My husband contacted me this week from a steamy Washington DC, where the power supply had pegged out after a storm. Dinners across the city were served by candlelight, generators were working overtime and air conditioning was minimal.
During a trip to a local mall to stay cool, my other half stumbled across young girls lined up for a pedicure; they were in a group streaming out of the local Simply Spa'Riffik franchise. It's a nationwide chain of beauty salons catering to prepubescent girls, perkily promising a "fun, self-esteem-building spa for girls" through pedicures, manicures, facials, makeup and hair services.
This is the logical extension of everything that mass culture has been preparing our young girls for, and it is surely only a matter of time before beauty spas for tweenies join Bratz dolls, padded bras and pole-dancing lessons on the list of modern girl must-do's for NZ under-12s.
It's almost pointless to resist this trend toward younger, more aggressive primping and preening; young girls tend to like doing what their mothers are doing and, according to statistics, we're preening ourselves rather a lot. Even the recession cannot halt the endless capital works programme that is modern womanhood. In America, beauty salon revenues continue to grow year on year. In Britain, a survey of thousands of women across the country showed almost 60 per cent were spending more on beauty items than ever before. Local salon owners confirm business is flourishing even in low wage, low growth little ol' New Zealand.
It is astonishing to think that this is an industry that has created itself. Not that women with disposable income and time haven't been beautifying themselves since the beginning of time; it's just that the innovative services this sector has dreamed up have now become part of many women's weekly or bi-weekly routine, as important to them feeling "normal" as brushing their teeth or wearing deodorant.
The furore created by 28-year-old Emer O'Toole revealing her hairy armpits on British morning TV shows just how far along the primping continuum most of us have come. "I wanted to be sick!" complained roughly 80 per cent of viewers on seeing Emer au naturel; God willing, they will never be forced to visit that half of the world where shaving one's armpits takes second place to finding enough food to eat or a roof over one's head.
Even if you agree that the actual waxing, scrubbing and mud-encasing of modern womanhood isn't necessarily a problem, the stumbling block for many, myself included, is reconciling our relatively pampered existences with the constant catch-cry from the industry to "pamper" ourselves further. Those of us with the kind of disposable income that makes the beauty industry thrive are already some of the most pampered people on the planet. A woman living in the slums of Jakarta probably needs more pampering than I do, say. Truly, it's a matter of relativity.
Back at Simply Spa'Riffik, little girls are learning a lesson about life as a woman in the developed world. But what lesson? That indulgence is now a necessity; another must-have you buy with a small, or not-so-small, weekly expenditure? Or do some of them ever wonder why it is they need to indulge themselves so frequently?
* Illustration by Anna Crichton: firstname.lastname@example.org