Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

How Young Is Too Young?

Laurie and Debbie say:

Maybe there’s been another piece of exploitation and body-hatred news in the years we’ve been doing this work that has outraged the two of us more than this one has … but neither of us can remember it.

Last year Nair, makers of hair-removal products, released their Pretty range, aimed at 10 to 15-year-olds, or, as they call them, “first-time hair removers”. Yes, you heard right. Ten-year-olds. Girls — children — in grades 5 and 6, encouraged to wax and chemically remove hair from their barely pubescent bodies.

The product is called NairPretty, and if you can stomach it, you can look at their campaign at www.nairpretty.com. We wouldn’t dignify them with a live link, but here are a few particularly repulsive quotations from the site:

“NairPretty Soft Peach Hair Remover Cream is for you if … you want truly silky-soft skin … you want to use it on your legs as well as your underams and bikini area …”

“NairPretty products have been specially developed for teens.”

“NairPretty can be used on your legs, underarms, bikini and arms.”

From the “Mom’s Corner”: “As adolescence sets in, it’s not uncommon for girls (and their mothers) to notice childhood fuzz turning into thicker, stronger body hair. Your daughter may feel self-conscious – but also nervous about first-time hair removal. You might feel anxious about it too. Your daughter needs your help so guide her to the best option. Before you choose a method, it’s important to know the facts.”

The article we linked to above, by Larissa Dubecki, is an excellent source of facts and outrage on the topic:

There are countless reasons to be angry about this piece of misogyny dressed up as big-sisterly advice. Let’s start with the semiotics of the campaign. It’s hard to be angry about “Pretty”.

But “Pretty” here is a (hairless) wolf in disguise. It might come in a range of fruity fragrances, but it’s also a non-threatening induction into a society that sets ridiculous standards for female appearance (among them, the notion that being hairy is ugly). “Pretty” ignores the fact that young people are progressing into adulthood at lightning speed, making the “tween” stage a mere formality as they rush from skipping ropes and jelly sandals to midriff tops and glitter make-up.

The line between childhood and adulthood is increasingly blurred. And it cuts both ways, with the older generations keen to hold onto their youth and, in the case of the Brazilian, their pre-pubescence. But while 30 is touted as the new 20 and 50 as the new 40, is it really appropriate for 10 to be the new 20?

To take Dubecki’s entirely appropriate outrage one step further, we need to deconstruct what’s happening here, because it is profoundly and repulsively twisted.

Take one strand of “hatred of living in a woman’s body,” the same kind of motivation that leads to “mummy jobs.” Put next to it a strand of “ambivalence about growing up,” which every pre-teen feels in one way or another. Add a strand of “sexualizing younger and younger girls for male availability.” Okay, that makes a pretty upsetting list. When you braid in the fourth strand, which is “wanting those sexualized very young women to look prepubescent,” suddenly you have a horrifying tangle.

Bottom line: the message of NairPretty is “we don’t want you to ever look like you are growing up, dear, but we do want you to be childlike and pretty for us to possess.”

Nair is a product of this company which makes Arm & Hammer, Aim Toothpaste, and many more common household items we won’t be buying any more.

In case you think we’re over-reacting, here (again from Dubecki’s article) is what this kind of thinking is already leading to:

Australian website girl.com.au is now promoting a feature about Brazilian waxes, otherwise known as a torture device in which all the hair in a woman’s nether regions is ripped off with a combination of hot wax and a high pain threshold. The website, which appears to be mostly read by girls in the nine to 14 age bracket, says of the Brazilian: “Nobody really likes hair in their private regions and it has a childlike appeal.”

Very wry thanks to Stef for the pointer.

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23 Responses to “How Young Is Too Young?”

  1. Lisa Hirsch Says:

    I join you in finding this utterly repulsive, in so many ways. I’m sorry to say that it’s hard to avoid Church & Dwight products. They manufacture a huge percentage of the baking soda made in the US; I think most generic/store brands ultimately come from C&D, so if you cook or bake….

  2. Orodemniades Says:

    Hmm, why not just rename it “Pedophile Delite!”

    Have you seen the tampon ads about the poor African Girlz Can’t Get Teh Educationz Without Tamponz? Can’t recall which stupid company does this ad but it’s been driving me nuts.

    Sorry for the z’s, I’m going through a phase.

  3. Tina Says:

    Orodemniades: It’s Always, and it annoys the shit out of me as well. I mean, c’mon–how the hell did women get around and get through their periods before the advent of the handy-dandy disposable pad?

    The other thing the bugs me about the Always brand: that smarmy “Have a happy period” mantra emblazoned on the backings of every pad. Don’t tell me how to have my period!

  4. Patia Says:

    Ugh. That’s so wrong, on so many levels. It’s blatantly saying, “Don’t grow up, don’t become a woman! Stay infantile forever.”

