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Spas for tweens: Fun or f*&$ed up?

I have mixed feelings about the “little girl dress-up” industry.

I recently read a New York Times article about spas that cater to young girls, and it kind of made my head spin. As an adult, I immediately cringed. Six-year-olds getting massages? A spa for girls called “Seriously Spoiled” — as if being spoiled is a good thing?

My thoughts leapt to sickly pink princess culture, teaching girls that their appearance matters more than anything else about them, saying that being ultra-feminine is the best (if not only) way to be a female person.

And people are paying hundreds of dollars so their daughters can have this experience? Ew.

But I remember going to at least one party just like that when I was younger. For her eighth birthday, one of my friends took a group of girls to a salon. We all got fancy hairdos and had our pictures taken, and it was amazing. I got a bunch of colorful ribbons in my hair, and I liked them so much that I slept in them that night. It was like playing dress-up but with better props — we were actually in the salon! It was really happening! And we looked so great!

I don’t particularly like that my knee-jerk reaction to the spas-for-girls article was disgust. So much of being a kid is trying out different identities and different experiences to see which ones suit you. Why shouldn’t this type of experience be one of them? Our culture is already so disdainful of femininity. Why shouldn’t girls learn to celebrate it? And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel pampered on a special occasion, no matter how old you are.

Maybe what gets to me is the possibility that it might not be just for a special occasion. If you are, as Seriously Spoiled suggests, actually spoiled, this is something you do all the time. It’s the implied lack of balance that bugs me: overemphasizing primping and underemphasizing, for example, sports, or art projects. It’s great if you have fun with feeling pretty, but where does that slide into feeling like you have to conform to mainstream beauty norms?

On the other hand, the Seriously Spoiled website is currently advertising a summertime Mermaid Makeover, and I’m not going to pretend that doesn’t appeal to me, even though I’m almost thirty.

Getting dressed up with your friends and feeling fancy and special never really stops being fun. It’s the shift from having fun to feeling pressured to look a certain way that concerns me.

I would very much hope that shift doesn’t happen. I would hope that the people who take advantage of spa services for girls do it in a celebratory, playful way, and that they have as much fun as I had at my friend’s party when we were eight.

I’m still not sure how I feel about salon manicures for toddlers, though.

Sasha Albert holds a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality from the University of Amsterdam, and works in public health research in the Boston area.

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