Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Facials for 13-Year-Olds? Spas Target Teens ; A Growing Number of Girls Include Pampering - from Manicures to Mud Masks - among Their Extracurricular Activities

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Facials for 13-Year-Olds? Spas Target Teens ; A Growing Number of Girls Include Pampering - from Manicures to Mud Masks - among Their Extracurricular Activities

Article excerpt

Audrey Sorensen's mouth dropped open in disbelief when she heard that her stepmother hadn't had a manicure until she was in her mid- 20s. Audrey got started before she could even count her fingers.

"I was, like, 3!" she exclaimed with the puckish attitude of a 14- year-old. She looked down at her hands, one of which delicately rested in a bowl of warm water, while a manicurist filed the nails of her other. To celebrate her birthday, she and her two friends - giggling, braces on their teeth, lollipops staining their tongues red - got the Tutti-Frutti Manicure Delight at CapeCodder Resort's spa in Hyannis, Mass. It was pink polish all around - appropriate for the spring season, they said.

"I like getting pampered and picking out the colors and things like that," Audrey says. "I just got [a manicure] last week, and it's all chipped up." Apparently gym class and groomed nails don't mix well.

That doesn't stop teens and tweens from trying. Audrey and her friends are part of a growing population of kids who include pampering - ranging from manicures to mud masks - among their extracurricular activities.

While some adults see the trend as a healthy and fun focus on grooming, others question whether young girls are ready for such indulgences at an age when body image is a sensitive issue.

Spas are happy to oblige the youth market, especially when the demand is coming from more than 30 million teens who, according to a 2003 Teen Research Unlimited study, have a disposable income of $103 each per week.

Across the country, spas are scrambling to add treatments geared toward the sophisticated minors: Twinkle Toes, Fantasy Facials, Yo Baby Yoga.

Deb Catania, one of CapeCodder's owners, started offering kids' spa treatments last year in response to the increased demand, and she plans to open a separate facility just for kids.

"The spa industry in general has just seen this huge boom," says Heather Lee, a clinician and spa industry consultant in Boulder, Colo. "And today's teenagers are a lucrative consumer group. Spas know it's a hot market. They're seeing the big dollar signs."

Many in the industry believe the youth interest is fueled by the media - fashion magazines, Hollywood, advertisements - and bolstered by parental or peer pressure. Others say spas offer mother-daughter bonding opportunities and relaxation for stressed-out kids.

"It's a major positive step for wellness and also for grooming," says Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder.com in New York. "To address problems at that age, I think that's a great plus for the kids as well as the parents. Growing up with low self-esteem is not a good thing for anyone."

Yet some parents and experts worry that spa treatments for children are more damaging than beautifying. Physical attractiveness is the No. 1 concern of girls when it comes to self-esteem, and countless studies show that self-esteem drops about age 12, says Matthew Hertenstein, assistant professor of psychology at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. …

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