How Young is Too Young?

Posted December 27, 2012 by Katherine Toll in Life After Five

I sat in my health club on Christmas Eve where I received a long overdue manicure and pedicure — a holiday gift to myself. Shortly after I sat down, a little girl, perhaps five or six, came over to pick out a nail polish color. A mani/pedi for a wee one on Christmas Eve! How freaking adorable is that?

But, I slowly changed my point of view as I watched the scene unfold. She chose two different polishes, one for her toes and one for fingers, natch. She picked a sparkly red shade for her fingers, which I suspected her mom would veto. She’s much too young for something so garish. Much to my surprise, the mom agreed to it, plus a harsh purple for her toes. I brushed it off as no big deal – the little one likes sparkly colors. What’s the harm in that?

As she took her seat next to me, it slowly dawned on me this was not her first manicure. She set her hands in front of her without any instruction and perched on her seat ready for her service. Throughout the manicure, she sat perfectly still, obviously aware that any quick move spelled disaster for her manicure. Even her manicurist commented on her comportment. Good God – I can barely sit through a manicure without dinging it somehow. Where did this child learn the art of sitting for a polish change?

She behaved like a lovely young lady, poised and at ease. But somehow it disturbed me. Normally, I delight in well-mannered children — it renews my faith in humanity when I see children demonstrate respect and kindness.

I examined her more closely, and inventoried her clothing. She wore a pale pink long sleeve t-shirt, sand-colored pants, and I saw her mother holding the little one’s pale pink Mary-Jane flats. Her hair was pulled up in a lovely silver barrette, and soon she would sport a festive (albeit trashy) manicure/ pedicure.

The haze cleared around my discomfort and crystalized into one question: How young is too young to expose a child to the world of “upkeep.”  You know what I mean – the seemingly small luxuries in life that develop into essential needs — manicures, facials, pedicures, hair coloring, hair straightening, hair curling, Botox, juice fasts, strength training, cardio workouts, blah, blah, BLAH!

I immediately thought of Jean Kilbourne and Diane Levin’s award winning book, So Sexy, So Soon.  The authors take aim at pop culture’s role in sexualizing our children. An except from the So Sexy, So Soon website says,

Thong panties, padded bras, and risqué Halloween costumes for young girls. T-shirts that boast “Chick Magnet” for toddler boys. Hot young female pop stars wearing provocative clothing and dancing suggestively while singing songs with sexual and sometimes violent lyrics. These products are marketed aggressively to our children; these stars are held up for our young daughters to emulate–and for our sons to see as objects of desire.

I realize the leap I made from a young girl’s mani/pedi to the exploitation of her youth wreaks of extremism, but it begs the question, do we unwittingly perpetuate pop culture’s ‘sexy’ message with seemingly innocent acts like letting a young girl get a manicure? Do unspoken messages seep into her psyche as she watches her nails turn color? Appearance matters. Behave. Beguile.

I pictured her brother elsewhere in the club, running, tripping, and yelling his way up and down the basketball court. I saw him taking up space, making noise, and flinging the basketball toward the hoop – over and over. I left my appointment mulling over the conundrum. Have we simply created the grand illusion of equality? Or, are we destined to generate our gender stereotypes ad infinitum?

About the Author

Katherine Toll

Katherine (Kathi) Toll possesses more than 20 years of management and consulting experience within the retail and beauty industry. Her industry experience combined with her special brand of irreverence fuels her mission to find the ‘must-have’ beauty products for Career Girls of all ages. She aspires to remind women the airbrushed perfection of the beauty industry must be tempered with a healthy dose of humor. Kathi holds a general management certification from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, along with an undergraduate degree from Northwestern’s School of Communications.