    What’s next, electrolysis at birth?

  5. OJD Says:

    Ha. I’m an ice hockey goalie. The other night, a teammate said to me right before the drop of the puck, “Have a good period.” I know she meant, “Make lots of saves,” but it was that Always happy-period commercial that came to mind.

    As for more on the situation of African girls and women and their need for pads and tampons, I’d recommend reading:
    http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/archives/407
    Older ways such as leaves and maize cobs don’t sound like the greatest options for the 21st century schoolgirl.

  6. Peevil Says:

    I’d like to be repulsed by this, but I just can’t… when I was growing up, I hit puberty at around nine (some weird combination of genetics and high body fat) and started developing what you’d have to call ‘normal’ hair on my legs and underarms. It made me the subject of intense scrutiny from school bullies, as well as a lot of girls who just jumped on the bully bandwagon especially for me. I remember being held down one day at recess and having about six kids hold me down and press clear Scotch tape on my legs and rip it off. I wasn’t allowed to shave or depilate my legs or underarms, and my mother let it be known that I’d be punished if I got my hands on those blades or chemicals before high school. So it was a good couple years of suffering.

  7. Denise Says:

    God, Peevil, that totally sucks. I have a somewhat hairy (also totally normal) 13-year old who recently started shaving with my reluctant permission. Her father (from whom I’m divorced) has told her that female body hair is “ugly”, and I’m working to give her an antidote to that poisonous, misogynist bullshit by saying that some women choose to remove body hair, some don’t, and either way is okay as long as you’re being true to yourself. Now, I’ve done my best to shelter her from the media – we turned off the TV when she was 5 – but of course she still receives pressure from her peers. I want her to be able to “fit in” if that’s what she chooses, but we talk a lot about what that means, and the fact that “fitting in” hair-wise won’t necessarily protect her from an essentially kill-or-be-killed middle school environment.

    I think that what you endured was horrible, but it was because those kids had already been socialized (perverted) to think that somehow body hair on a girl was “gross”. And ad campaigns like Nair’s only perpetuate that. And if you weren’t hairy you may have been picked on for something else, or another child may have been made a target because of some other “unacceptable” trait. (I was teased horribly for being fat, even though I was only mildly chubby). The fact is, kids are working out their social hierarchy and are gonna be cruel – the reason is incidental.

    Size acceptance (and body hair acceptance) is about strengthening individuals so they can withstand the onslaught of the media and society and just be their fabulous selves – which, in turn, will disempower those influences that seek to create self-hate so they can sell their shit which promises to make us “acceptable”. And we have to protect our kids from that with all our might if we will ever have a generation of girls who are comfortable, even joyful, about who they are.

  8. Patia Says:

    Denise: Beautifully said.

  9. Lindsay Says:

    *gape*

    *blink*

    You know, it’s not that i thought you guys were lying, but i had to go to the site because i just couldn’t believe this sort of crap actually exists. Now i’m not sure if i want to hit something or have a good long cry.

    The first time i shaved my legs, i was in eight grade. A friend of mine in the same grade had a sister who lived by herself (she was in her mid-20s). We had a sleepover at that sister’s house, and said sister encouraged us to feel free to use her shaving lotion and disposable razors if we wanted to shave our legs. There’s nothing more evil than a roving pack of 13 year old girls, and so all of us succumbed to that peer pressure and so proceeded to hack our legs to pieces. I suppose i got off better than the popular girls, who pitched in to buy an Epilady that they passed around between them.

    These days i tend to shave my legs maybe once every 6-8 months. My hair is very thin, and not very dark – i don’t know if i’d feel differently about it if it were otherwise. Part of it is just that i can’t really be bothered to go through the hassle – i’ve got better ways to spend my time. I suspect that a bad back (can’t bend over reliably well) and incredibly poor vision (shaving by feel = teh suck) are also reasons for my lack of interest.

    I know i’m rambling, but i’m just so horrified, stunned and offended by this mess… i’m not sure how else to respond. I went to their parent company’s site and took a close look at the product lines they offer. I’ll be sure to not buy anything further from them in the future.

    Ye gods and little fishes, what is this world coming to?

  10. Debbie Says:

    Peevil, I have to say that I’m more horrified by your story than I am by Nair, or even bikini waxes for pre-teens. I’m so sorry that happened to you!

  11. Orodemniades Says:

    OJD, I don’t doubt the truth of that link at all. What I detest is the pulling of the heart strings and the ‘Better Life With Our Product’ crap. Surely there are better, more renewable resources (preferably locally sourced) that some Western company coming in and making a nice fat profit.

