress their little girls in a provocative way. And making sure their nails match these tarty outfits is utterly ridiculous.

Lindsey
Guest
Lindsey

Um, I’m going to have to disagree with you here. Pedicures are my favorite thing in the world — it’s a service, and it’s all about the LEG MASSAGE. I’m pregnant with boy/girl twins, and I can’t wait to take the girl (and the boy, too, if he’s game) with me for spa day!! I don’t think it’s acclimating your child to being “waited on” any more than is eating out at a restaurant. I consider it fun girl bonding time, pure and simple. What would be unhealthy, however, is if these cosmetic companies and spas started to push the… Read more »

Cobwebs
Guest

I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who isn’t comfortable with being “attended to” by a manicurist. Heck, I even feel vaguely uncomfortable when my dental hygienist flosses my teeth.
I don’t know if there’s any harm in targeting makeup to little girls so long as it’s clear that it’s for “playing dress-up,” but I’d definitely agree that any marketing which suggests that a little girl is somehow deficient for not wearing makeup is grounds for showing up in the manufacturer’s lobby with torches and pitchforks.

Laylabean
Guest

Ew, yes, I agree completely, Alice. I hate the idea of someone marketing beauty products to my 9 and 7 year olds. Makeup parties at home are fine but the minute it becomes a business for someone, the girls become a “target demographic.” The whole point of marketing is to make someone believe their lives are incomplete without whatever it is you’re selling and pitching beauty products to little girls feels predatory and exploitative. They’re children! And most likely they’ll start fretting about their looks soon enough anyway. And I also have to agree with you on the pedicure thing.… Read more »

amanda
Guest

I would never. But then I would also not be comfortable with a housekeeper. A professor of mine put it this way when discussing the idea of hiring someone to clean his toilet. “That is not the kind of relationship I want to have with another human being.” So I am with you Alice and for two reasons, both of which you mentioned. The media is finally taking note of the health problems encountered by workers in the salons, so that is reason one. And the second is the creation of further consumption and the gendered marketing toward little girls.… Read more »

Jo Anna
Guest
Jo Anna

Manicures and pedicures are part of my self-nurturing. I have taken younger girls for the same treatment and they loved it. There is nothing wrong with painting toe nails on a kid. They do not automatically associate it with not being enough. That is something that is sadly taught in many other ways. Manicures and the like are fun. I love allowing myself to be pampered. I pay for the service. I do not feel as if any cent of the money I pay is wasted, as I love every second of the valuable service I receive. In my mind… Read more »

Brooke
Guest

I take my 8 year old with me to the nail salon sometimes. A few times a year. They do a much better job of painting our nails than I would ever. They paint little flowers on her big toes and the nail techs seem genuinely entertained while they pamper my shy, shy child, who is so pleased with her toes at the end. I am not terribly comfortable being attended to (I am also not comfortable receiving gifts from friends or even money that I desperately need from my Mom), but I don’t own cuticle scissors and sometimes I… Read more »

lg
Guest
lg

I agree that it’s a dangerous message. I think most of the messages our society sends to girls and women are dangerous… “You aren’t good enough the way you are” and “Being frivolous is what girls/women think is important.” What worries me the most is the apathy I see in most WOMEN about these issues.

Belle
Guest
Belle

I am mixed on this. I love having my nails and toenails look pretty and get my nails done monthly. If I had a daughter I would probably let her get her nails painted. I have a son so that issue has not come up. I agree that young people (or any people)should not be made to feel that they aren’t good enough if they don’t buy certain items. However there are products and clothing which make us look better. When my nails are done and I have a nice outfit on, I get alot more compliments than when I… Read more »

amy
Guest

I think there are a few issues here. Adults getting mani-pedis, which I’m all for! Adults taking slightly older (over age 10 perhaps) girls, once in a while, to join in the fun. Also perhaps OK. But targeting these services specifically toward young children is crossing some sort of line in my opinion. In high school I started treating my daughter to mani/predis, for her birthday or for prom, or just as a nice surprise once in a while. She never developed an expectation around this; it was always a special treat. I’d have been horrified for her to expect… Read more »

Slim
Guest
Slim

Is it because I like getting pedicures that the thought of children getting them doesn’t bother me? Or because I would happily cede the care of my children’s nails to someone else? (Ditto haircuts.)
And, OK, I can’t come up with a good justification (other than money) that children shouldn’t get massages.
But all that primping stuff? No.
Makes me glad I have boys, no matter how many butt jokes I have to listen to.

Fabs
Guest
Fabs

I took my daughter in to get pedicure’s as a special mom/daughter date for her 8th birthday. Of course she loved it and if we do it again it would be a once-a-year event, at the most. However, I wouldn’t pay to have a “party” of sorts for her friends until 12 year old at least. I also think everyone chooses a profession, and if someone chose to become a pedicurist (is that a word), then hopefully they enjoy providing a service and in turn making someone feel good for an hour.

