Reaffirm Your Daughter’s Female Identity With Nail Polish

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Since taking your five year old daughter with you to the nail salon is just about as common now as glittery pads, it’s worth noting that not everyone has embraced this post-2000 form of mother/daughter bonding. Namely me.

A lot of mothers that I know find the time at the salon to be a well-needed break from everything else that they usually need to enforce: homework, eating, sleeping, getting in the bath, and more importantly, getting out of the bath. Picking out colors of polish and mutually delighting at the outcome can be a respite for many mothers that I know, but I question the emphasis on appearance as a bonding activity (particularly for really little girls).

Manicures and pedicures do seem harmless, especially when doctored for children: no cuticle cutting, no nail shaping, just colors — which usually results in a much cheaper nail salon experience.  But I imagine as a child, it must reinforce some jacked up notions about women and gender if the only time you get to speak privately with your mother is when your fingernails are getting lacquered. Really little girls, you might argue, often don’t register the “beauty” element of such an experience. Painting is painting for little kids, whether it’s nails, paper, or their own bedroom walls, it doesn’t read as any different.

But routinely taking little girls for mani/pedis reaffirms the notion that, as females, you’re bonding over vanity. And unless you’re bringing the little brother along to get his toes painted too (which I have seen from time to time in Brooklyn!), there is really no way around that truth.

I’ve found, even amongst the most liberal and progressive of mothers, beauty and appearance rank high, right along side intelligence, creativity, and grades for their daughters. Although I don’t think any of them would admit it openly, most of them want beautiful girls who happen to be smart and creative, not smart and creative girls who happen to be beautiful.

The weekly manicures speak to this, I think, in which mothers are reassured in their daughter’s conventional femininity.

Peggy Orenstein, noted parenting writer, mentioned a conversation she had with a mother over the princess epidemic while researching her fantastic book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? In Orenstein’s fourth book, the mother says that she’s comfortable with her daughter being princess-obsessed in these modern times, as it will give her a strong identity as a female and a woman, a place where she thinks 1960s feminism erred.

Regular pedicures may be the contemporary mom’s way of doing just that.