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Teens embracing Brazilian trend

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HAIR-FREE PRESSURE: Teens are confronted with endless images of sleek, hair-free celebrities and models.

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Navigating the torturous teenage years just got a whole lot harder for girls and their parents with a new pressure to add to the list - to be "hair free".

Hair on your head is fine, eyebrows can stay as long as they're appropriately tamed and eyelashes, well, nothing has changed there: the longer, thicker and curlier the better.

But head south and it seems long, thick and curly has no place on the female body. The answer for an increasing number of teens is the Brazilian.

Once the domain of athletes and porn stars, the Brazilian is the removal of all pubic hair. Adults seem to be firmly in two camps - those who do and those who don't - and both sides have valid arguments. But the trend is spreading to teens and opinion is strongly divided on how old is old enough to have what one beautician describes as an "intrusive" procedure.

Helen, a health professional who recently set up a home-based waxing business specialising in Brazilians, says her clients are mostly mums in their 30s and 40s. However, word of her skill has spread to the local high school via her babysitter, and she is happy to meet the demand.

"I did ask them their ages and I did make sure that their parents knew where they were," she says. "One of them had a tongue piercing and I would say that, from a parent's point of view, I would be far more devastated about my child having a tongue piercing than having a Brazilian wax."

Jane says she won't do a Brazilian on anyone younger than 15 unless they are with their mother and "legitimately" need it for competitive sport or dancing, where they have to wear skimpy outfits.

However, that's not why the girls she has seen already get it done.

"I get the distinct impression it's almost a status symbol ... because it's quite on trend at the moment, to be hair free," she says.

"What I'm getting is that all the girls are talking about getting Brazilians. It's a bit of a hot topic.

"I don't think it's necessarily good or bad. It is what it is."

Her stance is at odds with Brande Melland, manager of Auckland's Spa Ayruda, who says 15 is simply too young to have a Brazilian. She labels the procedure intrusive but "unfortunately that is, right now, what society says is what a woman is supposed to look like".

East Day Spa Wellington owner Barbara Wilson concurs, and points out that pubic hair is there for a reason, acting as a barrier to bacteria.

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"Keeping things tidy and neat, I think that's important," Ms Wilson says."(But) I think 13, 14, 15 for a Brazilian is just too young."

Dr Rachel Irwin, a clinical psychologist who specialises in child and adolescent mental health, says alarm bells should ring for any parents whose daughter wants a Brazilian.

"If my daughter at 15 or 16, she's (wanting) to have a Brazilian, my immediate thought would be she's having sex. Why else would she care because who else is going to be seeing it," Dr Irwin says.

"So that in itself is an issue - are we suggesting to our children that they need to be making themselves attractive for the opposite sex? Personally I don't think that's a message that girls in their early adolescence should be getting."

She says it's also setting teens up for mental health issues because they're not mature enough to cope with a sexual relationship; bad decisions can lead poor self-esteem which can lead to depression and, in turn, to alcohol and drug abuse. All those factors lead to an increased suicide risk.

"There's a lot of research showing that having a positive body image as a teenager has an impact on your self-esteem," Dr Irwin says.

"So helping our children have a positive body image is really, really important to help their self-esteem, which is critical for the decisions they make in adolescence and early adulthood.

"Also, if they've got a high self-esteem, they're less likely to get into alcohol and drugs because they're generally going to feel better about themselves and know how to cope with bad patches. They're going to have that resilience that a person with low self-esteem doesn't have."

Dr Irwin says a healthy teen isn't one who gets a Brazilian because it's "on trend" - it's one who can hold their head high knowing they are a nice person with good friends and a loving family.

- Essential Mums

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