  12. Tina Says:

    Orodemniades: Once again, I agree with what you’ve said. I was more offended by the whole “Buy our stuff, because we know better and we’re FAR more advance than you” tripe. I’ve no doubt that there’s problems with the old methods (ouch–corn cobs???), but there’s got to be a solution that’s more affordable and sustainable than shipping over Always.

    On the whole hair removal subject: kids can be cruel about ANYTHING. I have very dark hair and started shaving quite early (like 9 or 10) to dodge teasing, with my mother’s blessing. Of course, kids found other things to tease me about instead of my “sasquatch” legs. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my daughter (currently only 3), but I do know that I will be emphasizing body acceptance.

  13. Honeysuckle Says:

    Good Lord!! Femini-Nazi’s, UNITE!!
    FIRST, I must correct you – the “girl.com.au” had NOTHING written about a Brazilian leaving you looking “childlike”
    Personally, I’ve been havin a Brazilian done for about 3 yrs. It started as a joking comment the man I was seeing had said to me (He was really cracking a joke – no evil intentions). It got me curious, seeing as how I’d never intended to be worried about grooming “down there”. Shaving left a ton of itchiness & bumps. I went searching for other hair removal methods & found the Brazilian. I LOVE IT!!!!! LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT!!! I’m more comfortable (not in a sexual way) on a regular basis. I like feeling smooth – I like the touch of it, the way my pretty underwear feel. It’s MY personal choice – it’s what makes ME feel good. And, yes, I have had regular Brazilian waxes even when there was no man in my life & no HOPE of there being a man in my life anytime soon.
    Now, as for Nair Pretty. In Jr High is when girls start expecting their periods, developing breasts, wearing make-up, noticing boys, and….*GASP* the SINFUL act of SHAVING!!! I, myself, started with an electric razor my mom gave me. I wasn’t impressed – I wanted my legs to feel SMOOTH. I was known to curl up with my head on my knees & let’s face it – stubble doesn’t feel so good. I started using a razor about a year later. I liked it just fine. Nair products tend to irritate my skin a little too much, so I don’t really use them – plus, I’ve noticed more of a smoother 2nd day with the 4-blade razor than with Nair. So, Nair is targetting its newest customers. SHOCKING!!! HOPEFULLY, their products ARE a little more gentle than their regular product. Which means the girls take 5-10 min for themselves on a given day & do something that makes THEM feel good.

    Let me ask you – do you style your hair? Wear make-up? Shave? Wax? Wear clothes that flatter your figure? Wear cute shoes that coordinate with your outfit? Carry a purse that compliments your outfit or is special to you? In other words, do you do things for no real reason than it makes you feel good? Like a girl? I would think PUBERTY is when we should encourage doing things for our physical appearance that make US feel good, b/c puberty can be very difficult & confusing. Oftentimes, we grow up, focus on careers, friends, family, etc & we forget to take a few minutes to be GIRLS. If we can instill that young enough, then, the women of tomorrow will be running successful corporations, but they will NEVER forget they are GIRLS & indulge themselves in GIRL-stuff. Maybe it’ll be a cute & funky pedicure, styled nails, a lean & fit figure, pigtails when she’s outta the office, flirty lingerie just to lay around by herself. But, she will always remember that she’s a girl, first. Good for her.

    But, oh, wait! You have a problem with that, don’t you? Does this mean I lose my membership into the Girls Club of the World b/c I have the AUDACITY to LIKE doin lots of girlie things, such as that “shaving” thing?

  14. gretchen Says:

    i think it is hard that younger women feel the pressures already of being perfect. i got sick last year from breast implants – at only 26. please see my website here http://www.myimplantstory.com.

  15. Patia Says:

    If we can instill that young enough, then, the women of tomorrow will be running successful corporations, but they will NEVER forget they are GIRLS & indulge themselves in GIRL-stuff.

    Gee, and here I thought I became a woman when I hit puberty.

  16. Honeysuckle Says:

    Really? Hmm…I have a wonderful career I’ve worked my tail end off for. My career field is predominantly men & it’s VERY easy to get sucked into “job, job, job” & forget yourself.
    THANK GOD I have girl-friends who keep me grounded & keep me remembering I’m still a girl. I have my nails/toes done regularly. I get waxed. I lounge around my house in silky lingerie and enjoy the feel of the material & how it looks.
    If you wanna argue semantics & make yourself feel all big & wonderful b/c you’re a WOMAN, go for it!! I’m an adult, I’m a LADY, I’m a woman & I’m still a girl. I feel sorry for you that you’ve forgotten those things. Being a girl doesn’t mean being a child. It means enjoying those girlie things that make us such a special, wonderful gender. Like our silly slumber parties when we were kids.
    We can do anything. But, thanks to the femi-nazis, I’m not supposed to appreciate a man holding a door for me, appreciate looking pretty or anything like that. B/c I gotta be tough like a guy. Whatever. If that floats your boat, go for it. Me? I choose to leave the tough employee at work & be a girl the rest of the time. It’s quite nice. You should remind yourself you’re not just a woman sometimes – you just might enjoy it.

