I read this article about How to Talk to Little Girls by Lisa Bloom and I can't quit thinking about it. It brings up so many valid (very valid) points about how we talk to our daughters, nieces, and every other little girl we come in contact with. For that matter, every grown up woman we encounter. Our first impulse tells us to comment on their appearance, a compliment, sure, but perhaps not the best opener in a world where little girls and women are so focused on how they look. I want to look nice, I want my daughter to look nice. Of course, we want to be pretty and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just that maybe it should be the first thing we say to someone, especially someone little, when we meet them.
In a world where we concentrate on the looks of someone before the content of their mind, things can be tough for a little girl emotionally. (pretty people get better jobs, better pay. pretty women, not pretty men. men get life based on their talents, mostly. unfair?) Little girls should be taught that what they see in magazines isn't real but to do that they have to have a firm foundation of self esteem, and not just about the way they look. It's so important to teach them to value their own creative talents, their own mind and abilities. Sure, they can rock a little skirt and boots and pig tails, and later they can learn how to pretty it up with make-up, but that shouldn't be our first line of defense. They should learn that articulate words and vocabulary and their own thoughts and opinions MATTER. As a parent, even if you don't agree with what your child's views on something are, you should hear them out. You shouldn't put their opinions down because they aren't yours. You should embrace the fact that they have their own opinions and thoughts, create a dialogue with them about why they think this way and you think that way. It should be an open floor. And open mind, a mind ready to learn and think. A mind not afraid to think. As a stranger meeting a new little girl, we should talk to her openly about what she likes, and resist the urge to tell them they are so cute you could squeeze them the first moment we lay eyes on them. Starting a conversation about their appearance sets the stage for later in life, it teaches them that looks come first. Even non-parents have to help change the norm. We all, as women, need to embrace the mind before the body.
I'm so scared that my daughter will learn that her appearance matters more than her mind. It won't be from me that she learns this nonsense, but some mean little girl in school or on the playground. I can control how she is treated now, by myself and others. I can control all of these details, isolate her from negative image driven prerogatives. But she's two now. She won't be two forever. And what's this world going to teach her? Magazines and media focus on the body, a body that is too thin, too perfect, too unachievable. For god's sake, these images have been airbrushed! I don't want her starving herself to be thin, neglecting the beautiful mind that I have nurtured in favor of a flat tummy and too much make up.
So we do what we can. We teach our daughters that this world is full of people of all shapes and sizes. Everyone is different and we all walk our own paths. And we teach them to read and to sing and to create and add and subtract. We teach them self worth that isn't based on their looks. And we pray that the world doesn't undo it all. And when we see a little girl, we shouldn't tell them how adorable they are, at least not in the first moments of our encounter. Ask them what they like, what books are their favorites. Talk to them and they'll talk back. They'll talk a lot longer, too, about their favorite books or televisions shows even than their pretty hair and skirt, I bet.