Michele
Guest
Michele

Can I just totally change the subject here? I am so RELIEVED that Alice painted her son’s toenails. My husband is freaked out about the fact that our son wants his toenails painted. We finally compromised and only paint three of the ten nails, but I’m like, what’s the big deal? He’ll grow out of it. And if he doesn’t, we’ll teach him to be secure enough in his manhood to resist any teasing that might come out of it. But my husband, not happy with the toenail painting thing. Back to the subject: I love pedicures. If someone’s cool… Read more »

Jenn @ Juggling Life
Guest

There’s a lot of excess in a lot of places in our society today. You could find disturbing examples of young athletes (of both sexes) and their adult-style training by personal trainers.
That’s just another disturbing side of many of today’s parents treating children like short adults. It’s too bad.

DQ
Guest

I, too, am humbled by a woman kneeling, attending to my feet. I have gotten pedicures when I was pregnant because: I couldn’t reach, and to cheer myself up. To expose children to that too early would do them a disservice. I don’t think the juvenile brain is developed enough to appreciate the kind of boundaries this issue dances around.
Also, being a faithful Catholic, I am often mindful of the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as a very significant act of humble service.

edj
Guest

Go Alice! I really find this trend disturbing. It goes along with the even-more-disturbing trend of sexualizing girls younger and younger…so that I can find a top in size 6X that says “foxy” in glitter letters or a pair of sweats that say “sexy” on the butt. That makes me squirm, to be honest, and there’s no way I’d let my child wear something like that. I’ve lived in a Muslim country where my 5 year old got a marriage proposal from a 28 year old, and in my mind, American culture is sort of heading in that direction with… Read more »

msg
Guest

I agree with amy in there are 2 issues here. First adults getting pedicures and second kids getting them. I believe many pedicurists see themselves as professionals and actually go to school to learn their craft and are probably happy to have a job. The women who applied to work at the kids salon did just that, applied for a job, and I hope are getting tipped pretty well. My only issue with this is that some kids in this situation can be extremely disrespectful which is horrible in any context (i.e. waitress, housekeeper, babysitter, etc.).

Alice Bradley
Guest

Thanks for your comments, everyone. Part of why nail salons make me so uncomfortable is that here in the New York/New Jersey region, workers are almost always recent Korean or Chinese immigrants, and the salons are notorious for taking advantage of them. I don’t know how the population of nail salon workers breaks down by area, so I ask you: is it different where you are?

Anne
Guest

My daughter (6) occasionally gets her nails polished by the owner at the salon where we get our haircuts. It started out as a reward when she was younger and squirmy-er and painfully shy so the owner did it as a reward for sitting still, not screaming, etc. A trade, if you will. 🙂 The idea of full faces of makeup and elaborate hairstyles and the like is vaguely unsettling to me, which is why I struggled to explain why my daughter couldn’t get the “Princess Makeover” when we were at WDW in November – you don’t NEED a makeover,… Read more »

amanda
Guest

Alice, just seconds before your latest comment I was feeling the need to respond again to point out that these women might NOT be “just happy to have a job” or “enjoying their service.” NPR has done several stories in the last few months about the health conditions suffered by the workers and the possible long-term effects of some of the chemicals they are interacting with all day long. One of those is here:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19200877

Bri
Guest

I’ve only had my nails done a few times, but I hate going to those mall nail salons that smell like nasty chemicals. I had my first pedicure this past fall and LOVED it. It was so relaxing I felt fabulous all day. My home town has a Paul Mitchell salon school, and the women in my family go every couple of weeks for pedicures. The girls are all in training to be stylists and after graduation will move on to fancy salons and spas to make good money. We are basically guinea pigs while they are in training, so… Read more »

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

To answer Alice’s very last question, in the typical, strip mall salons, yes, it’s often the same, but, I’ve noticed that the owners are typically also Asian. But, I live in the land of resorts, and when I go to one of those (only during low season when they have fabulous rates!) the techs there come from a variety of backgrounds. To go back to the original issues, I have a 7-yo daughter and have been to a couple of the places that specialize in this kind of thing. I didn’t really see much difference between that kind of party… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Guest

I agree with a couple of commenters that there are a number of issues going on here. 1) How do you feel about adults get pedicures and manicures? I’m all for it and living in NYC I see firsthand why Alice is uneasy. However, working in a salon is honorable job/career. I address this issue by only visiting salons (that as far as I can see) are decent establishments, but mainly I patronize the mom-run salon that I have for almost 15 years and have developed personal relationships with almost every professional/employee. 2) I, too, see feet as icky. I… Read more »

msg
Guest

alice you are totally correct it depends where you go. I hadn’t heard the NPR piece but had seen something similar on dateline. I agree that some women may not be happy but that doesn’t make the profession as a whole wrong does it? I live in Miami where there are both the seedy places where the employees are being taken advantage of to the women who have their own business and will come to your home. I choose to give the spas my business where the employees seem happy and satisfied. I think this discussion may be for a… Read more »

RubiaLala
Guest

I’m with Amy (first commenter) on this one. I’m so glad I don’t have a girl, though!

