A recent article on YPulse covers the rising industry of Tween salons, specifically one suburban salon called Sweet & Sassy Salon and Spa, where girls are encouraged to be “Diva for A Day.” A quick search on Google and you’ll find similar tween salons and spas that offer any spa service you could possibly imagine. These businesses are capitalizing on a manufactured girlhood that centers on beauty (this one even relies on gossip rhetoric). The YPulse article claims (bizarrely), when you’re a tween, “as Britney put it, you’re not a girl, not yet a woman.” I disagree on so many levels, and not only because Britney was twenty years old when she came out with that song.
When I first read the article, and after discussing it with LAMPpost editor Emily Long, we talked about how problematic it is to encourage girls to emulate the “diva” mentality. “Having fun with the way you look and expressing yourself doesn’t need to mean you’re a diva, or pretending to be a diva or celebrity, and adheres to this message that caring about fashion/beauty equals vanity, snobbery and brattiness as opposed to things like creativity and identity,” points out editor Emily Long, “This salon is clearly funneled toward one very narrow brand of beauty.” In fact most of the tween spas and salons I found were pretty unadulterated about this diva shtick. Yet many of them offered services for children younger than tweens.
Sadly, these salons think they’re providing a positive service. The narrow brand of beauty they’re selling is misinterpreted as empowerment while they claim they’re providing spaces for bonding between girls and their mothers. Yet girls need empowerment and female relationships that run much deeper than the vanity of red carpet fashion show and pop karaoke that comes with the Sweet & Sassy salon packages. These salons are selling the same poisoned Kool-Aid as the problematic beauty industry while masking it with a facade of pink and glittery girl-power. In the end, all they learn is that looking good matters more than anything else.
This photo of Sweet and Sassy Salon is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Through the rhetoric of tweenhood, the beauty industry is reaching girls at alarmingly young ages. With it comes the struggle to figure out how to manage expectations of beauty that encourage these children to act much older than they are. The video (top) for Sweet & Sassy salon eerily reminds me of TLC’s infamous show Toddlers and Tiaras, with young girls prancing down the red carpet and nervously eyeing the camera taping their fashion show. This practice of self-display feels contrived for most adults so it’s especially bizarre when 7-year-olds are doing it. Peggy Orenstein discusses the princessification and girlie-girl culture of these salons in her book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. In her first chapter she explains, “In one study of eighth-grade girls, for instance, self-objectification — judging your body by how you think it looks to others — accounted for half the differential in girls’ reports of depression and more than two-thirds of the variance in their self-esteem. Another linked the focus on appearance among girls that age to heightened shame and anxiety about their bodies. Even brief exposure to the typical, idealized images of women that we all see every day has been shown to lower girls’ opinion of themselves, both physically and academically.” This is not surprising, yet places like Sweet & Sassy create entire business images that–to their credit, probably unknowingly–profit off of these depressing realities.
When I see places like tween salons that conflate the diva mentality of fashion with self-empowered creativity I get really frustrated. It’s difficult enough for girls to negotiate issues of beauty without an entire industry driving it. Don’t get me wrong, I think self-expression and dress-up play is really important. If kids (read: all genders) enjoy colorful nail polish or dress-up, they should have the space to explore these things. But this sort of play doesn’t come without implications. Parents must help their children to contextualize it through the scope of self-empowerment instead of through this snobby, celebri-fied diva mentality. While the issue isn’t exactly new, it appears to be growing ever more dire.
Emily is a contributing writer for The LAMPpost. You can find more of her writing on her blog, “Kids and Gender.”