Child-only salon booming, but what’s the real cost?

// 15 June 2008

When I was a little girl I used to sit at the table staring eyes-wide at my mother carefully apply lipstick, eye shadow and blusher. I loved to watch the mixing of the colours, the anticipation of a hand-slip as she carefully applied her mascara to luscious lashes, with a square of tissue paper on hand just in case. The best part was her final new triumphant smile as she looked in the mirror when the job was done. I thought she was beautiful, but apart from a few clandestine attempts at clumsily applying lipstick to my entire face, I had little interest in using make-up. The reason it appealed to me was because it was part of a female adult world of which I was not yet a part, and so on those occasions when I did go wild with the contents of my mother’s cosmetics bag the pleasure arose from the fact I knew I was doing something wrong and handling the possessions used closely by a woman I adored rather than from a sense of satisfaction at what I looked like. They were defined as “mammy’s things” and that’s what I understood them to be. I was not punished for my curiosities, but I was also never encouraged to achieve a maturity I was not yet ready for by imitating my mother’s visage.

So, I find it difficult to understand the thought-processes motivating mothers to take their children to Tantrum, the first child-only beauty salon located on London’s King’s Road. As reported by The Observer today, here dolls and DVDs rest easily alongside the latest issues of Tatler and Vogue, the salon a monstrous hybrid, aspiring to a twisted form of childish maturity, having connotations of awful child beauty pageants where little girls are painted garish, teeth-whitened and hair tousled so that they look like over made-up 30-year-olds. Forget run-of the mill hand lotions. At Tantrum soap dispensers are filled with the best, most exclusive product by Champneys, with a fish tank in front of the basins containing considerably more than scabby old goldfish, with a collection of stingrays taking pride of place. The girls want to play, yeah? Well, forget Tiny Tears, here she can plays shops with expensive, old fashioned dolls while she waits for the chair to free up so she can get her eye brows plucked and baby nails painted.

There is something grotesque about this, not only because the extravagance and over-indulgence is something that these young girls will come to expect when they mature, nor because this indoctrinates girls from a young age to believe that self-perfection is central to femininity and womanhood. But rather there is a whole industry flourishing promoting the accelerated adolescence of children without taking into account the consequences of making a girl look more mature than she actually is. While to the girl in question she just looks pretty, emulating the images of women she is told are beautiful by popular culture, with this devastating innocence making her vulnerable to abuse. Although many women wear make-up to make them feel good about themselves and to improve their confidence, it is traditionally used to make one seem more attractive to the opposite sex, or at least that’s often the effect. A little girl sporting the luscious pout of an 18-year-old and the buoyant locks of a catwalk queen has undoubtedly been sexualised without even realising the full implications of looking this way.

While little girls do want to imitate their mother’s actions, surely there must reach a stage when this has to be harnessed for the child’s own safety? And while this seems like harmless fun, how will this progress? In a few years time can we expect reports of child-only plastic surgeons, giving nose-jobs to the under-fives and boob jobs to ten-year-olds? I’d say I was being facetious but I honestly cannot say with certainty that this will not happen. But here’s where the money is, and as long as its proving a lucrative venture people will be investing:

Child beauty has become big business. Research by market analysts Mintel of 6,000 youngsters from the age of seven to 19 found that more than six out of 10 girls aged seven to 10 wore lipstick and more than two in five wore eye-shadow or eye-liner. Almost one in four wore mascara and three in five wore perfume. According to a 2005 British Journal of Developmental Psychology study, almost 50 per cent of girls between five and eight want to be slimmer.

A girl is not predisposed to want to wear make-up. It is learnt behaviour. It is a desire gleaned from the pages of celebrity magazines. But what is a parent to do? Especially when your child goes to school and her classmates are there with the latest Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen lipstick discussing which of the Bratz dolls has the best colour hair. To this I really do not know the answer, and as I am not a parent I can only speak from my experiences growing up as a child. Even though my mother wears make-up everyday she made me believe as a little girl that I had no use for it, that my skin was nice as it was, that, in fact, I looked better without it. So, what I will highlight (which could work) is the need to instil in young girls the idea that they do not need make-up, that they are beautiful without it, and hopefully they will grow and mature, so comfortable in their own skin that using cosmetics will be a choice instead of something they have developed a life-long dependency on to make themselves look and feel good. While I am not particularly attractive, nor the most confident girl in the world regarding my looks, I have never felt the need to hide my face away under make-up, something I think emanates from my childhood. Not that make-up is always about hiding away, and I understand the vast majority of women use it to enhance their looks rather than to obscure their features, but there are those whose sense of self-worth is entwined with the thickness of their foundation and the way they look, and surely we do not want this for young women of the future?

