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2022-08-26 20:22:31 By : Ms. Anna Qiu

Some women who have jobs in the service industry are sporting pigtails at work as part of a social experiment to find out whether they will earn more in tips from male patrons.

From servers to dancers, those who have participated in the experiment and shared their experiences on TikTok say their tips have increased since they rocked the hairstyle at work. They say the experiment's success has shown that young women are more sexualized in society.

“Unfortunately, women are going to be fetishized in different ways by what they look like,” said Lisa Stirling, 25, a server who is among those sharing the results of the experiment on TikTok. “If changing my hair up is going to affect that in a positive way, then it’s something I’m going to give a shot.”

Pigtails have long been associated with youth in pop culture. Characters like Angelica Pickles in the cartoon “Rugrats,” Bubbles in the cartoon “The Powerpuff Girls” and Boo from the Pixar film “Monsters Inc.” all donned the hairstyle, denoting their youthfulness. Women who wear the hairstyle are also often infantilized in such depictions.

In the 1990s, Emma Bunton, aka Baby Spice, wore her blond hair in pigtails to match her Spice Girls persona. At age 16, Britney Spears wore the hairstyle in the “... Baby, One More Time” music video, which played into the “sexy schoolgirl” trope.

The “pigtails experiment” first appeared on TikTok after a server named Grace posted that she made more tips when she wore pigtails to work in a video in September, according to BuzzFeed. She does not describe it as an experiment in the video but points out how wearing her hair that way led to more tips.

“When you wear pigtails to work and make double [the] amount of tips as usual," Grace, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, wrote in text over her video. In it, she lip-syncs along to the song “Put Me in a Movie” by Lana Del Rey, mouthing the lyric, “C’mon, you know you like little girls.”

Grace's video resurfaced on TikTok over a year later in July, after Stirling's video about rocking the hairstyle amassed about 4.2 million views. The trend has since picked up.

“As soon as I put on those braids, I’m telling you, something just clicked with these men, and they started throwing me money,” said Veronica Portillo, 20, who works as a dancer at a strip club in Tennessee. Portillo’s first TikTok video about wearing pigtails at work has racked up more than 6.4 million views.

Portillo said that while she was wearing pigtails in the strip club, a man asked her for a private dance and told her the hairstyle reminded him of his “little niece."

“At this point, it’s been sexualized so much that I wouldn’t call it a little girl’s hairstyle anymore,” Portillo said. 

Stirling said she has had success with the pigtails working at her restaurant. In the restaurant industry, anything a server sells — drinks, food, etc. — is totaled up at the end of the night.

Before she sported the pigtails, Stirling said, she averaged 12.5% of her sales in tips. After she started wearing pigtails, the percentage surged to 16.7%.

Portillo said that on a slower Sunday at the strip club, she can make as little as $100. But on a recent Sunday, when she said making tips seemed impossible, adding pigtails changed the game. She went home with about $600.

"When I got offstage a few [men] came up to me and said: 'I love your hair. Let's get a dance.' They wanted me for the rest of the night because I had little braids," she said. "It's definitely unsettling."

Still, she said, she plans to try other types of pigtails to see whether they help her bring in even more tips.

Kalhan Rosenblatt is a reporter covering youth and internet culture for NBC News, based in New York.