We live in a superficial society, so I suppose it was inevitable that the image consulting business would eventually expand its horizons to teenage girls.
It must be tough to be a teen today.
In addition to padding their 9.5 grade-point-average resumes with mastery of tennis, Mandarin, water polo, texting under the table, and ballroom dancing—not to mention the 9,000 hours of community service that top colleges look for-girls are now looking to upgrade their images to give them that much-needed competitive edge.
Wardrobe, hair, and makeup used to be things that mothers and daughters would fight about. Apparently now there are third parties to help settle those battles. But why?
At first I was horrified when I read about “minor makeovers” in the Washington Post. According to the story, by Cathy Alter, “…a dozen D.C.-, New York- and Los Angeles-based image consultants and personal shoppers all report an increase in their number of clients who are minors, despite the flagging economy.”
Wow. Are we really so concerned about looks that we need to make girls feel even more self-conscious when they look in the mirror? Whatever happened to developing their inner beauty? Since I don’t have a teenage daughter, I decided to ask around.
“I’ve never heard of this, but it doesn’t surprise me. My initial reaction, knowing nothing about it, is a negative one,” said Charlene. “Part of growing up is experimenting with your image and identity. I don’t like the idea of paying someone to tell my kids how they should look.”
Renee had an even stronger negative reaction: “I think this is disgusting. With our culture already way too focused on the superficial, the last thing we need is for that process to start earlier in life. … Do yourself a favor, instead of investing in ‘looks,’ think about spending some quality time with your kids, enroll them in some art or theater classes, or go on a volunteer vacation in a foreign country. You’ll get way more bang out of your buck and your kids will no doubt be healthier and better human beings.”
“My kids are so gorgeous, stylish, confident and well rounded that they could be consultants to other teens. It is a shame that parents are hiring someone to alter who their teens are to be what is portrayed in magazines and such. What ever happened to individuality?” said Dina.
“I want to belly laugh really loudly at this notion of image consultants for kids,” said Linda. “EEEEW! Like they are not already self-conscious enough? Leave them alone for god’s sake! It will increase their body obsession and make them even more paranoid. What a bad idea.”
But not everyone agreed.
Thousand Oaks-based personal image consultant Connie L. Gregory says she has had a few teenage clients. No big surprise, it turns out mothers and daughters don’t always agree on what constitutes “fashion.” Gregory once worked, through the Make a Wish Foundation (which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions), with an 18-year-old young lady who wanted a glamour makeover. Even under those circumstances, she still had a mother who wanted a more conservative and more modest look than the daughter did.
“I must say, part of me thinks this image consultant for teens idea is cool, the other part of me is scared sh-less,” said my friend Nan. “What if our teens all end up looking like droids when they go out into the world? Wouldn’t image consulting be better for after college?”
When directly related to entering college and the working world, the idea of image consulting for teenagers becomes more palatable for many.
“It’s tougher for girls to get in college than any time I can remember,” said my friend Lisa, a prep school college counselor. “As much as it turns my stomach to have to advise them to place so much emphasis on looks, sometimes acing that personal interview is the most strategic thing they have in their arsenal.”
I guess she had a point. Now that the college entrance scales have flipped against women, I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad to help them out a little.
While this may be big on the east coast, my friend Sally was the only one I could find who admitted that she and her teenage daughter went to an image-consulting seminar together. But mom reports, “It was really boring for her.”
My favorite response of all came from my sister. “I have never heard of this kind of image consulting thing. I kind of thought that building my girls’ self esteem was my job. However, I guess if your kid is not feeling good about themselves, I am all for whatever works.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.