  17. Patia Says:

    Honey, I have long hair, I wear lipstick and toenail polish and jewelry and cute lingerie. I love men. I even hang out with my girlfriends and giggle about men.

    Just because I don’t think my crotch needs to look like a 10-year-old’s — or that 10-year-olds should be treated as if they are tiny tramps in training — doesn’t make me a feminazi. Go fuck yourself.

  18. Laurie Says:

    Gretchen,

    Thanks for pointing us at you website. I’m sure you’re helping lots of women by telling your dreadful experience with implants. Good luck!

    Patia,

    You’re a girl after my own heart!

  19. Honeysuckle Says:

    Oh, Patia!!! I never suggested you “had” to have a bare genital area…I, personally, LIKE my area smooth & hair-free. I feel fresher, I feel sexier. That is MY personal preference. YOURS is to be au natural. Good for you.
    Now, how is Nair Pretty teaching pre-teens to be tramps? I didn’t realize shaving made a girl a tramp. Damn! I think every woman I know must be a tramp, according to that definition.
    I also don’t understand why MY personal preference to be waxed requires me to “fuck myself”. Real mature. Hope I can be bitter & nasty, I mean, sweet & charming, like you one day.

  20. Honeysuckle Says:

    You know…have a question…
    Why does everyone just automatically go to the thought that a bare “downstairs” is equitable to a 10yr old? Personally, I don’t. I see it as it it – the female genital area, all soft & smooth.
    Interesting you go the perverted route. What does that say about you?

  21. Debbie Says:

    Just a quick response to Honeysuckle: First, we didn’t comment on the girl.com.au site directly, we just linked to Larissa Dubecki’s article about it. I just looked again carefully, and you’re perfectly right. They do recommend Brazilian waxes, they are clear about how much they hurt, and they call them a “must-get-done” if you can endure the pain. They do not equate them with childhood.

    As for the rest, I don’t think anyone here is trying to tell you what to do with your own body–I’m certainly not. I love seeing you say “Good for you” about someone else’s personal preference, and I feel the same way.

    What we try to look at in this blog is not so much people’s personal choices as the factors that affect all of our personal choices. Obviously, no one would get a Brazilian before the idea existed; so what brought the idea into being? Why are they popular now, and not in the 1960s? Or the 1920s?

  22. Honeysuckle Says:

    Hmmm….Interesting you should ask…

    According to (http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Brazilian-Wax—All-You-Need-to-Know-for-a-New-Look!&id=239140)
    History

    Brazilian bikini waxes have been very popular since the 90′s. Brazilian waxing was introduced to New York in 1987 by a group of Brazilian-born sisters, who gave it its name.
    These Brazilian women were not however the first that removed their pubic hair.
    Women have been removing their pubic hair for thousands of years and the trend started in ancient Egypt!
    Women in the Middle East have also used Brazilian waxing since ancient times and look usually was achieved just before their wedding for the purpose of displaying purity.

    According to (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_waxing)
    It is named after Brazil, the country with which it is most often associated and from which the modern practice originated. In Brazil itself, it is not called Brazilian waxing, but simply depilar (to wax, to pluck hairs). In Middle Eastern societies, removal of the body hair is considered a proper form of hygiene, necessitated by ancient local customs. Contemporary sources indicate that the French nobility also practiced waxing during the 17th century.

    And, finally, according to (http://mszigzag.typepad.com/ms_zigzag_/2005/09/pouring_hot_wax.html)

    A Brief History of the “Brazilian” :
    The Brazilian wax was introduced to New Yorkers in 1987 when seven Brazilian sisters, Jocely, Jonice, Joyce, Janea, Jussara, Juracy, and Judseia Padilha opened J. Sisters International Salon in midtown Manhattan. They swore by it’s effectiveness in many aspect: bikinis had gotten skimpier, husbands were suddenly eager to please their wives, and since the hair doesn’t grow back for a month, it was easy to maintain.

    Hmmm….so…in other words, Sex-Crazed Americans didn’t dream it up & force it on women…It’s been going on for more than just a couple years & just got to be popular here in the last several years.

    I just LOVE folks who have so many strong opinions, yet, don’t have an ounce of knowledge or understanding.

  23. Laila Says:

    Prepubescent girls have hairless vaginas.

    North America’s current standard of female beauty is stunningly akin to the body of your average six year old girl – in other words, completely curveless.

    Put these two together, and what do you get? The below-eight set has become America’s sexual ideal.

    Enough said.

    PS – Honey, you seem hell-bent on being willfully ignorant, so congratulations for missing the point of this blog so flagrantly.

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