“You look so pretty!”, “Oh, wow, look at you, aren’t you beautiful!”, “What a gorgeous dress, you are so adorable!”. Have you heard yourself say these sentences to your little girl, to a friend’s little girl, your neice or maybe your little sister? They’re harmless compliments, right? It all depends on what you want the little girls in your life to grow up valuing about themselves. It’s never too late to change the way they think…
I have a confession: I have a girl crush on American author Lisa Bloom. My recent parenting post about how to raise boys without the swagger was All Abroad Baby’s most popular so far. Lots of you read it and this made me smile. Why? Because it told me that those who follow AAB like to think about the way they parent their little ones. In last week’s post, Lisa, who’s also a civil rights lawyer and mum of two, gave us some realistic tips on how to help our sons grow into fulfilled men in this day and age. Since then I’ve been reading more of her work and she’s one switched on mama.
While reading Lisa’s book, Swagger, I found out that an article she’d written last year – How to Talk to Little Girls – was the 12th most-shared post on Facebook in 2011. I also discovered that although girls are outperforming boys at school in America, 25 percent of girls would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Seriously? Yep. Now that I’m a mum to a baby girl, I Googled Lisa’s article in the hope that, like Swagger, it would give me some constructive advice on how to help her grow up with a healthy self-esteem that’s driven by her mind and not her looks. Yet again I admired Lisa’s practical approach in dealing with a glaringly obvious issue for little girls living in Western society today.
If I asked you what you thought was one of the most challenging issues facing little girls today, what would you say? My guess is that body image would be high up on your list. That was my answer, too. After reading How to Talk to Little Girls I couldn’t stop thinking about the way we all reinforce the subliminal messages in advertising that tell women that looks are their most important asset. We validate this message every time we compliment a woman – first and foremost – on her physical appearance. Think about it: when men meet up do they greet each other by saying, “How are you, mate? I love your new haircut!” or “great trousers!”. They don’t (at least not the men I know). I’m certainly not one to talk – often the first thing I do when I catch up with a girlfriend is compliment her on something to do with her appearance. Or I comment on Facebook photos of female friends by referring to their looks: “You look beautiful!” and “Love your dress!”. Do I do this with male friends? No, I don’t. How about you?
I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist, but it would be nice to live in a world that doesn’t judge me on my looks. I hadn’t really thought about it much until I had a little girl. At the moment I’m struggling to accept that I’m no longer as slim as I was B.C. (Before Children). I’m certainly not overweight, but I have a few lumps and bumps I’d like to gradually get rid of. Each time I try and tell myself that it’s okay to have more curves than I did when I was 25, the messages I’ve been exposed to my whole life play on my mind and many of us are oblivious to the way we reinforce these messages. For example, just recently on Facebook an ex-boyfriend from way back posted a photo of his current girlfriend. She was wearing a slim-fitting skirt and she’d pulled her top up like a midriff to show her stomach. My ex commented: ‘My baby’s new skirt :–) We love it’.
Even when my personal trainer is finished with me you won’t catch me uploading photos on Facebook revealing my new ‘I feel better’ body. Why? After reading How to Talk to Little Girls I want my daughter to grow up valuing her mind as her most important asset and I want to lead by example. What am I telling her if she sees photos of her mum on her dad’s Facebook page where Dad has commented “nice legs” (this was the case, but we recently deleted all comments like this). Sounds like a far-fetched step in parenting, but we figured that if we were going to be complimenting our little girl on her mind, before her pretty dresses, we shouldn’t be hypocrites by doing this kind of thing ourselves.
I don’t think there are many parents who would argue that it’s wrong to teach our daughters to look after themselves by exercising regularly and dressing well. Exercise keeps them in good health and knowing how to dress nicely helps them secure a job later on in life. But this isn’t what Lisa Bloom is talking about – she’s referring to the 25 percent of girls who’d rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. By always referring to our daughters’ looks we’re constantly telling them that the way they look is top priority. Sadly, this is the case for women in Western society – and we all keep reinforcing this. No wonder the age some girls develop eating disorders is getting lower and lower. In How to Talk to Little Girls Lisa Bloom quotes an ABC News report that nearly half of all American three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat.
You know those posts that do the rounds via email and social media, the ones that remind us that all it takes is one person to change the world? Talking to our little girls in a way that values brains over looks is a great example of how we can do this. As Lisa says at the end of How to Talk to Little Girls: ‘Here’s to changing the world, one little girl at a time.’
You can read How to Talk to Little Girls by clicking here. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments below…