This NYT article covers a supposed recent trend, that of throwing mani/pedi parties (at salons!) for girls as young as 6.
Traditionally, young girls have played with unattended M.A.C. eye shadow or Chanel foundation, hoping to capture a whiff of sophistication. In the recent past, young girls have also tagged along on beauty expeditions by their mothers and teenage sisters.
But today, cosmetic companies and retailers increasingly aim their sophisticated products and service packages squarely at 6- to 9-year-olds, who are being transformed into savvy beauty consumers before they’re out of elementary school.
“The starter market has definitely grown, I think, due to a number of cultural influences,” said Samantha Skey, the senior vice president for strategic marketing of Alloy Media and Marketing.
The “starter market”? Those words chill my bones. Not because there’s anything wrong with nail polish or makeup themselves — hell, when I was in elementary school I painted my nails every week and I loved those flavored Lip Smackers things. But what I remember liking about painting my nails was the bright color, how I could watch my hands do what they did — turn pages, hold pens, throw things, play a violin — and see the colors flying at the ends of my fingers. It was mesmerizing (it still is, honestly!), but it was much more like drawing on my hands than it was like sitting at a salon “primping” and being served faux martinis.
The article ends on a wistful quote from a mother:
But cosmetics for girls at any age worries Lucy Corrigan, a mother of two daughters, 8 and 11, in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, N.Y. Still, last year she allowed her younger daughter to go to two salon birthday parties for 7-year-olds. “Of course, it was alarming,” she said. “But I’d rather my girls try it and decide they don’t need all these products to be beautiful, and then do something more vital with their time and money and efforts, like write a poem or take a walk or save the world.”
Clearly, Ms. Corrigan’s got her heart in the right place. But I cannot imagine that, in our world that bombards girls with the message that they are too fat and too ugly, these girls are actually deciding they don’t need all these products to be beautiful. It seems to me that they are learning instead that beauty is something you buy, something that depends on you having enough money to purchase the labor of others. Which, you know, is not untrue if we’re talking about the social construct of Hollywood beauty, but I think 7-year-olds, no matter how precocious, probably haven’t read The Beauty Myth yet. This isn’t an experiment in reverse psychology, where the girls go through a grueling beauty regimen and realize that conformity is not worth the toll it takes on a person. This is a party, a celebration, a reward, and I’d bet you a dozen baby donuts that the oohing and ahhing over their shiny new toenails is going to stay with those girls longer than the praise they get for taking a nice long walk outside.
To be clear, what horrifies me about this trend is not the nail polish and lip gloss itself, nor the worries about “sexualizing” girls, nor the choices that some parents make to throw their daughters these parties. What horrifies me is those three words: the starter market. Because in our culture girls are both the consumers and the commodities in dehumanizing markets that divide them into body parts that can be packaged and redesigned, from your fingernails to your breasts to the size of your thighs. That market depends on institutionalized misogyny and individual self-loathing. When I joined what I guess was the “starter market” in the 80s, buying teen magazines and searching for beauty products that would turn me perfect, I was already convinced, because I had been told, that I was fat, ugly, and undesirable. But I still took joy in painting my nails, because it was the one “beauty practice” I did for myself, just so I could watch my jewel-like fingers. Today, I suppose, I wouldn’t have that joy, because my fingers and toes would be one more part of my body that needed to be researched, refashioned, and remade.