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Girl-Grooming Is Booming. (Or Is It?)

Do you remember the first time you became interested in beauty products? While I played with peel-off nail polish and occasionally painted my mom's nails, it wasn't really until I was in junior high that I busted out the Bonne Bell and Rave hairspray. Anything beyond that just wasn't allowed via my parents' strict rules.

These days, girls get grooming much earlier. A recent Newsweek article reports on the growing trend of today's youth taking it to an obsessive, way-too-mature level. Pop culture has long valued appearance, but the pursuit of "perfection" means that girls are worrying about their looks long before they hit puberty. With fourth-graders receiving $50 haircuts, kindergartner pedicure parties, and 8-year-olds getting bikini waxes, haven't we crossed the line into scary territory? Experts blame Photoshop, makeover programs, and the prevalence of cosmetic surgery (and, I'd add, porn culture).

For my take on the issue,

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As therapist Susie Orbach notes in her recently released book, Bodies ($11), the danger of appearance obsession is that girls won't develop self-esteem from their skills, talents, and accomplishments. "It primes little girls to think they should diet and dream about the cosmetic-surgery options available to them, and it makes body the primary place for self-identity," she says.

Then again, the "girls are growing up too fast" meme is a perennial favorite for magazines, and I have to wonder how common these girl-grooming activities are. While I definitely think girls grow up faster these days than I did, the girls I know are more into books, soccer, and drawing than primping. Are they the exception or the rule?

I know it seems strange for someone who loves beauty to decry girls' obsession with their looks, but here's the thing: my parents encouraged me to be creative and to study in school, so I found most of my value in accomplishments instead of the way I look. As an adult, primping is something fun, but my day isn't ruined if I have a few pimples. (Beauty is just the icing on my cake of self-esteem.) So whether glamour girls are everywhere or not, what can we do to help them develop confidence that doesn't rely on fitting an impossible beauty ideal?

