Philadelphia aesthetician Melanie Engle, whose specialty is eyebrow shaping, is no stranger to odd requests. But nothing prepared her for being asked by one client to book a bikini wax appointment for her 8-year-old daughter.
“The first thing I had to do was try and stay calm, and not yell ‘What are you thinking?’ ” said Engle. “This wasn’t about the girl developing hair early — it was the mother’s obsession with wanting her daughter to be a supermodel.”
Waxing body hair — from the simple shaping of an eyebrow arch to the painful transformation of the bikini line — has long been a rite of passage for adult women. But now, more mothers around the U.S. are taking their tweens — kids 10 to 12 years old and some even younger — to salons to get body hair removed.
“For waxing, 12 years old is the ‘new normal,’ ” Engle said.
The International Spa Association reports that 16 percent of teens who have visited a spa have had a hair removal procedure done, but the organization has no numbers for younger children because they aren’t allowed to survey them. Several salon owners around the country told TODAYshow.com that the number of kids 12 and under coming in for waxing services has increased dramatically over the past three years.
“There is a huge demand for waxing,” said Diane Fisher, owner of Eclips Salon and Eclips Kids Day Spa in McLean and Ashburn, Va., both Washington, D.C., suburbs. “Some kids do have a lot of hair. A 10-year-old with a dark mustache is going to feel self-conscious, and is going to ask for waxing.”
Nearly 20 percent of the clients that Nance Mitchell sees for bikini waxes in her Beverly Hills, Calif., salon are tweens, she says.
“The increase began a couple of years ago,” said Mitchell, who has been doing bikini waxes for more than 30 years. “Some kids come in with their mothers when the mothers are getting waxed, so they want to do it too. One 10-year-old had thick hair coming down her leg, and she had a bikini and leg wax because she couldn’t go to camp like that without getting teased.”
Video: Pampered princesses
Developing younger or too young for comfort?
Medical professionals say that there isn’t any known increase in medical complications when young girls get waxed, and that because they are younger when they develop, girls nowadays may be growing hair at an earlier age.
“It’s not uncommon for girls to get their period at 9 or 10 years old, and with that development comes increased hair growth,” said Dr. Doris Pastor, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “The waxing itself is not an issue; the bigger issue is whether they are encouraged to engage in risky behaviors.”
Some salons even advertise their services for young girls. One New York City salon, Wanda’s European Skin Care Center, boasts on its Web site that children 8 years and older can get discounted waxing for “virgin” hair. “Virgin hair can be waxed so successfully that growth can be permanently stopped in just 2 to 6 sessions. Save your child a lifetime of waxing ... and put the money in the bank for her college education instead!” the salon proclaims.
More from TODAY.com
Plaza producer: TODAY's #PinkPower event was 'my best day on the job'
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t enjoy myself. I love meeting TODAY fans and hearing their stories. But today w...
- Guess who's most likely to hand out candy, and which kind they've got
- Lunch box hero: You've got to see this dad's amazing napkin art
- Derek Jeter's sister: 'He deserves everything that comes to him'
- Scary bad: 9 worst Halloween costumes for kids
- Plaza producer: TODAY's #PinkPower event was 'my best day on the job'
The owner could not be reached for comment, but did tell the New York Post that she has seen more than 200 kid clients this year and that kids should begin waxing at 6 years old.
Engle says that the mothers who bring their daughters in for waxing come in two varieties: those who are concerned because their children are being teased about their body hair, and those she calls “perfectionists.”
“Sometimes mothers are clearly overcritical,” Engle said. “While I’m doing the child’s eyebrows, a mother will stand behind me and say, ‘Look at those blackheads, you need to have a facial, you need to go on Accutane.’ ”
Fisher, whose Eclips Kids Day Spa doesn’t defuzz bikini lines on younger children, does see four to five girls, mostly 10- to 14-year-olds, each week for other waxing procedures. The most common service is eyebrow shaping, though some mothers will request removal of body hair for their children. She says that she does see overbearing mothers who pressure their daughters to look “perfect.”
“I had a mother who brought her daughter in, pulled up her shirt and asked us to wax the girl’s back. The hair didn’t seem to be bothering the little girl, but the mom was embarrassed and wanted it done,” Fisher recounted. “I told the mom to wait until the child wanted it, but she refused.” The girl, Fisher added, was 6 years old.
A parent’s dilemma
For others, like Wanda Ramos, permitting their kids to get waxed is a way to stop them from being harassed by classmates. Her daughter, Gabriella, used to complain about the taunts and teases from kids who called her “unibrow” and “deformed” because she was hairy.
Finally, Ramos, who lives in Ashburn, Va., decided to end her daughter’s torment at 12 years old, allowing her to get her eyebrows waxed.
“It made a big difference,” Ramos said. “She feels more confident and other kids don’t make fun of her anymore — she gets compliments on how she looks now.”
But some experts say using hair removal to boost self-esteem is a bad bet.
“Girls are learning the worst possible lessons about body image and body hair,” said Dr. Diane Levin, professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston and co-author of the book “So Sexy So Soon.” “Keep your bodies like little girls’ because that’s what men like.”
So how do parents respond when their children want to remove body hair at a young age?
“Have talks about bodies and how bodies change,” Levin said. “Let them know that hair is normal, despite the images that they see, and hear what you daughter has to say — this should be a give-and-take conversation.
Ultimately Levin says, the trend of tweens waxing is indicative of bigger issues, including the sexualizing of young girls.
“Girls shouldn’t be taught so early to focus on how they look and that things like money, makeup and looking good buy happiness, instead of the skills that they possess,” Levin said. “Should parents feed into that negativity or create an environment to help girls resist it?”
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints