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.