April 18, 2008

Mother-daughter bonding over waxing? At age 8 ?!?!

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, gender, objectification, sexualizing youth at 10:04 am by LB

First, a really good article at blogher by Mir Kamin about the new trend of mothers taking their 8 year-old daughters to spas…to get bikini waxes. Seriously.

She quotes the fuck shaving livejournal community, where one person commented:

It’s sad that all these moms can’t think of anything else to do to bond with their daughters but go to the spa. What about taking a walk every evening to talk about their day, or cook together, or take up art classes or fucking something else.

[…]

Also, do any other these daughters have fathers? Do any of these women have husbands?
Don’t they have some influence in their lives telling them that they’re beautiful no matter what?

I thought these were great points. Daughters need their fathers and brothers reiterate their personal value beyond their physical appearance. Even more, fathers need to not be hypocrites when it comes to valuing women, having a complex and meaningful ideal of beauty and sexuality, and assigning a health place in life for appearances. Children pick up on non-verbal and implicit cues more than we think. Mothers need to bond with their daughters in ways that don’t feed the patriarchal capitalist beauty machine. Girls should not be sex-objects-in training, despite what synonyms thesaurus.com gives for “girl.”

Philadelphia Magazine had a nauseating article about the spa happenings of the pre-teen rich and famous, enabled by the moms and the almighty dollar-greedy beauty industry.

Melanie Engle was trying to just pluck the stray hairs here and there. She was trying to deliver an age-appropriate eyebrow wax to her client. It was hard, though, because there was a foot tapping next to her, and a voice shouting in her ear: “No! Not like that — like a supermodel’s. I want them arched.”

“It’s like, ‘Okay, you’re becoming a woman now, here are the things you’ll need to do as a woman.’”

Except, of course, they’re not women. This new, unstoppable desire of mothers to pluck and paint their daughters has created an unexpected conundrum for spa owners and aestheticians, who can’t afford to lose the moms’ lucrative business — but who also don’t want to be partners in crime.

The world has changed since my ’tweendom. Look at the media, and its obsession with fame, beauty, youth, celebrities, debutantes, celebutantes. It’s in our faces all the time. It’s in our kids’ faces, too. “It’s like this keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thing has stretched to our kids,” says Dasha Klein, a Main Line mom of an 11-year-old girl at Baldwin. She knows multiple teenagers who’ve gotten boob jobs for Sweet Sixteen presents, and a 20-year-old who gets Botox. “Except they’re trying to keep up with Hollywood — and Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus and whoever else they’re looking at. Well, guess what? You’re in Philadelphia. And you’re a kid. You’re not Angelina Jolie.”

Indeed. And I found this particular part to be especially interesting:

When I was in my teenybopper heyday, there were no pop chicks who I aspired to be. There were boys I aspired to marry. The media world surrounding us made us boy-crazy — maybe not a fabulous thing for a 10-year-old, but at least it didn’t lead my friends and me to inject botulism into our foreheads before we could legally drink. It was innocent: We giggled, swooned, hung posters of Joey Lawrence and Luke Perry, giggled some more. And our moms were … uninvolved. They didn’t drop us at the playground with instructions to bring home the boy who looked the most like Kirk Cameron. They rolled their eyes, bemusedly shaking their heads as they passed by our rooms: Oh, you silly girls. End of story.

Not anymore. Today’s girls aren’t looking at posters; they’re looking in the mirror. They have a new obsession — a self-obsession — and it’s being aided and abetted by their mothers. “It’s like this focus on their outer life is trickling down to their daughters,” says Rescue’s Albert. These women have to look a certain way, so inevitably, their young daughters, still under their control, do, too.

When I read this, I thought: that’s it! Recently especially I have been struggling to recall what my 10-16 years were like. All I can seem to come up with is that they are nothing like the pornification of girlhood right now. But the author’s point really resonated with me, and from her boy-crush examples, she is probably around my age. When I was younger, reading Teen and Seventeen, there was a much greater emphasis on the “cute boys” in your fave sitcoms. And the Preferred Stock model, Joel somebody-or-other. As the writer says, that isn’t necessarily something to glorify, but it is quite distinct from what’s happening now: there was indeed more a focus on girls’ (teen) desire, fantasy, and imagination. The focus was less on making yourself the perfect porn-star object of desire. Now, the focus seems to be more who to look like, not whom to look at. It’s a matter of passivity vs. activity, objectification vs. agency, self-scrutiny vs. desire. It’s what feminism has tried so hard to steer against. And somehow more opportunities for girls self-development has been co-opted and become the freedom…to get bikini waxes at age 12. And pleasure has become derived from being pleasing rather than being pleased. At this is where is begins.

This should be a wake-up call for us. Unfortunately, it has all just become part of the game.

Oh, and this I just read about, and I don’t know what to do with it…via Jezebel, “a plunging padded bra for 7-to-8 year olds.” Seriously. And to connect this back to my growing-up years too, as adolescents, we were embarrassed about our bodies, and I don’t think that was a good thing. At all. But it’s interesting how attitudes have swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, yet still has not yielded a more substantial notion of sexual independence and autonomy. It’s a “yes, but…” kind of situation, where yes, we do (have more ‘autonomy’), but in our (still sexist) society, women’s sexual independence still gets defined by (self) objectification and her value for-another. Are we (as women) able to have sex more freely than we used to? Yes. Does this mean society has achieved “sexual liberation”? Nope. Sexual “liberation” through a culture obsessed with visual sexuality (or being visually sexual) has been bought with socio-cultural (although not legal) sexual regulation. That’s all I’m going to say on this now…but more to come on this topic.

further reading: History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault, Female Chauvenist Pigs by Ariel Levy. (both in my Amazon picks)

1 Comment »

  1. Arkhilokhus said,

    That’s a horrifying article. I kept thinking as I was reading about the mother in the spa, “Internalized oppression much?”

    “It’s a “yes, but…” kind of situation, where yes, we do (have more ‘autonomy’), but in our (still sexist) society, women’s sexual independence still gets defined by (self) objectification and her value for-another.”

    Maybe it’s necessary to untangle objectification before beauty standards can be dealt with in any meaningful way?


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