Confession: My 3-Year-Old Gets Manicures


It began like any other day as I passed the little girl nail salon and spa that resides in the same plaza as my daughter’s daycare. Late last year, something changed within me as I went from shaking my head at the notion of such a service to wondering, would Abby be into such a thing? Of course she would! She’s into all things girly and sparkly. I then had the idea to invite her best friend, who happens to be the daughter of the friend that I often go to the nail salon with.

You see, I’m the type of feminist who indulges in manicures and pedicures. I’ll go with a friend and climb into plush leather massage chairs, reveling in the kid-free silence. It’s indulgent, luxuriant, and it’s one of many ways I push my inner “reset” button. Sometimes I paint my daughter’s nails with pink or purple piggie paint (a non-toxic, kid-safe polish), and her brother’s too, if he asks.

I’m the type of feminist who doesn’t need to spout off a litany of ways in which I honor my own beliefs, or those of other women currently rocking it way more cleverly and hardcore than I am. I like to nestle up to a stove and sink into the creativity and love that flows forth from feeding others — including my man. I do laundry, I wipe bums, and I pack lunches. I wear lipstick and high heels. I enjoy sex, both engaging in it and conversing about it. I enjoy all sorts of other things that those who came before me, who fought so hard for me to have the rights and equality I enjoy, would probably balk at.

It’s all so confrontational, lopsided, argumentative, and judgmental. To many, “feminism” is a dirty word. The term itself makes a lot of people angry. It’s a headspace and topic of conversation I don’t enter into lightly or frequently — right up there with vaccinations. The dreaded F and V words, two things I just don’t like to talk about publicly because it never seems to go anywhere productive or inspiring.

But one of the people whom I care most about understanding my ideas on feminism is my daughter. (And my son of course.) There’s already a list of things I never thought I’d do or let my daughter do and she’s only three. It would seem I keep adding to that list daily and I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. So where am I going with all of this? My point is that I care how my daughter sees me and how she interprets my rituals, especially concerning body image and consumerism. I’m her first, immediate connection to femininity in life and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.

But that’s not to say I don’t think it’s okay to take her for manicures — I’m just conscious of the message it sends her and the frequency in which we indulge.

To reconcile my conflicting feelings, I had to shove all of that weight, that expectation regarding what I shouldn’t let my daughter do lest she appear (keyword being “appear”) to be spoiled or led down a horrid path of obsession with her image. Victoria Beckham regularly takes her toddler daughter for “mommy-and-me” manicures — and the word “regularly” is what makes me cringe a little bit. I do believe that indulging in such frivolities can be harmful when rewarded frequently. Especially for little girls who are beginning to define what physical beauty is to them and how much importance they give to it over their inner beauty and intelligence.

We come from a very privileged place indeed, those of us who can afford to send our three-year-old daughter to a nail salon for the afternoon. I can acknowledge that and I think it’s (one of) the defining factors in how I plan on teaching my daughter the difference between fun, self-care and an obsession with self-image.

My little girl is fascinated with everything I do. If I’m putting on lipstick or lip-balm, she wants some. If I’m wearing a dress, she wants to wear one. But these aren’t the only things she sees and wants to do. These aren’t the only examples of the rituals of womanhood that her wide and eager eyes take in.

Play should be the task of my daughter’s childhood (not consumerism) so of course I was doubly wary of sending her on her adorable little way to be primped and preened. Although honestly, everything we do revolves around consumerism, whether we want to admit it or not. That ice cream cone, those toys under the tree, that trip to the grocery store. Getting her nails done was only a small part of her afternoon. Other services at this kid-friendly spa include: playing dress-up (because duh), karaoke, free-style dance-offs, a photo booth and a bath bar where they can make their own bath bombs, creams, and lip balms. I mean, c’mon.

Yet even still, I hesitated to introduce an activity into my child’s life that acclimates her to being served upon. And then I gave my head a shake and acknowledged that in my toddler’s young life, everything revolves around being served. Of course she’s learning how to do things for herself, is enjoying her increasing independence and ability to do things on her own. However, I still help her in the bathtub and with a myriad of other tasks throughout the day. At this point she does not analyze and agonize over the dichotomy of being privileged and served upon to that of whether or not getting manis/pedis kicks her out of the feminist club.

For now, she is just a sweet little girl who sang, twirled, and giggled her little heart out. A little girl who looks up to me to show her the way. You better believe her trips to the nail salon won’t be frequent, but they’ll happen. It’s the karate classes and being schooled to over-tip that will happen on the regular.

Image courtesy of Selena Mills

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