Dr Pat Spungin, child psychologist and founder of Raising Kids understands the damaging implications of offering beauty treatments for children:

What are you going to be doing when you’ve got your nails painted at three? Are you going to be out in the garden digging for worms or in the sandpit? It’s too much. It’s encouraging children to become overly self-conscious and aware of their appearance. We already have enough evidence that children are feeling unhappy with themselves.

Comments From You

Davina // Posted 15 June 2008 at 8:46 pm

My little neice turned 3 last month and she wanted nail varnish… I refused to buy it for her, but it was with some sadness that I saw she had some on the last time I saw her (a couple of weeks ago). I guess my sister bought her some. Then again, I think with my neice it’s like another form of paint to her – she’s very active and loud and not a real ‘girly-girl’ at all – which I’m glad for. In fact she’s a bit too loud!

Thing is though I got into nail varnish quite early myself, from seeing my sister use it, when I was about 7/8. I didn’t connect it with beauty rituals though…for me it was more of a skill, using different colours (pretty much the whole rainbow) and stripes, dots, stickers etc. I still do it, when I have time….

I didn’t see anything on the Tantrum website that said it offered beauty treatments though? Just seems to be haircuts.

Abby O'Reilly // Posted 15 June 2008 at 8:53 pm

Hi Davina, thanks for your message. There was more information about Tantrum in The Observer article on the salon, in which more treatments were mentioned than on the website. The Observer piece is actually really interesting as the journalist spoke to some mothers who took their daughters there. I can understand what you mean regarding the nail varnish. I think this only becomes a dangerous problem when taken to the extreme and little girls begin to recognise a correlation between what’s considered attractive and what they do to their bodies. If, for you niece for example, nail varnish is just something colourful on her nails with no other significance I don’t consider that to be hugely problematic.

Beth // Posted 15 June 2008 at 10:21 pm

While I agree that taking your child to a salon of this sort is ridiculous, I honestly feel that more based on the waste of money. I’ll explain.

The notion of childhood didn’t even begin until the 19th century and ever since then children have been dressed up in a very romantic and infantilized version of what they are. Something I think can be just as damaging as maturing them too early.

I don’t personally have a problem with children playing with makeup. My brother and I both did from the time I was about 5. I wasn’t allowed to wear it out of the house, but I wasn’t allowed to wear my tinkerbell costume outside either. Or my pajamas for that matter. But my mother worked as a hairdresser for much of my childhood and she permed my hair from a very young age as well as I believe the first time my hair was dyed I was about 11.

So I definitely think that there’s a balance. Perhaps my mom shouldn’t have permed my hair when I was 6. But I think I’ll forgive her since it really was pretty harmless overall.

The other thing to my mind is, this isn’t really new. Today its the rich upper class, but originally it was the nobility and royalty who dressed their children up and paraded them about like miniature adults. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme, etc.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 15 June 2008 at 10:21 pm

Whilst there is nothing at all wrong with a little girl say wanting to try on nail varnish, what our society is still refusing to acknowledge is how increasingly younger and younger girls are being sexualised. Society throws its hands up in horror whenever child porn is discovered on a man’s computer but we appear to be unable to join up the dots. Tantrum which portrays itself as a ‘child beauty salon’ is in fact targetting girls not boys. I see boys are not being taken by their fathers to have their nails and eyebrows plucked.

Girls are children not infantilised adult females yet this is how our society is portraying girls – as female children but with supposedly adult female bodies and of course their bodies are for the sexual gratification of males. Ever younger girls are being told their sole purpose is to be a male’s sexualised object even though many young girls do not understand totally what a ‘sexual commodity is’ still they are being indoctrinated into this misogynstic belief.

Our society stil believes that certain young girls are ‘Lolitas’ or more accurately female sexual predators who supposedly seduce poor innocent men. Why else do we routinely hear male judges claim a young girl was raped by an adult male because she was ‘provocatively dressed,’ or ‘she led him on.’ It is a no-win situation for young girls because the only message they increasingly receive via the media and cynical advertising is that all girls are supposed to be ‘sexy’ and the younger she is the more ‘sexy’ she supposedly is.

One recently published book which deals with the cynical sexual exploitation of young girls is entitled ‘The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualisation of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It. It is written by M. Gigi Durham and Ms. Durham writes from a feminist perspective. Rather than blaming parents and girls Ms. Durham analyses how the media and advertising operates and how easy it is to teach both girls and boys media awareness.

Girls are more than boys’ sexualised commodities and yes Ms. Gigi does tackle the supposedly taboo issue of female sexuality wherein it is not simply an adjunct of male sexuality.

