Monday, July 15, 2013

How Should We Talk to Little Girls?

How do you talk to little girls? According to Lisa Bloom, in a posting on The Blog (Huff Post), we should never compliment them on their looks.  Doing so teaches girls their appearance is the first thing you notice, establishing that looks are most important.  She states "that 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 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize". Because of society's emphasis on appearance, little girls are worried more than ever about their looks and suffering the consequences. 

What you should do is comment on something more meaningful, ask about their likes and dislikes and why.  For tweens and teenagers, you should ask their opinions on timely matters and what they think should be done. She states this helps to reinforce the idea that her intelligence is most important.  It makes her feel  her ideas have credibility and makes her think in different ways.

On the other hand  Carla Molina, thinks it's a load of "crap".  She feels girls don't have a bad body image because we compliment them on their appearance but it is the result of poor role models -women who are "obsessed in an unhealthy way about body image".   She says "I will not ignore their looks for the sake of making them feel smart. I do not believe brains and beauty are mutually exclusive. My girls can be both attractive and smart." She says complimenting a little girl doesn't have to be shallow if you do it in a constructive way. 

I can see Lisa Bloom's point.  An ABC news report stated that a "2009 University of Central Florida study found that nearly half of the 3- to 6-year-old participants said they worried about being fat".  That's alarming.  In my opinion, that idea shouldn't even touch that age group's minds. They should be more worried about whether they might not have the right color crayon to finish their drawing. 

Younger and younger girls are over occupied with with how they look.  This brings about peer pressure, who's "in" and who's "out" based on image and creates low self esteem.  It's definitely a problem - a big problem.  I think the media, advertising, corporations, and women who've bought into this are the biggest culprits and it should be stopped.  

However, I can also agree with Carla Molina. I believe both intelligence and beauty can reside side by side as long as the child relies more on intelligence as a measure of worth.   I don't think there's anything wrong with a simple compliment on a child's clothing, hair, eyes etc as  long as it's not the only thing you say to her. No gushing on and on about how pretty or cute she is or her  fabulous outfit.  Why can't you say they have a pretty dress, t-shirt, eyes or they look nice today and then go into a discussion of what they like, what they read, etc. or vice versa?  Does that hurt or undermine their value of themselves?  I don't know. I would think the longer conversation of exchanging ideas would leave a more lasting or better impression than the quick physical compliment.

What's you're opinion?  Should we or shouldn't we compliment little girls on their looks? How do you handle talking to little girls?


  1. Funny, I go back to the compliment that all girls love to hear...I look at their shoes and tell them how cool they are. What's not to love about flashing lights and sparkles on a pair of sneakers?

  2. I routinely compliment girls on how pretty they look or what a pretty dress they have on, etc. BUT...I also tell them how smart they are and we discuss age appropriate topics. I think it's important that they are told they're pretty - just the way they are.

  3. I agree with the previous commenters, and I'll go one step further. Since I work with children on a regular basis, I compliment BOTH sexes on their appearance (not all the time, just when it's appropriate)as well as their intelligence, accomplishments, etc.

    What I believe it most important is that we are sincere in our communication with children, remembering that our words have great influence to either harm or help their growing self-esteem.

    Just my two cents. Great topic, Donna!

  4. When my daughter was four, a woman we knew told her she was lucky she was skinny, that it was the only way to be beautiful. At four! Up until a few years ago I was pretty skinny myself, but I still do not want my daughter to ever think her value should be determined by her body mass index. Her value should be in the kindness and honesty of her actions and in the creativity and intelligence of her self-expression.
    I suppose I've said things like the sneaker comment above, or "wow, cool earrings!", but I've also said things like, "That was really nice, what you just did sharing your cookies" or "your dad says you love gymnastics". It doesn't have to be about value or appearance -- why not just find some common, constructive ground? "Biting your brother is not cool" (this wasn't my kid, by the way) or "Is that a real snake holding your hair up?" (it was) have also led to some interesting conversations. Personally I haven't gone into politics or science with little girls, but the older ones have some terrific insights.
    I don't generally comment on physical appearance to a child -- it's not as if it's a reflection of taste or intelligence if you have straight or curly hair or the right size feet. I used to hear "Oh, you have such pretty/huge/blue eyes" and it just made me uncomfortable. Good post, Donna.