There's been a lot of attention lately on the sexualization of children (remember Thylane Blondeau and lingerie for four-year-olds?), and now the beauty industry is under some scrutiny. We already know that a little girl can get a spray tan, but she can now apparently get a bikini wax at the age of 11. Yesterday Good Morning America (you can watch the segment on Jezebel) did a piece about beauty treatments for girls, and we were pretty surprised by the services salons (and parents) were willing to perform on kids as young as 11. We're not talking about a pretty hairdo or a manicure here--although those are offered for one-year-olds! We're talking about bikini waxes for girls who are barely pubertal.
The waxing seemed the most egregious to us, so we decided to poke around a bit to see if there really is a demand for waxing services for girls. We were pretty surprised by some of the things we discovered.
We sort of assumed that there would be age limits on waxing services for minors, and this is true to an extent. While New York has no official state or city regulations, it's up to each salon to set its own standards. Strip Ministry of Waxing, which has many outposts in Asia and the UK, and opened up in NYC last year, won't do a bikini wax on anyone under the age of 18, even if there's parental consent. Ditto for Bliss Spas, who won't even let you get your nails done unless you're at least 12.
But there are plenty that will. We spoke to Eileen Cornell, the owner of MaxWax, a two-store chain in Manhattan. Her salons won't wax anyone under the age of 18 without consent, although she admits that sometimes younger ones sneak in by lying about their age or trying to use an older sibling's name. But if there's parental consent, anything is possible.
"We do see a lot of requests for waxing in young girls--especially in preparation for summer camp or for school dances. So it’s a lot of leg waxing and some bikini waxing, but nothing extreme in terms of the bikini waxes--just enough to make sure that no hair is poking out from the elastic of a swim suit," she told us via email. Another large NYC chain of nail salons, which also offer waxing services, told us they "always" do bikini waxes on girls, but try to "prepare them for the pain." When asked if they would do a Brazilian on an 11-year-old girl, we were told, "Sure." (We couldn't track down a corporate office to get an official statement about their age policy, if any, and were told a manager wasn't available.)
Mario Tricoci, a chain of salons and spas in Chicago and the Midwest, told us that they will perform bikini waxes (and other spa services) on girls ages 13-16 with parental permission. If you're 16 or older you can go without a parent, but they won't touch anyone 12 or under, even with parental permission.
Where things start to get muddy is with other waxing procedures. At a lot of places, an underarm, lip, brow, or leg wax is available for younger girls. Ramon Padilla, the Director of Strip, told us they do about 15-20 brow services a month on young teenagers. He told us, "But we're extremely careful. A parent has to be there, or we'll talk to them on the phone or by email to make sure the parent tells us what they want done." As far as requests for bikini waxes, Padilla said that there have been about 15-20 requests from underage girls since Strip opened (all denied), but he also noted that Soho/Nolita, the neighborhood where the salon is located, doesn't have a lot of children and families.
Which is not the case on the Upper East and West Sides where MaxWax is located, and the salon's business reflects this. Owner Cornell told us, "We...do a lot of upper lip and brow waxes for young girls. It’s actually quite sweet when a parent comes in with a younger child – some of the kids are terrified and some of them can’t wait to get that pesky moustache waxed."
Which brings us to the next point, and what is really the most important part of this. What's driving the kids into salons, the kids themselves or the parents? Obviously parents have to support these services, because most businesses won't do anything on a minor without a parent present. One mother interviewed for the Good Morning America piece said, "I feel it's a part of hygiene. I think they're better off starting young." Another said, "This is all new to them. You have to kind of point them in the right direction."
So the question is: Is this the right direction?