Megan
Guest
Megan

My daughter is 4 years old and I will not be taking her to a salon for a manicure/pedicure or a massage. That is all stuff that we can do at home, for free, without all the hype that is associated with the establishments that provide these services. What ever happened to waiting to get your ears pierced until you were 12, going on a first date at 16, not calling boys, wearing clothes that actually cover your body and not highlighting your rear end with “look here” messages?? I think society as a whole has erased the innocence of… Read more »

C
Guest
C

I don’t have children yet, and obviously you can’t really control the way their personalities turn out. I could end up with a child who wants pink, pink, and nothing but pink, painted over her entire body every single day. But a big part of my 26-year-old brain hopes that if I have a daughter, she’ll take after me and after fictional characters like Scout Finch, and have to be wrestled from the outdoors to be put into a dress… let alone brought into a salon for people to fuss over her. (I would have sat politely, for I was… Read more »

Sarah
Guest

I’m twenty-nine weeks pregnant with my first child, who happens to be a baby girl. I plan on doing with her the same thing my mom did with me when I was little. Every now and then she’d do my hair and let me wear some make up, and after I was about six or seven she would buy me little lip glosses and stuff to play “dress-up” in. (it was all stuff geared for children anyway. Does anyone remember Bon-Bons?) When I was about ten she started letting me get my own nail polish, which of course, I put… Read more »

Sandy
Guest
Sandy

I have a family member trained as an aesthetician and nail tech. She loves her job and enjoys giving great service to her customers. I have heard her rant on several occassions about the “discount” or “mall” salons that use dangerous chemicals and pose threats to not only their workers, but their customers. With regard to the issue of children receiving treatments, I would have to believe that they are NOT patronizing the latter establishments. With regard to the issue at hand, children receiving treatments, I have no problem with it as a parent. I regularly (monthly) enjoy pedicures. I… Read more »

sozzled
Guest

I am in the process of trying to figure out what to do for my daughters 13th birthday party…..and based on what her friends have done every suggestion of my pales in comparison. Limo rides to $$$$ restaurants? Mani/pedis for a group of girlfriends; renting out an ice cream parlor and hiring a band to play? What are these kids going to be doing for their 16th birthdays? I thought turning 13 meant a sleep over with pizza and too much soda and trying to hypnotize each other while a frazzled mom yelled at them to go to sleep.

toylady
Guest
toylady

I have a friend who owns a girls’ clothing shop with a “salon” in the back. Many, many parents take their children there regularly and pay up to and over $350 for a birthday party for their 4-year-olds and their 8 closest friends. She does not let her two daughters have free treatments. Like me, she feels that these privileges must be earned–there is WAY too much of an entitlement mentality in our young children these days. If they want a pedicure, they save their money and pay for it themselves. It’s amazing how little a young girl gets out… Read more »

Morgan
Guest
Morgan

They have a place here in Indiana, where you take your little girl to get made-up like Hannah Montana, a princess, or a rock-star. I took my 6 year old there for her birthday and she was really excited, until it was her turn. Then she was just overwhelmed. The atmosphere was an overstuffed jewelry store with teenagers playing dress-up with little girls, but everything was so cheap and lack for a better word “cheesy”. My daughter said she had fun, but I could see on her face she was ready to go as soon as she was shown the… Read more »

Sheila
Guest
Sheila

Despite all my begging, I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was in my teens. It was explained to me that the problem wasn’t wearing makeup at a young age. The problem was being good at applying makeup at a young age and looking older than I really was. As a new parent, I’m amazed at my parent’s wisdom.

Kai in Portland
Guest
Kai in Portland

The thing that concerns me – I’m not sure it has been mentioned yet – are the chemicals and toxic fumes that little girls could be exposed to in a place like a nail salon. Phthalates anyone? I am not an alarmist – I use many of these things on myself – and I too love a pedicure. Maybe I am naive but I think my adult body is better able to handle what some of these products contain then a six year old. I just came across this website (via another Mom’s blog) and it is scary what is… Read more »

Sarah in Silver Spring
Guest
Sarah in Silver Spring

I read that NYT article and had mostly the same reaction, Alice. I remember when I was 12 (yes, so old!) staying with a friend and her absent-minded professor dad down the shore (her parents were divorcing) one summer. I’d never worn nail polish before (really!) and neither had she. Every day we experimented giving each other mani/pedis with a new shade (red glitter! purple glitter! alternating fingers!). I’m sure we looked ridiculous, but we were having the time of our lives. I can’t think of more harmless rebellion. Our mothers would have been horrified–that was definitely part of the… Read more »

Rita Arens
Guest

I hate it. It’s one thing to dress up. It’s another to go buy designer clothes for your kid. This is the same to me.