JaneL // Posted 15 June 2008 at 10:26 pm

When I was a child I liked building things with bolsa wood and egg boxes, but no-one put me on a building site and apprenticed me to a brick layer.

The problem for me isn’t so much that they’re playing with make-up and mimicking adult women, it’s that they’re being treated as if they actually are little adults; they’re having their game taken seriously. And when adults take something seriously, the children do too, because they often can’t evaluate the significance of their actions by themselves yet.

And I loved make-up. I still remember my first ‘grown-up’ lipstick (boots no.17 Twilight Teaser). I had drawers full of cheap nailvarnish and when I was about 11 my friend almost burnt her fringe off with my curling tongs. But the adults never encouraged us, or took us seriously. It was just an extension of the dressing-up box. It was not part of the adult world, whereas a beauty salon is. Children will always pretend to be grown-ups, the problem is when adults pretend that girls are women.

Because not only is it creepy and damaging to future self-image they’re just the ruining the game. No-one sent environmental health round to the restuarant me and my sister ran with the plastic pizza that velcroed together. No-one asked where I went to medical school when I stuck pins in Tiny Tears. And no-one thought my badly applied ‘Ruby Sparkle’ Spectacular brand nailvarnish meant I should be taken for a manicure.

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 15 June 2008 at 10:53 pm

I think the government/State/authority should step in. One thing is girls playing with their mother’s make up. Another thing is young children being exploited as yet another marketing niche.

We shouldn’t let children (or adults for that matter) be shaped so they conform to the interests of big money makers.

Shea // Posted 16 June 2008 at 3:05 am

Its just so sad, if nothing else. Childhood, I mean real childhood, free of responsibility and seriousness, lasts precious little time as it is.

I was still playing with my dolls (and action man courtesy of my brothers) when I was 11. I had no interest in make-up and would scream blue murder at having my hair brushed. My mother considered it “gilding the lily” for anyone under 18 to apply make-up and how true that is.

Its almost as if overnight when I went to secondary school I was expected to transform into someone who knew or cared about beauty and make-up and hair.

A ten/eleven/twelve year old doesn’t need anything on her face, she is a lovely fresh faced thing. I agree with you Abby the only reason to really wear make-up is to mask the hideous toil that working a 60 hour week brings.

We are sexualising our children too, too young, we deny them the right to just be children, without having responsibility thrust upon them, which is what this is. Take responsibility for your looks, your appearance, without having any clue of the signals being sent out by this. I agree with you, Jennifer Drew, it is a horrendous precedent to set.

Ledh // Posted 16 June 2008 at 8:32 am

Whatever happened to tagging along with mum to the hairsalon and the hairdresser being so sweet that she braided your hair really prettily and you felt you looked like a princess?

honestly, it was all -I- needed when Iw as 6.

Dave // Posted 16 June 2008 at 9:00 am

I think giving children a balanced view,

which plays down the importance of *constantly* exhibiting a particular gendered image is the way to go.

I like the attitude at my sister’s old primary school, where the sports uniform was the default uniform and they frequently had [non gender-specific] dress-up days. Even if girls want to look “girly” most of the time, I don’t think that’s harmful, so long as they appreciate they have a choice.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 16 June 2008 at 10:46 am

I remember having this lurid pink “Tinkerbell” nail varnish when I was little. It was peel off – I used to put it on just so I could peel it off. When I got a bit older I fell in love with Spectacular and Star Gazer nail varnish – mainly because there were blues and reds and glitter ones. I’d never seen blue nails before but I knew I wanted them! But I used to paint my nails *and* dress up in dungarees and pretend to be a plumber with my brother. Nothing stopped me doing both. And here i think lies the rub:

Painting your nails or pretending to be a plumber is playing games about the adult world. Going to a beauty salon is entering the adult world – if your parents are paying a lot of money to have your nails done/hair done/whatever, I can’t see them letting their “little princess” spoil it by digging up worms in the garden.

It all seems very restrictive to me. Girls seem to be getting boxed in these strict gender roles earlier and earlier these days. It’s like we are going backwards.

I mean, for example, sure Barbie was very girly, but unlike the Bratz dolls she raised her little sisters, worked as a pilot, teacher, doctor, ballerina, vet and still found time for Ken. (I still have my issues with Barbie, but I’d rather my nieces played with her than the entirely vapid Bratz).

It’s like girls aren’t allowed to be children anymore – boys still are, but girls are pressured to be “women” so much earlier now.

Davina // Posted 16 June 2008 at 11:34 am

Thanks for that, Abby – I missed the link the first time. Good God that’s horrible. My sister would definitely not tolerate any kind of makeup on my niece, not when she’s still a child, and definitely not any that’s ‘properly blended and applied’. A bit of glitter gel, probably, yeah.

