Girls will be 30-year-old women

Younger and younger girls are participating in spa activities like facials, pedicures and highlights.

Published August 3, 2006 7:48PM (EDT)

USA Today reports on the ever-younger age of spa clientele -- girls as young as 6 can now be found getting highlights, pedicures, massages, henna tattoos and even "minifacials." (Not sure about the etymology of this word -- minifacials for mini faces?) The article suggests that "bombarded with marketing and media messages their parents never heard growing up, kids today find stores filled with grooming and cosmetic products aimed specifically at them."

Indeed there is a whole niche industry to fill this growing market: spas for kids. Karen Grant, a beauty industry analyst, believes that adult women in America already have such a high standard of beauty that it's something their young children will notice and want to emulate. According to a study commissioned by the International Spa Association, "as of 2004 two out of five spa-goers with children ages 13 to 15 have taken their children to a spa."

USA Today asked 11-year-old Kailey Smith of San Antonio why she liked going to the spa. She giggled, "'Cause we're girls, and we're girlie. It was really nice. I really enjoyed it. I felt really clean and relaxed."

If these girls really need to unwind maybe they should kick around a soccer ball or jump in a pool. But before we pass any more judgment, it's worth noting, as former Seventeen magazine executive and current kid-spa owner Susan Tierney does, that these precocious grooming practices, while a little over the top, are in the end harmless. One parent who takes her young daughters with her to get their nails done explains that "children are so far advanced compared to us. But it's for fun, and if it teaches them hygiene and good skin care, how can it be bad?"

But Jean Kilbourne, author of the forthcoming book "So Sexy So Soon: Sexualization of Childhood," argues that it can be very bad. As she told USA Today, "A little girl getting a manicure is no big deal. It's the idea of this becoming routine and starting so early -- that's what makes it harmful. There's a graduation to makeup and thong parties, so that girls look like they're 13 when they're 7 and like they're 20 when they're 13. It's important for people to take it seriously."

It is ironic that as younger and younger girls are partaking in spa culture, women continue the fascinating Brazilian wax ritual, which, of course, makes one's body appear more like a little girl's.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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