Many moons ago, when I went to summer camp, getting ready for the excursion meant a trip to Marshall’s for a new swimsuit. If the New York Times Style section is to be believed (which I am not saying it is: honestly, sometimes this shit is unbelievable) some tweens and teens prep for camp more glamorously: Girls are supposedly waxing their legs, armpits and bikini lines, getting keratin treatments, and even pre-summer camp facials.
One waxing salon manager said that in May and June, almost 40 percent of clients are under age 16. (She didn’t specify what kind of waxes these girls were getting, however.) Another salon manager said she expects a 30 percent increase in young wax clients from last year.
A New York City mother quoted in the piece said she took her 12-year-old daughter for a full leg wax and a bikini wax before camp last summer because “it’s about grooming and cleanliness.” That one short sentence has so much to unpack. Learning adult grooming behavior is part of adolescence and I don’t have to spell out why tween and teen girls want so badly to just do it. But by extension, learning grooming also means learning certain values that pertain to the acts of grooming and what they mean as far as “femininity” is concerned. That’s where the mother’s comment about “cleanliness” sticks out: I can understand the time-saving (and cold-shower avoiding) reasons for leg waxing versus leg shaving. I can even understand the aesthetic appreciation of a feminine woman having a hairless body, even if I think it’s disconcerting that a 12-year-old on the cusp of puberty would have such concerns. But cleaniliness? What part of leg hair, pubic hair, upper lip hair, or even armpit hair is so dirty or gross that it needs to be removed? Washed, yes. That’s just sanitary. But removed?
So, to that end, I can’t help but feel revulsion for both the society at large and the specific parents for instilling these ideas in their daughters, especially when they are so young. Let me be clear: I don’t care that a 12-year-old wants to shave her legs (or pits or bikini area). What I care about is that these girls’ adult role models and the culture at large is enabling and even encouraging them to wax (or get keratin treatments, etc.) in such an adult way instead of letting them just be. Isn’t having frizzy hair and a few stray pubes peeking out of your bikini bottom part of being 12? And 15? And, heck, 18? Seventh grade seems like an awfully early time to be concerned about femininity and “looking like a woman,” when the reality is that the girls are so far off emotionally and intellectually from actual mature womanhood.
Also, “womanly” adult beauty upkeep can also be costly and time-consuming, so it becomes about adhering to an ideal of middle-class/upper-middle class womanhood. Girls from wealthier families are privileged with the ability to get their hair professionally straightened, while all the other girls just deal with the frizz some other way. Don’t those girls feel insecure at camp, too? Unfortunately, despite everything objectionable about it, this tween waxing trend is likely not going to reverse — although the Times notes some spas have age restrictions or require parental approval. If Mommy and Daddy are paying, most salons sure aren’t going to turn away the good business, you know?
Moms quoted in this New York Times article — including makeup artist Bobbi Brown, who is herself a mother and has also written beauty books targeted towards teenagers — all offer the same reasons why a 12-year-old might get a bikini wax: sparing them embarrassment from other kids. I mean, duh. That’s sort of what grooming is all about, right? Not being the stinky kid on the bus? No doubt about it, body hair can feel embarrassing when it’s new to your anatomy, especially when it is dark and profligate, and kids can be cruel. I know that firsthand: My mom never taught me how to shave and it only occurred to me to do so when 6th graders in English class stared making fun of me for having hairy armpits. It was absolutely humiliating. To this day, I still feel some annoyance towards my mom that she just ignored “the shaving talk” entirely, forcing me to fend for myself. But it also didn’t kill me to not have started shaving my legs and waxing my eyebrows in my own due time.
People are allowed to spend their money the way that they wish, and of course, to parent the way they wish. I just wish people looked more closely at the beauty/hair removal industry and saw that girls are being recruited for adult “womanly upkeep” younger and younger is very good for the bottom line, too.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.