A few years ago, I read a great article by Lisa Bloom, How to Talk to Little Girls. The article really resonated with me and I immediately shared it on Facebook. Now it’s back on my feed and hits home even more so now that I have a daughter. What is the right way to speak to a little girl? The author notes that one wrong way is to focus solely on little girls’ appearances, which subconsciously tells them that looks are more important than anything else. She worries about the implications this might bring for them later in life and encourages adults to ask little girls about ideas and books instead of relying on only complimenting their looks.
I agree with her. The statistics are jarring. Bloom states, “15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25% of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.” Seriously? It’s true, isn’t it? It’s so easy to compliment a little girl’s appearance and I think it’s gotten to the point that it’s become instinctive.
I catch myself doing this with my niece. My first impulse is to tell her how beautiful/cute/adorable she is and how I love her outfit/hair bow/boots. Why not give little girls genuine compliments to boost their self-esteem? They really are beautiful/cute/adorable/made of sugar and spice and everything nice. But lately, I’ve been stopping myself. Instead, I ask her how school was? What did she learn? Did she read any good books today?
Bloom writes, “It’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls.” Although these compliments come from a good place, I agree that they’re sending girls the wrong message. If we continue to tell girls how pretty and skinny they are, are we setting them up for a lifetime of unreasonable expectations? I don’t want my daughter to be wearing make-up at age 11 or dieting at age 5. Of course, I want her to be healthy and happy with her appearance, but I also want her to understand that she’s smart and that being smart is important. I want her to love reading books, playing outside and using her imagination. I want her to understand what is going on in the world and live a life of meaning. I want her to know that her thoughts and accomplishments matter. Of course, it’s lovely to dress up and from my perspective, fashion and beauty is unbelievably fun. I absolutely love clothes and shoes but it’s not the only thing I love and it’s not the only thing I talk about.
I never really thought about it before but the author’s advice to have real conversations with little girls and really all children is fantastic. Instead of saying, “I love your dress,” think “Did you play in the snow today?” or “Have you read any good books today?” or “What’s your favorite animal?” It seems like such a small thing but I think it can make a tremendous difference in not only how girls perceive themselves but also the kind of women they grow up to be.
Bloom advises, “tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.” I love this. It’s so easy for girls to read tabloids and confuse celebrities with role models. If we have meaningful conversations with little girls, they may better understand the value of doing well at school, reading and continuously learning.
With my own daughter, I LOVE dressing her up and taking photos. I’m excited to get manicures together and go shopping one day like I do with my mom. I hope she enjoys dresses and mud masks and gorgeous shoes. But I also want to SHOW her how fun it is to read and learn about different cultures and life outside of our own little world, like my parents did with me. I don’t think it will be enough to just tell her. I think to really make an impact, she needs to grow up surrounded by friends and family who have meaningful conversations with her and stress the importance of education. Every night before she goes to sleep, we have story time and learn about animals, music, holidays and really anything that comes to mind. We LOVE Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, which is somehow both entertaining and profound. I hope reading about Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout not taking out the garbage and a girl who eats a whale will stimulate her imagination and help her love books.
What do you think? Is this important or are we reading too much into it? What do you talk about with little girls (and boys!)? What kind of conversations did you have with adults when you were a little girl? Does it bother you when people immediately compliment your little girls’ looks? How do you want adults to talk to your little kids? Keep the conversation going by commenting below! xo, Tanya