I remember when I got my hair cut at Toni & Guys (only ‘cos I had a money-off voucher, by the way) and seeing a mother with her two sons, 12, 13-year-olds getting their hair but. I was quite surprised by this as I’d never seen kids in a salon before.

But then I’ve hardly ever been to salons – when I was younger, my Dad cut my hair (leading to a period where I was affectionately called Mushroom-Head – yeah, thanks Dad) and then me & my mum had ours done by a friend who was also a mobile hairdresser. During uni I went to a training academy. Students may take two hours to cut your hair, but they cost a fiver.

I just can’t stand to spend money on ‘beauty’ which is why I don’t understand how this is a fun bonding activity between mothers and daughters. Surely it’s better for the mum to maybe show the daughter how to do it, with the added caveat of ‘this is fun and not something you should do every day because you’re beautiful anyway’?

Oh yeah – my mum did take me to waxing once (top lip and eyebrows) – I must ask her about that because it wasn’t something she did regularly – and talk about ouch. Nowadays I do her makeup for her if she’s going out somewhere special….but that’s like how I paint my friends’ nails sometimes….much more of a fun bonding activity than paying someone to do it for you and saying ‘makeup/nails=pretty=the norm. Even though you’re only seven years old’.

sian // Posted 16 June 2008 at 12:57 pm

we want our girl children to look like women and our women to look like children – arrggghh!

i think the problem for me lies in the fact that by taking our child to a beauty salon you are starting them off to early in the endless regimes that women are expected ot fill their days with – forcing your girl children in to the world where femininity is based on make up waxing hair cuts manicures and not allowing them to find their own way, celebrate their natural beauty or telling them that there are more important things to do in life then have monthly make overs. there’s loads of time to be told to do that throughout your adult lives (women’s magazines please stand up!)

and then there’s the whole rest of it to worry about -sexualisation etc. but mainly it is just sad, taking play away from children.

Bekah // Posted 16 June 2008 at 2:35 pm


“Children will always pretend to be grown-ups, the problem is when adults pretend that girls are women”

I think you summed it up perfectly.

Seph // Posted 17 June 2008 at 1:57 am

Do none of these “parents” realise they’re baisically putting a big neon sign over their daughter’s heads saying “please objectify and abuse me”

Louise Livesey // Posted 17 June 2008 at 9:09 am

Ouch! I think there is a long way between inculcating children into objectified positions of subservience and “parents” “advertising” their children for abuse. Is that what you really meant to suggest Seph?

Soirore // Posted 17 June 2008 at 10:56 am

Does anyone else remember a story about a beauty salon a few years ago? It was called Little Lolitas, I think it got closed down due to protest at the obvious dodginess of the name and what it implied. But it was mothers taking their pre-teen daughters there too, very scary.

Playing with makeup is a very different thing to buying into the oppressive beauty industry. And the above comments are right, these girls are being denied a childhood when what should be play is turned into expectation and even a duty to look good by the routine and ritual of beautification.

Aimee // Posted 18 June 2008 at 5:15 pm

I cannot possibly imagine the mentality of someone who would allow their young daughter to be subject to beauty treatments. I work with 7 – 8 year olds and the other day we had a non-uniform day. I was disgusted to see the kids, especially the girls dressed like they were 25 and on their way to a trashy nightclub. There was all manner of playboy logos, hairpieces, make up, nail varnish etc. It seems as though we are initiating girls into this bizarre image obsessed, female sexualised culture at a younger and younger age. I worry what the future impact is going to be. I can see it already, the way they worry about their hair, and their nails and their shoes… a lot more than they worry about their school work or their individual integrity. It makes me so angry that parents buy into this crap. They’re forcing their children into disabling moulds which are only going to impede their emotional development. I wish we could just let children be children and not ‘girls’ or ‘boys’, because the children’s definitions of these terms are already so skewed by our culture, I doubt they’ll ever be able to discover what they really mean, if they mean anything at all.

Ms Patterson // Posted 24 June 2008 at 9:59 am

My 12yr girl, has her nails done every two to three weeks.

I think it is a good thing for her, because I don’t allow her to wear any make-up.

I think that there should be more salons for children as it makes them feel special.

Aimee // Posted 24 June 2008 at 4:22 pm

It makes them feel special because we tell little girls that their aesthetic appearance is what’s important! Instead of encouraging this narrow and superficial self image, perhaps we should encourage our daughters to feel special because they ARE naturally special. Tell them that they are perfect as they are and don’t need various perfecting treatments, let them be individuals without the pressures of socialised gender stereotypes and maybe they’ll feel special in their own skin. Just a though.

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