Bad Idea: Spas for Tween Girls

Offering a bikini wax to a young girl serves only to sexualize her and push her towards an adult ideal of the body-beautiful.
04/26/2012 04:19pm ET | Updated June 26, 2012
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The newest trend in turning girls into consumers is spa treatments for the tween and younger set. Spas all over the country are offering a host of services for young girls, families and mother-daughter duos, such as manicures, pedicures, massages, facials, waxing (including bikini waxing) and even chemical treatments. Some places even offer spa birthday parties for little girls. Make no mistake about two issues: 1. This is about girls, not kids and 2. This is bad for our girls.

Now, I am not someone who can't understand the pressure on girls and women with respect to appearance, nor the pleasure that can be found in the vain. I wear makeup, color my hair and buy nail polish for my own 11-year-old daughter. But when it has become "normal" for little girls to get their body hair waxed, I feel the pressure on them has gone way too far. The effects on their self-esteem can be devastating.

Here are several issues parents should consider before jumping on the tween-spa bandwagon:

1. A gendered activity. These spa treatments are intended for girls. This is important for several reasons. First, when parents buy these services for their daughters, they are sending the messages that girls bodies are somehow flawed and that appearance is more important for girls. Second, while girls learn to devote resources (time, money, mental energy) to body management, they are missing out on opportunities to devote those resources to more fruitful pursuits (intellectual, athletic, artistic). Third, teaching girls that "beauty" takes pain, as is the case when removing body hair from its root with hot wax, is an overtly poor message to send. Fourth, these treatments are not about personal care or hygiene, as some may claim. Rather, they are about profit. A wax is not a one-time purchase. Girl spas are about turning impressionable girls into life-long consumers of mostly superficial and frivolous services. In short, we are disadvantaging girls.

2. Contributes to the sexualization of young girls. As we consider this issue, it is important to think about the larger context in which our girls grow up. Let's face it, popular culture is not kind to girls --telling them how they should look (impossible ideals) and using their bodies to sell just about everything. It is a pressure-cooker, with young girls expected to grow up way too quickly. Offering a bikini wax to a young girl serves only to sexualize her and push her towards an adult ideal of the body-beautiful.

3. Serious dangers to self-esteem.
Without a doubt the biggest issue here is self-esteem. Although parents may have the best of intentions -- to make their daughters feel good, they are likely producing just the opposite outcome. Moreover, the negative impact on self-esteem may have a host of long-term consequences. Remember, this is an age range when girls' bodies are going through many changes. It is the worst possible time to legitimize the idea that something is wrong with their bodies. This teaches them body shame. The messages are: These changes are not okay, your body is not okay and you need to fix yourself. Research has long shown that girls' self-esteem suffers greatly during adolescence as they internalize the messages of popular culture. We need to boost the self-esteem of young girls, not confirm their insecurities. Furthermore, by teaching tweens that "feeling good" comes from external beauty, we are failing to give them the tools they need to build authentic self-esteem, which is necessarily internal. This can impact our girls' body image and identity for life.