tween girls glamorManicures and spa treatments may be common in the life of today’s young ladies, as more than half of Mommyish readers take their little girls to the nail bar. If you’re a mother of  little boys, you may even envy those mothers who conclude a day of shopping with a “mommy and me” mani/pedi. But while there is a profound difference between getting a girls’ nails polished for a birthday or a wedding, the dismissal of routine visits as harmless ignores the highly sexualized time that young girls are currently living in.

One Mommyish reader commented that a manicure is in fact cheaper than a babysitter — that if you’re a mother on the go with an itch for a manicure, it’s less money to pop for a toddler’s mini manicure than hire a sitter. That line of reasoning is fair, especially given how fast-paced today’s parents are. But as we know from other childrearing options, cheap and easy often don’t often make for stellar parenting options.

There may not have been cheap and accessible nail bars 20 years, but I’ll tell you what else wasn’t also available: 24/7 media directed exactly at tweens and younger. Since the beginning of commercialized time, women have always been told that they weren’t good enough or pretty enough in some capacity as platform to shill goods. But today’s girls live in an entirely different environment in which through media constructed specifically for them — TV shows, tween celebrity culture, and products–they’re told that if they’re not pretty, sexy, or hot that they consequently have no value.

Last week, I attended the TedxWomen conference and Rachel Simmons, a girls issues author who has interviewed girls from first grade to high school, noted that modern girls live in a “yes, but” culture. That they are still being plagued with consistent messages that their sex appeal and their beauty needs to be constantly maintained, despite scholastic achievements. That although they can achieve the highest grade in their class, it’s also imperative that they be gorgeous while doing so. That even if they love sports, they have to be sure to convey how sexy they are on the field. To support this trend, Simmons found that the rise of girls’ scholastic success mirrors the climb in depression and eating disorder rates.

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Modern mothers and fathers need to wake up that this isn’t 1980 anymore. Fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields may have seemed scandalously sexy in her Calvin Klein ad, but now ten year olds are now serving up that sexiness in Vogue magazines. This is a radically different climate, especially in the last 10 or 15 years as girlhood has been shortened again with the word “tween” offering a new collection of products, lip glosses and “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” tees that even I wasn’t offered as a kid in the mid-90s. And yet despite lingerie for 4-year-olds and girls losing sleep over fretting about being thin, parents continue to be desensitized to the sexualizing messages of now, in 2011, that don’t look as they did even ten years ago.

Exhausted, overworked parents who are considering spa treatments over babysitting should take a minute to examine the modern cultural landscape of girlhood. A routine manicure may just be a manicure, but the practice also confirms for very young girls exactly what the contemporary media is telling them at every turn. That even though all their homework is finished and they’re the star captain, being beautiful should take up a good chunk of their time. And by the way — don’t get the hot pink nail polish because that makes you a “slut.”

(photo: Shutterstock)