A Manicure For A Little Girl May Just Be A Manicure — Sure, 20 Years Ago

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. [tagbox tag="daughter"]

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)

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  • Jen

    I disagree. While you are 100% correct in your assertion that sexualization of girls is beginning at younger and younger ages AND that girls are stil being sent the message that looks are most important, the leap you make from that point to manicures is a bit…far fetched.

    First, I don’t think nail polish–especially the bright, glittery colors that most young girls tend to choose–is in any way related to sexuality/sexualization unless you are dealing with a VERY specific subset of porn. I also think you are being needlessly narrow in your point of view and seem to be writing as if living, breathing females were the one dimensional characters that so much of media makes them out to be. The idea that a girl who goes for regular manis/pedis has somehow been brainwashed into low self esteem is rather ridiculous. One of the girliest girls I have ever known–and I’m talking hair appointments twice a month, manicures weekly, a makeup godess by 15–was also one of the most kick ass lacrosse players I’ve ever seen. She loved going out on the field in her bright pink nails and breaking other players noses “by accident”. She also skipped out on her boyfriend’s prom because of her commitment to a traveling softball team–but still got the mani/pedi.

    Girls are a lot more thoughtful and introspective than this article gives them credit for and while I couldn’t agree more that the media (and society in general) is still sending the message that looks are the only thing that’s important in a woman it doesn’t mean that girls’ themselves are incapable of examining the messages sent to them and fighting against it. And correlation does not equal causation. I think Simmons needs to get a little deeper into the conversation and maybe realize that a lot of the girls who feel pressure to be academically successful feel the pressure to be “perfect” in every way…there are tons of boys who are exactly the same. My husband is a brilliant man (who grew up in the 90s) and STILL feels anxiety about both his intellect and his looks. Perfectionists tend to want to be perfect in every way.

  • dee

    i was all for mani/pedis with my daughter until last year when she caught a NASTY toe infection from a spa we’ve been going to since she was 3 years old without a problem (don’t judge me now, i’ve learned my lesson), she is 8 now but EVER since then I’ve been hesitant to get MY OWN toes done (although i have found another shop that is top notch in hygene). I no longer take my daughter to get her toes or hands “done”. i paint them up myself at home, we do our hair together, she gets to wear lip gloss sometimes-never at school. to me its all part of being a girl…if that is too sexual, well its a sick sick world.

    alot of it is hygene and putting your best foot foward, i think people take you more seriously if you are put together. sad, but true. my cousin is a pro golfer, makes tons of money…but i can’t tell you how many times he’s been approached on the course like he was a worker or something because he’s just a shabby dresser (he doesn’t care, and knows how he looks and is cool with it)

    she’s a kid, she knows she’s a kid, we do fun girly stuff together when i can pry her off the softball field….sometimes it just feels nice to get your nails painted after you played a whole weekend tournament and we talk (bonding time).

    sucks to say, but appearance is your first impression. my daughter is confident, and comfortable with herself. She is a healthy girl (as in: we come from a big framed family) but isn’t ashamed…actually, i think that if more people had confidence like her, there wouldn’t be so many issues with bullying, and over sexualization…i think girls need to learn to love their body more…and learn boundaries. There is not enough boundaries in this world!!! the media doesn’t help…but its not media’s responsibility to raise your kid, its YOUR responsibility as a parent….

  • Ali

    Nail polish can be fun with out any hint of sexualisation. I was given some nail polish one year for christmas and my little cousins (4, 6 and 7) were all intrigued and insisted that I paint their nails. The 4 year old and the 7 year old were both boys but they got right into it. The older one defiantly knew it was a ‘girly’ thing to do and got it taken off before he went home but he had a great time while we were doing it. You will not be able to convince me that the 4 year old or the 6 year old were in any way sexualised by leaving it on, if anything it was breaking down the stereotypes.

    If all that beauty stuff is treated as a game or a bit of fun then it is no more dangerous than a halloween costume or a fantasy story. I think you teach your child more in your personal attitude to life than you do during your stop off at the nail salon. If you constantly whine that you have chipped a nail, comment on other women who don’t have perfect nails or ‘have’ to go to the salon then whether or not you take the child with you they will pick it up. The sexualisation of girls is a bad thing no question-but that sexualisation is about a life time of attitude not how you spend one afternoon

  • Leigha

    What I find interesting is that when I was a kid, nail polish (like makeup) was one of those things girls waited to be “old enough” for. I remember when I was in first grade and my babysitter painted my nails (she got permission first), and all the other girls at school were jealous because none of them were allowed to paint theirs yet. But now we’re taking three year olds for manicures? I have no problem with it, I just find it interesting.

    I personally don’t see anything remotely sexual about nail polish, and while I think you’re trying to get at focus on appearance in general, I’ve never seen a young girl caring about makeup making her look good. They normally like it because it’s fun having pretty or bright colored fingernails. (I am aware that I said pretty, but I mean it in the same sense as having a pretty pencil or backpack.)

  • Nicole

    I’m taking my daughters (age 9 and 7) for their first mani’s this weekend because I cannot paint their nails well. It’s always a disaster. Their nails are so little and my hand is not steady when hovering it. My 9 year old would be devastated if she read your article and saw that adults would think badly of her getting her nails done. When I was little I loved dressing up in my mom’s clothes, high heels, and gobs of makeup. There’s nothing sexual about nail polish. My mom took me to get my hair done at a salon every few months and then we’d go out for gelato (this was in Germany) and sit and talk and that is one of my happiest memories from childhood. I’m not at all religious, and I was very “well-liked” by boys in high school but my husband is the first guy I ever saw naked. Getting my hair and nails done (Oh, and I HATED sports, I was all about shopping for cute clothes) did not make me have low self-esteem. My 9-year old will be 10 soon and thinks boys are “gross”. I’m not worried about her thinking she has to be a slut when she chooses her hot pink nail polish this weekend. It is just a manicure. And the manicurist isn’t allowed to touch their cuticles (prevent infection). Getting your daughters plucked, waxed, flat-ironed, dressed like adults, pushed to see other girls as competition for male attention… that’s a different story. The lingerie for 4 year old’s caused a huge uproar and didn’t go anywhere. Painters in past centuries used to paint children nude, it’s nothing new. When I see pics of pretty little girls dressed up in Vogue (like that one gorgeous French girl that caused a ruckus), I don’t see anything sexual. Because it’s a little girl and there’s nothing sexual about them. And to openly talk about a little girl, saying she’s wrong and disgusting and that she looks slutty and is making pictures for perverts… What the hell is that going to do for her self esteem? For that one little French girl, it took away her day of fun and excitement and dress up and made her feel ashamed. That’s just wrong. Making a big deal out of stuff like this will not make it go away. Then it’s “pushing the envelope” and you’ll see it more and more.

  • Unegen

    If someone looks at a little girl’s polished (or unpolished) nails and finds her *sexy* on account of it, the problem lies with that person, not the girl. Seriously. It’s a manicure. Let go of your pearls before you choke yourself.