Lisa C
Guest

A dear friend of mine is a masseuse (am I spelling that correctly?) and she particularly enjoys working on children. When my daughter was three, she’d get a massage after me, and before I was even off the table, she was naked, just itching to get up there. Of course, this was one of my closest friends, but her attitude is always one of service. My girl LOVED getting pampered and my friend got such a kick out of pampering her. Also, I used to clean houses, and I never once minded scrubbing someone’s toilet. That’s what I was getting… Read more »

Susan
Guest
Susan

Wow, this is a hot topic! It seems to me, though, that we’ve been missing the most important point. A bunch of commentators have talked about how it’s ok for adults to get their nails done because it “feels good” to look good but it’s not ok to teach little girls that there might be something wrong with the way they look. Others have pointed out that kids learn their values from their parents so we don’t need to worry about the marketing. But every time a parent goes out of her way to “look good,” by applying make-up, getting… Read more »

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

It’s just silly in my opinion. Yes, my 5 year old daughter loves it when we put on make-up together at home. (The poor girl has 3 brothers! She needs girly things!) But doing make-up and nails are something girls are supposed to do at slumber parties, not at salons or spas. Let kids be kids!

CJ
Guest
CJ

Don’t confuse high-priced salons with cheapo nail places. Perhaps the former treats their employees well, but the latter are notorious for exploiting their workers. These workers, by the way, probably don’t have a lot of options when they “choose” to do nails for a profession. I don’t mind manicures and pedicures necessarily, but if you’re going to do it, pay fairly for the service. I guarantee you a $10 nail place is NOT paying your manicurist a living wage. As for the little girl thing, come on, these companies don’t care a whit about mother-daughter bonding when they market their… Read more »

Mom101
Guest

Had my first pedicure at 16 for the junior prom. That night: Had sex.
Coincidence? Nope. Pedicures lead to sex. Think about it. It’s a slippery slope.

Laurie
Guest
Laurie

I’ve taken my son and daughter (both age 7) for pedicures several times. They love it, the ladies at the nail salon love the business and my generous tips, and I love it bcs I can treat myself. My son has tried navy blue polish with a lightening bolt and now chooses clear. My daughter likes “rainbow toes” or black. I go for pink. The best part though-and my real motivation-is that they get their feet and toes squeaky clean and nails clipped-an activity that at home is akin to WWIII. If you gotta do what you gotta do, at… Read more »

pnuts mama
Guest
pnuts mama

can i just say that mom-101 just made me LMAO?? ha! if only our husbands knew about this pedicure/sex connection, they’d be sending us to the nail place three times a week! i too think these primpy parties are over the top, like so much else of parents living vicariously through their kids- the poor kids who are basically pawns in their parents competitions over who is cooler/better/wealthier- i see it all the time all over nyc and long island. it makes me sad. i think that is totally different from a mom or aunt or grandma taking their girl… Read more »

the other leslie
Guest
the other leslie

I was just telling my husband about how I used to get Love’s Baby Soft perfume in my stocking every Christmas. I don’t even think they market anything like that for girls now-a-days! We go to a little kids “salon”; they have those ride on trucks made into seats and dvd players. It makes haircuts so much easier, and they are as cheap as Great Clips. Also, I fork out a lot of money to establishments every birthday — I hate hosting parties! If there had been a “salon” around when my daughter was in the playing beauty stage I… Read more »

Shannon
Guest

I completely agree with you, and the issue really isn’t nail polish. My little girl, age 6, was picked up in a limo to be taken to one of these places and she talked about it for the next six months. Really. If we are doing this at 6, what are we going to do with them when they’re 16?
We are working on the philosophical differences between maintaining a neat and attractive appearance and becoming a Bratz doll. Not fun.

Tamika
Guest
Tamika

My daughter is 6 1/2 years old, she likes going to get her hair washed and nails polished. i belive that it’s a great expirence for her because it helps boost her self-esteem. Me as a parent im trying to open up a childrens hair-salon and spa that is just dedicated to children nothing crazy.
I don’t think that anything is wrong with treating our children to salon and spa activties some times, I mean hey we do it all the time moms & dads, and most of use enjoy having some cater to for a few hours of so.

amy2
Guest
amy2

first of all, i believe that there is nothing wrong with having time with your little girl. If your a mom and you have a young girl who not only wants to spend time with you but wants to do girl things with you what harm is it?!! i went to a place called ooo la la and they made BOTH of us feel wonderful and not only that i had a girl day with my little girl!!!!!!!!!!!!