Would YOU let your little girl be waxed It's an unsettling trend – children as young as ten having their body hair removed to copy celebrities. So why do their mothers allow it
06:59 GMT, 16 August 2012
Before she headed off on holiday to Turkey a fortnight ago, 13-year-old Melissa Southern had a very important date — an appointment with her beauty therapist to get her legs waxed.
For Melissa, there’s nothing unusual about her regular visits to a salon in Hertfordshire, where she also gets her eyebrows shaped every four to six weeks.
‘I would say three-quarters of the girls in my class have professional hair removal,’ says Melissa, from Whipsnade, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. ‘I noticed hair on my legs last year in Year 7. After that I wouldn’t go out in shorts in case anyone noticed. Now I’m waxed, I can wear anything. Being smooth makes me feel better.’
Hair-free: Melissa Southern, with her mother Jo, gets her legs waxed by beautician Harriet Maylin
Of course, it would be easy to ask why — at an age when most children still burst into tears when they fall over — Melissa is subjecting herself to the eye-watering pain of having her leg hair ripped from its follicles.
But it would seem our daughters are now subject to such forensic scrutiny from their peers — both boys and girls — that they dare not have a body hair on show.
Any sign that girls are not trying to mimic the airbrushed perfection of celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian or Cheryl Cole, is met with derision in this harsh world where those preparing for adulthood are seemingly judged on looks alone. So while it seems easy to condemn parents who pay 20 to 30 a month for their daughters to have hair-removal treatments, for Melissa’s mother Jo, it was a pre-emptive strike.
Jo, 46, a sensible and, it has to be said, thoughtful mum-of-two who works as a retail manager, says: ‘Melissa came home from school last year when she was 12 and told me that she was getting hairy legs. She hadn’t been teased, but she’d seen it happen to other girls and was worried.’
With girls now so hypersensitive to remarks about their appearance, Jo knew only too well how deeply such criticism might affect her daughter.
'They tell me they've been pinched at
school by other girls for having dark hair on their arms – or been
called owl for having hair in the middle of their eyebrows. It breaks my
‘One of her friends with darker hair was so mortified by the teasing that she didn’t go to school for two days — until her mum took her to a salon to do something about it.’
Still, Jo tried to delay the inevitable — until one day she walked into the bathroom to find Melissa trying to shave her own legs.
‘I was disappointed, but told her: “If you’re adamant about this, I’d rather you had it done properly.” Now, we go to my beauty therapist together. Because it hurts, I always hold her hand. Melissa insists it’s worth it for the results.’
Her beautician, Harriet Maylin, owner of Total Looks in Harpenden, has been in the business for 28 years. Over the past seven years, she has seen a huge rise in the number of children asking for professional hair removal.
She only treats girls under 16 who come with their parents — but reveals she once had a waxing request from a nine-year-old. ‘She was with her mum in the salon. Obviously she was far too young, so I advised her to moisturise her legs so the hairs weren’t so easy to see.’
Often, however, Harriet says she feels she has no choice but to help girls who are a little older and desperately upset about their body hair.
‘They tell me they’ve been pinched at school by other girls for having dark hair on their arms — or been called owl for having hair in the middle of their eyebrows. It breaks my heart.’
At 15, Neelam Zulqurnain, from Woodhouse, Leeds, is a couple of years older than Melissa — yet she barely knows what it’s like to have a single body hair.
When she spotted her first downy wisps on her legs at the age of ten, she saved up her pocket money to buy a razor from the local chemist — and removed them herself.
It didn’t stop there. As hair sprouted in other places, a sign of the woman she was becoming, Neelam was ruthless in her determination to blitz every trace.
Beauty obsession: Anmol and Neelam, with their mother Shama, regularly blitz their body hair
/08/15/article-2188909-0C7EAAB1000005DC-66_634x387.jpg” width=”634″ height=”387″ alt=”Reality TV influence: Waxing and getting 'vajazzled' is the norm on The Only Way Is Essex” class=”blkBorder” />
Reality TV influence: Waxing and getting 'vajazzled' is the norm on The Only Way Is Essex
What began as the grooming of hair at the bikini line turned into Brazilian waxing, which left little more than a ‘landing strip’ in the pubic region. Now the fashion is to go completely bare.
Education consultant Nicky Hutchinson, the co-author of Body Image In The Primary School, says: ‘The idea that women should be completely free from hair stems from pornography, where all the women are hairless. It has now filtered into mainstream society.’
