Spas such as the Dimples Kids Spa, in Brooklyn, N,Y,, offer treatments designed exclusively for youngsters from babies to teens, and it's estimated that eight-to-12-year-old girls spend over $40 million a month on beauty products. By the today's 'tween girls reach 75, it's projected they'll spend nearly $450,000 each on their health and beauty regimens.
"They consider beauty not just optional and not just something you do for a special dress up," said Susanna Schrobsdorff, who wrote an article in the latest issue of Newsweek titled "Tales of a Modern Diva." "This is part of the culture they're growing up in, and I think it's affected the way they see themselves and how they take care of themselves."
Cara Philips, a former child model-turned-photographer, worries that young girls obsessed with beauty may later in life experience a poor self-image.
"To see girls starting at a younger and younger age is like a longer and longer lifetime of striving to be something that really maybe doesn't exist," she said.
Child and family therapist Jenn Berman, Ph.D., author of "The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids," says marketing firms are realizing that younger kids have major buying power. They can not only beg for products directly marketed to them (such as toys or clothes), but they might be able to influence their parents as to what sort of car to buy, or what sort of vacations they want to take. She adds that giving in to those demands, manicures and facials included, can make children feel "entitled."
"You're teaching them to have people wait on them and serve them at a very early age," she told Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez. "And that's not the kind of mentality you want your kids to have."
She also warns that parents should be careful not to fall into peer pressure. It can be hard to deny your child's demand when another parent whose values you trust allows his or her child to do the same thing, she said, but emphasizes that parents have to trust their gut instincts and set enforceable rules.
"You need to be strong as a parent and say 'In our house, we don't do that." '
Playing dress-up or going to the salon on a special occasion, like a birthday, isn't a bad thing, Berman told Rodriguez, but when a child starts going for regular manicures, pedicures and facials, it becomes problematic. She adds that young girls should wait to get regular beauty treatments until they're old enough to earn the money to pay for them, whether that's in their teenage or adult years, because simply providing it to them doesn't teach the value of money.
Berman stresses that parents should think about the message those regular indulgences are sending their kids.
"One of the things that parents have to realize is this society is sending a message to girls, in particular, that their value is being beautiful, being thin and being hot," she said. "And we really don't need our five-year-old girls to think that's what they are about."
But with the pressures of role models such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, and advertisers pushing products that cater to their insecurities, Berman concludes that strong parenting is the best protection against those outside influences.
"Our job is to teach our kids what their passion and their purpose in life are, and that's the best inoculation against poor self-esteem that a parent can give their child."