I often tell my daughter she’s beautiful. It just slips out. Because she is. Sometimes enough to take my breath away. All my children are. I tell them I love them a hundred times a day. I tell my 3yo son how gorgeous he is and occasionally, I even say the same thing to my teenager. But with my daughter, I’m always sure to follow it up with other adjectives. “You are so beautiful.” I’ll tell her. “…and smart! And kind!”
I’m conscious that she doesn’t perceive her value in her looks. I want her to know that I value other things, that the world values other things than just being cute or pretty. So you can imagine how I nodded my head off when I read this piece Lisa Bloom wrote for The Huffington Post:
I went to a dinner party at a friend’s home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.
Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, “Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”
But I didn’t. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.
25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.
Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23.
That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.
“Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.
“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.
Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.
“I LOVE books,” I said. “Do you?”
Most kids do.
“YES,” she said. “And I can read them all by myself now!”
Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I’m stubborn.
Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed.
At the other end of the scale, US retailer JCPenney has been selling girls’ t-shirts (pictured above) with the slogan “I’m too pretty to do HOMEWORK, so my brother has to do it for me.” Isn’t that a nice, positive message to send to girls aged 7-16?
In case your little lady-brain can’t quite fathom the point, the page itself is titled “Girls 7-16 Too Pretty to do Homework” and the product description asks, “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out?”
Girls already grow up surrounded by advertising that overwhelmingly sends the message that the most important thing about a woman is her looks. UPDATE: It looks like that shirt has been taken down, but there’s another one with a message that’s just as healthy. The Girls 7-16 Best Subject Screen Tee lists “the subjects I TOTALLY ROCK at!” Which are, in order: Shopping, Boys, Music, and Dancing. On sale for just $4.99, folks.
But there are other options. Of course there are. Check out this gorgeous gallery of t-shirts you would want your children to wear:
Do you tell little girls that they are beautiful? Do you treat them differently to little boys when you address them?