Friday, June 08, 2012

Wax nostalgic

A Styles masterpiece, in keeping with the theme of the post below: a story about how girls - young ones! pre-high-school! - are now getting expensive salon beauty procedures just to look good for summer camp. Summer camp! The height of childhood innocence! S'mores and swimming in the lake! Now you need to get waxed for this? Civilization has ended!

The other, perhaps concurrent intended response is, a hairdryer or razor, fine, but in These Economic Times, when grown women must D.I.Y. their own maintenance, hundreds of dollars spent at the salon girls too young to even have their own babysitting money feels, well, unfair.

We're meant to be horrified, in other words, in two diametrically opposed directions. To think of the 11-year-olds being prodded at as both spoiled and child-abused, to envy their access to superior depilatory techniques and to compare favorably our own relatively rustic childhoods, when kids were kids, y'know?

Contrarian mumblings:

-Legs get hairy, get shaved. But the bikini area! Does this mean that girls now need to look like porn stars to fit in at camp?

Obviously not. I take "outer bikini area" to mean what's still technically a part of the leg, exposed when one wears even a relatively modest, one-piece swimsuit. And some people are really hairy there, which I'd imagine they might be self-conscious about if they're 11. Puberty hits girls younger and younger, so this is probably an issue for many; the desire to have this hair removed wouldn't be about wanting to seem older, I'd think. Body hair does not always conveniently show up at the age at which getting rid of it is generally deemed appropriate. There's nothing sexual-as-in-the-having-of-sex about the hairiness or the demand, on the girl's part, to have it removed. Sometimes a girl starts needing a bra at 11, this we accept (although if she were fitted for a $300 La Perla, there could be a Styles article about it). Some girls, some women, never need/want waxing, some never need/want a bra; technically no one need-needs either. But the horror the story is meant to provoke comes largely from that word: bikini.

-Isn't it tragic that girls at summer camp would worry about how their hair looks after swimming?

If you take a step back, you see that we're only supposed to be shocked about the permanent-hair-straightening treatments because the girls getting them, we might assume, are white. It's old news that many black girls arrive at summer camp - and wherever else - with chemically-straightened hair. White girls, on the other hand, are expected to be low-maintenance about their hair, at least during Innocent Childhood, certainly during Carefree Summer. White girls are expected to offer clueless remarks to black girls about how much of a waste of time it is to fuss with your hair, at camp. So high-maintenance, sheesh. When it's like, easy for you to say, if you have wash-and-go straight or straight-ish or Botticelli-ringlet-ish hair yourself.

The girls profiled in this article, as is not spelled out but abundantly obvious to those of us from the same community, are white and Jewish, and Jewish girls at Jewish summer camp have long been dealing with our quasi-political frizz. While keratin straightening, specifically, may be problematic for reasons entirely separate from the pride-in-frizz-or-lack-thereof of likely-Jewish adolescents, there are not-as-toxic ways of de-poufing hair, and it's neither new nor strange that girls at summer camp would have this concern. It's unfortunate that not all natural hair textures are celebrated equally, but the answer is not as straightforward as compelling the conformist 11-year-old (which is to say, the 11-year-old) to go around artifice-free. Especially when her mother does not, and thus wouldn't even know how to instruct her to style that natural hair texture except to straighten it. Which brings us to...

-Sure, adult women have their insecurities. But do we really want to be telling young girls that they're bodies aren't just fine the way they are?

Embracing the natural look - whatever that means - is something that for most of us comes, if it ever does, with time, with exposure to communities where whichever forms of artifice are considered gauche. (Only to learn that, in these milieus, the aspects of artifice that are enjoyable and not tied to a desire to conform are also, often, condemned as frivolous, but I digress.)

If we're thinking about 11-year-olds and their beautification requests in terms of preserving innocence, we're thinking about it wrong. By the time a girl demands the means/permission to address hairy legs or frizz, that particular innocence - which, again, we need to remember is something entirely different from sexual/romantic innocence - is long since kaput. If a girl, once self-conscious, is told to embrace what's naturally hers... by a mother who's waxed and coiffed, in a community where frizz and hairiness as good as don't exist, you can see how that girl would feel something other than pride in her ethnic-ness, hairiness, whatever. If this mother refuses to support her daughter's decision, this will be 2% noble protest against those standards, 98% making the daughter feel powerless, infantilized, miserable.

-If there's anything to protest here, it would be: a) cases where the impetus for follicular artifice - as opposed to merely the money facilitating it - comes from the parents/mother; or b) the fact that back in the day, girls taught one another how to deal with unwanted/unruly hair, and bringing parental supervision and adult-level funds into this might take away a different sort of childhood innocence, the one that's about Becoming A Woman. Maybe the mothers of girls are under a particular responsibility in terms of halting the proliferation of "necessary" beautification procedures. But this would need to change via their own choices first.

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