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Join The Conversation
witchbaby witchbaby 8 years
I didn't really wear makeup until I was like 16 but to me that was just eyeliner and lipgloss I didn't wear real makeup like foundation and the whole shebang until I was in my last semester of high school!! my mom never had a rule about the makeup just that I not wear any until I was in high school.
bellazmom bellazmom 8 years
As with everything, I guess it is all about moderation. My parents NEVER allowed me to wear any kind of body product other than Ivory soap. So, I am much more loose with my daughter, Bella, who just turned 7. She is in ballet and is fascinated with make-up. She wore "real" make-up for her first performance in December. Now, she knows the rules are: lip balm for every day and pink nail polish for special occasions. Once, she had a "dance" with her Brownie Troop, and I let her wear the "ruby-red lipstick," but she knows that was an ultra special occasion. I think letting little ones play with makeup is ok, if it is moderation, and they know the rules. That said, I absolutely draw the line at facials and waxing for 8-year-olds. C'mon! They are naturally lovely.
genesisrocks genesisrocks 8 years
I always loved playing with makeup and hair when I was a little kid but I never wore makeup out of the house until high school and I still don't get $50 haircuts! Seems over the top
deeann deeann 8 years
i never really even tried on make up till i was 8th grade and even then i never wore it to school. my parents always emphasized grades but i never felt that i wasn't pretty if i didn't wear make up. i think make up is best left till you're at least high school and even then less is more. let the skin breathe!
risqueredhead risqueredhead 8 years
The bikini waxing thing is bizarre to me. No one should be looking at a little girl's pubic area that much. I didn't really start wearing makeup until my senior year of high school. I would wear mascara and lip gloss sometimes, but my mom never wore makeup, so I never really learned how to. I rocked out high heels and mini skirts pretty young. I had these pair of candies-style 4 inch heels my freshman year that I wore with super-low rise jeans. My mom, however lives in hoodies, jeans, and sneakers. No one knows where I came from. Whenever I go to the Dairy Queen in my hometown, I can't help but stare at the makeup of the girls who work there. It's like they put on their "smoky" eyeshadow with a paintball gun.
Advah Advah 8 years
Oni1 - I see your point, and I do remember girls with thin moustaches in middle school, or hairy legs in my swim team when I was 10-11. Except no one cared, and maybe they were lucky but no one ever teased them for that. I'm worried that getting girls concerned about those details so young are going to make it a new social rule that at 8, they *should* be noticing them. I guess there are always going to be girls with thick dark hairs really young, but I think the majority of 8-at least 11yo should not even think of waxing. It makes me sad to think that some girls will worry about having a few stray hairs at an age where they should just be worrying about having fun at the beach or the swimming pool. Just my opinion..
bengalspice bengalspice 8 years
My mom has been putting makeup on me and my baby sister for as long as I can remember. It horrified her that we aren't interested in our looks. It especially horrified her for years that I refused to put makeup on until I was well out of college. I don't think of makeup as something that enhances my looks, but rather another way of being creative. My sister and I are both into heavy eye makeup, but my mom wishes we were more into face powder and concealer to hide our blemishes. I love my freckles, so I always tell her to get lost. My sister isn't into any of these primping fads, and she's 13. She would much rather get a really rocking haircut than be forced by my mom to get things bleached or waxed. I really think in my family the primping is cruelty to kids and not kids wanting to look better because they are pressured by the media.
Symphonee Symphonee 8 years
I am so glad I don't have girls. I never played in my mom's makeup. I was and still am not much of a makeup person. I did like to get my nails done as a child. I was only allowed to paint my nails by myself after 10. It was usually the glittery stuff or a Wite out French manicure. I did shave my legs at like 11, only because I had a dark hair and skinny legs while I ran track. It's a shame when an 8 year is encouraged to burn and rip skin off during a bikini wax because I seriously doubt that there is any hair there to wax. We have become much more vocal beauty and fashion conscious society without learning how to censor what we say and how we present ourselves to our children. There are already enough confusing things as a preteen to worry about besides maintaining a pedicure and wax.
chapsticknchanel chapsticknchanel 8 years
While I mostly agree with what everyone else is saying, as a teenager, I have to reassure you that it's mostly not as bad as everyone thinks it is. I'm quite sure that the only kids getting bikini waxes (WHAT?!) and $50 haircuts are the children of those extremely wealthy parents who spoil the heck out of them anyway. Also, some of this stuff sounds bad when you read it (like a pedicure party for kindergarteners), but isn't as mature as we think it is. I paint my 4-year-old sister's nails all the time and occasionally do her make-up when we're not going out, but it's fun for her because she likes to be just like her mommy and her big sister. I always try to stress that she looks prettier with no make-up on and she's beautiful just the way she is. Trust me, you guys, I was around the junior high age just a few years ago and I didn't know anyone who sexted, got bikini waxes, or was ever into child beauty pageants. Okay, rant over. :)
oni1 oni1 8 years
omg i'm sorry that comment was so long
oni1 oni1 8 years
i hate it when designers use teenage models to sell women's clothing. they wear outfits even more scandalous than most of the teens i've seen on the street. it gives both women and girls unrealistic expectations of themselves. that being said, i feel there's nothing wrong with a girl growing up learning how to properly groom herself. if she's growing pubes at 8 and is on swim team, or plays at the pool in the summer, why not show her how to take care of it? some girls blossom early. i recall seeing light mustaches and hairy legs on many grade school classmates and always wondered why they didn't get rid of it. i know i don't want to look like spider crotch while i'm at the beach. all of us learn sooner or later how women upkeep and beautify themselves. we use what info we want to use then discard the rest. at 29 i barely started using colored lip gloss 2 years ago while my sisters started using makeup in high school. girls are often interested in the pretty things. using the tips they've learned allows them to experiment and see what works for them. i wish i had as much fashion since at 14 that my niece at 8 already possesses. her hair is always nicely braided, clear or light polish, her fruity lip gloss in her backpack just in case she needs some shine. and she gives a great pedicure! :) i feel this is no new phenomenon. like some grownups, a few girls just go too far with the makeup, time and expense so they need someone to reel them into reality and show them not to be vain and excessive, but do take care of yourself and don't be afraid to bring out your best with the tools you have access to. it is really up to the parents to teach them this lesson.
dnye dnye 8 years
I'm completely confused. why would an 8 year old even need a bikini wax? I don't remember even wanting any of that stuff when I was 8 and it was not that long ago. i wouldn't have wanted a pedicure party or a $50 hair cut either. But i guess kids learn from their parents so they're getting these ideas from somewhere.
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
Honestly everything about the youth of America these days freak me out. Everything you see from the beauty pageants to "sexting" in schools completely makes me disgusted. I remember the days of growing up and just being an ordinary girl wanting to have sleep overs at your girlfriends, prank calls guys, play with makeup and that was it. I don't get what has become of this country and parents these days...
Ellenora Ellenora 8 years
It is a sickening trend. I admit I played in my mom's and grandma's make-up drawers and put on their shoes and clothes when I was young. I admit, as a ballerina for many years, I wore piles of make-up to performances. Did I want to do make-up at a young age? Yes, but my mom gave me the rule her mom gave her--no make-up until 14 and even then it's just eyeshadow, lip glosses and mascara. I'm 20 now and understand make-up is meant to enhance my features not meant to cover my face. I've experimented and made my mistakes, but I still wear considerably less than the middle school children I see around my neighborhood. I wear tinted moisturizer, not foundation. I let my pimples show. I only cover my hereditary black under eye circles. I experiment with eye looks but when I go overboard, I take it all off. I know when I go too far. What is really sickening is when I see shows like "Toddlers & Tiaras." It is so sickening to me because I really wonder what those girls' self-esteem will be like in a few years as they all are judged on their looks not their brains. It's not all about looks. An eight-year-old getting a bikini wax? That seems like it would hurt as all they would be taking off is skin! Ouch.
ckeller825 ckeller825 8 years
OH, and btw...my mom always refused. haha. She would paint my nails barbie pink, and the fanciest thing I was allowed to do was wear little princess costumes. I would be happy and skip away while singing a song.
ckeller825 ckeller825 8 years
For the record, I am NOT surprised that little girls are interested in getting their nails done, or wanting to wear lipstick, or wanting to dress up in fancy cute clothes, b/c I wanted that when I was 6! THE PARENTS are the ones at fault! They're the ones with the money and are supposed to be the decision makers! The kids who actually get away with this at such a young age have parents who need to go to therapy.
ashopaholic ashopaholic 8 years
Not surprised, I just look at my cousins young daughters, and weep for the future of women.
Beauty Beauty 8 years
Interesting chicken/egg question, lbirk. I think parents often pass their own issues down to their kids. (Nothing makes my heart sag like hearing a mother complain about how "fat" she is in front of her daughter.) I hope that if I'm ever a mother, I'll teach my daughters — and sons, for that matter — to "read" the media in a way that helps them understand the smoke and mirrors involved. And I'll make them play soccer, 'cause I think soccer does a body good!
lbirk lbirk 8 years
Definitely too much, too soon. Esteem issues are the unfortunate by-product of the relentless pursuit of perfection .... or could they actually be the cause? And if so, is it the child or the parent who really has the issue?
Jessiebanana Jessiebanana 8 years
Okay so I hate body hair, always have, so I can't totally agree with Starangel. I started shaving as soon as there was anything to shave, my mother never knew, but aside from that I find all of this pretty disturbing. I firmly believe kids should be kids, not over genderized puppets. And frankly, not to sound extreme, but I think started way before make up and waxing. This started with baby dolls and the over segregation of girl toys versus boy toys. Kids don't have a very a strong definition of gender and we've been encouraging children to not be themselves, but to be mini adults and that has to be damaging. I hope now that now that it has come to such a disturbing point parents will react.
Sunny-Joon Sunny-Joon 8 years
8 year olds have something TO wax?
le-romantique le-romantique 8 years
I am disgusted by the youth of America. Sorry... its true. My parents really had no 'rules', they let me 'experiment' (even though I'm almost 21 and have still never smoked, taken drugs or drank alcohol- can't always put blame on parents!) I wore makeup at a young age because I was an actress and vocalist... but thats it.. not like every day, only for performances. I wore glitter on my eyes and lip gloss when i was 12-14, no "real" makeup til 15. Didn't shave my legs til i was 13, and I only did because the YOUNGER girls made fun of me for not doing it... I told them "I value the 9 years of the teens years I will get out of my, supposedly, 78 years of life." People don't understand. The average life expectancy is 78 for a woman in America. Out of those 78 years you're only a kid for about 10, and a teen for 9... the rest you are an adult. Enjoy the 19 years or so you have being carefree and youthful... or when you're 40 you will regret it!
nylorac nylorac 8 years
this makes me so sad. if i were lucky enough to have a daughter i would try my hardest to reinforce positive stereotypes of women--actresses, physicians, and athletes--and show her that not all wear makeup, or have bikini waxes (!). also, i was a total tomboy and didn't wear makeup until the end of high school. i think kids should embrace their childhood and look their age. also, i think it's important to also mention that boys face this same challenge, of increasing societal demands to grow up/ look/ act a certain way. ahem, manzillians!
Seka21 Seka21 8 years
At 8 i had nothing to wax.. im pretty sure your not meant to be that developed at 8!! Little girls always played with make-up and nail polishes in the past but CHILDRENS products.. all glittery and fake looking or stuff stolen and treasured from your mum. Now a days i see kids as young as 9 buying chanel mascara in my make-up dept.. it makes me want to smack their mothers.
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