She adds the trend has become so widespread, it infects young children’s thinking before they’ve even seen such material. After all, it’s unheard of to see a single stray hair on any of their musical heroines’ bodies. And as the Olympics demonstrated, female sporting stars never have any body hair on show.
When she goes into primary schools, Nicky says she is alarmed to hear children say it’s ‘clean’ to be shaven — and any body hair at all is ‘dirty’. She also raises the dangers of boys having access to pornography via the internet.
‘We have boys who have never seen women who are not hairless. They then pass on those expectations to girls. There are also signs that boys are starting to think they should also go hairless themselves.’
After all, their Premiership football heroes are often seen with smooth, waxed chests.
Girls as young as 11 now spend 45 minutes a day putting on make-up and trying to decide what to wear
Nicky is particularly concerned that the fact that girls are now removing pubic hair as soon as it appears, meaning the line between childhood and womanhood has now vanished.
‘I remember reading a problem page some years ago in which an older girl wrote to say she was worried her boyfriend had asked her to go hairless. I think there was some value in the agony aunt’s response that it’s worrying when males want women to look like children.
‘It’s one more pressure on our children to look a certain way and spend time to keep that up. It’s teaching them to be ashamed of their bodies before they’ve even developed.’
But it’s not just the psychological damage that parents should be concerned about. Consultant gynaecologist Gabrielle Downey of the BMI Priory Hospital in Birmingham is increasingly alarmed by the trend for hairlessness.
Far from it being ‘cleaner’ to go without, she says pubic hair has an important function, providing a cushion against friction that can cause abrasion and protection from bacteria, particularly E.coli, which can result in Staphylococcus infections — as well as being an indicator of sexual maturity.
Gabrielle says: ‘While there’s no problem having pubic hair neatly trimmed, complete removal does much more than harm than good.
‘Shaving or anything like that on any part of the body can cause infections in the hair follicles and micro-cuts, making it more likely for sebacious cysts to occur. You can also get a nasty condition called Hidradenitis suppurative, where the follicle gets very infected.
‘You can treat it but it’s quite radical. You have to cut out the inflamed area. In fact, even during surgery, we don’t even shave the vaginal area any more because going hairless is believed to actually increase the infection risk, not decrease it.’
The youngest patient Gabrielle has seen with medical problems as a result of hair removal was just 14. ‘She was suffering sebaceous cysts because she was too young to know how to shave, so she had lots of tiny nicks that got infected.
‘She was totally traumatised. She told me she got the idea from watching The Only Way Is Essex. It just shows how much effect popular culture can have on young people’s behaviour.’
Role models: Girls want to be hair-free to emulate stars like Rihanna, left, and Cheryl Cole
Gabrielle has also seen patients in their late teens who, like the girls in TOWIE, have been ‘vajazzled’ — or had crystals applied to their pubic regions — which have subsequently got lost internally, causing pain. She believes her cases are just the tip of the iceberg, as most will be dealt with by GPs.
‘These experiences can be traumatising. In my experience, once you start to develop issues down there, the psychological scars that result can be life-long. Young girls, in particular, are so embarrassed they never breathe a word to anyone.
‘They are mortified, yet they suffer in silence and internalise their worries instead. It’s essential that we raise awareness of the potential health consequences that can result.
As Jo Southern thinks about booking a follow-up leg waxing appointment for her daughter Melissa for a few weeks’ time, she admits she still has reservations.
‘To be honest, it’s a step in the wrong direction as far as I’m concerned,’ she says. ‘At Melissa’s age, I was out riding my bike, not worrying about every detail of my appearance.
‘Nowadays girls are about three years ahead of what they were in my day. What they would have done at 16, they do when they are 13.
‘When I was growing up, as long as your hair and make-up were done, no one noticed anything else. That’s not good enough anymore. It’s so sad.’
But with such beliefs so deeply embedded in our children’s minds, it’s a difficult dilemma for mothers.
Indeed, it’s only likely to become more so in an era when the age of girls entering puberty continues to drop — and increasing numbers are showing signs at as early as seven or eight.
‘As a mother, what can you do’ says Jo. ‘Melissa is still my little girl. I don’t want her growing up too soon. At the same time, I can’t sit by and watch her being bullied for being the odd one out either.’
Tanith Carey is author of Where Has My Little Girl Gone How to Protect Your Daughter from Growing up Too Soon, price 7.99.