How to Talk to Little Girls

by Latina Fatale on 07/21/2011 · 511 comments

in Motherhood, Parenting

Content
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.

What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.

Hold that thought for just a moment.

This week ABC news reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that fifteen to eighteen percent of girls under twelve now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and twenty-five 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. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. 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. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

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!”

“Wow, amazing!” I said. And it is, for a five year old. You go on with your bad self, Maya.

“What’s your favorite book?” I asked.

“I’ll go get it! Can I read it to you?”

Purplicious was Maya’s pick and a new one to me, as Maya snuggled next to me on the sofa and proudly read aloud every word, about our heroine who loves pink but is tormented by a group of girls at school who only wear black. Alas, it was about girls and what they wore, and how their wardrobe choices defined their identities. But after Maya closed the final page, I steered the conversation to the deeper issues in the book: mean girls and peer pressure and not going along with the group. I told her my favorite color in the world is green, because I love nature, and she was down with that.

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.

I told her that I’d just written a book, and that I hoped she’d write one too one day. She was fairly psyched about that idea. We were both sad when Maya had to go to bed, but I told her next time to choose another book and we’d read it and talk about it. Oops. That got her too amped up to sleep, and she came down from her bedroom a few times, all jazzed up.

So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya’s perspective for at least that evening.

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. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

And let me know the response you get at www.Twitter.com/lisabloom.

Here’s to changing the world, one little girl at a time.

Reprinted with permission.

© 2011 Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk For Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World

Author Bio
Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, is an award-winning journalist, legal analyst, trial attorney, and the daughter of renowned women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred.

A daily fixture on American television for the last decade, Bloom is currently the CBS News legal analyst, appearing frequently on The Early Show and CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as the legal analyst for The Dr. Phil Show. Bloom appears regularly on CNN and HLN prime time shows such as Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell, The Joy Behar Show, Anderson Cooper 360, and The Situation Room. She has been featured on Oprah, Nightline, Today, Good Morning America, Rachael Ray, and many more, and she was a nightly panelist on The Insider throughout 2010. From 2001-2009, Bloom hosted her own daily, live, national show on Court TV, and she has guest-hosted Larry King Live, The Early Show, and Showbiz Tonight.

Bloom has written numerous popular and scholarly articles for the Los Angeles Times, Family Circle, the National Law Journal, CNN.com, the Daily Beast, and many more. She has also been profiled, featured, and quoted in hundreds of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Elle, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Variety.

Bloom graduated early and Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA, where she was national college debate champion, and then from the Yale Law School, where she won the moot court competition. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she runs her law firm, The Bloom Firm. TheWrap.com recently named Bloom one of the top five celebrity attorneys in Los Angeles.

An Alternative Perspective:
How to Raise Little Girls Who Love Their Looks
Femimommy Blog

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{ 466 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike P. July 31, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Lately, I’ve been telling my daughter when she comes up with a cool outfit. But, I think it’s important because she dresses for her own satisfaction, and not any particular style that I can discern. Often times, she has a message in there. She has shirts with peace signs on them, and of course ones with horses. But, it’s not the focus of life. It’s just something she occasionally makes an effort to do.

I’m much happier when she makes it over the higher jump on a horse. Really. If she doesn’t, it’s not so good :-) Splat. Glad I paid the $250 for the high quality vest.

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jen June 3, 2013 at 11:38 pm

I agree with you. I think telling kids they picked a great outfit or have great taste is unisex. Plus, it reinforces individual decisions. (This next part isn’t in direct reply to your comment…) I loved the article and think it makes a great point!

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Kelly July 4, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Yes, and you can also make it specific. There’s a world of difference between “You’re so cute!” and “Those are great shoes” when a kid is clearly excited to be walking around in silver boots. That being said, I agree that it shouldn’t be the first or only topic of conversation. I often start with “What grade are you in?” and follow it up with “What have you learned recently?”

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Kate Bailward June 6, 2013 at 6:21 am

That’s the important thing, I think: complimenting where compliments are due. So if a girl (or a boy, for that matter) looks good, tell them so. If you like their taste in books, tell them so. If they do really well at school, tell them so. As Lisa alluded to in the article, the problems come when only one aspect of a personality is ever praised – and also if it’s only praise that is ever received. There’s a fine line between being encouraging and being blind to any faults.

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Paul Stevens June 8, 2013 at 11:24 am

I think a critically important point in the article is that the author restrained herself from making her first comment (and compliment) appearance based.

Her first effort was to find some non-appearance related common ground to start the conversation.

Whether or not “looking good” is based on genetics or conscious choices the child made when selecting their outfit and grooming may be too fine a distinction for a five year old to make and they could easily parse it down to “I’m pretty” or “I’m not pretty.” (or handsome).

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Christine July 25, 2013 at 3:02 pm

If a 15 year old dresses well; fine, acknowledge it, good for her, she probably had some say in the matter.

But when you compliment a 5 year old’s outfit, you are simply complimenting the parents fashion choices. It’s dis-empowering, because it’s not really her accomplishment. It’s training her for a life of being content with gaining prestige from the accomplishments of others (like her potential future spouse), rather than her own achievements.

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Katie Castricone August 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Hi Katie,
I thought this article was very good and it really makes me think about what we admire in little girls, I think we need to have a balance in how much emphasis we put on how they look.

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Beth More July 4, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I agree

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Karen August 20, 2011 at 6:52 pm

This is great and spot on. I usually don’t go on about looks to my 2 nieces, but in the future I’m going to be more cunning with steering the conversation. And you’re right about the dieting/weight issue, my nieces are 4 and 6 and both are troubled by this! I don’t remember doing that when I was a young girl. But certainly by the time I was 12 I was worried I was fat. I wish I’d never read a Teen magazine, and instead enjoyed my youth.

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Ado August 22, 2011 at 12:16 am

I just *loved* this post, and I have young daughters – oh how I wish every person who met them was a savvy about little girls as you.

What an excellent and refreshing post to read. I’m going to pass it on!

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JF June 2, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Maybe you could gently guide the adult to a new way to interact with any child, really, by asking your girls to tell the person what their reading now or about a subject that interests your girls. I think some adults just don’t know what to say to kids.

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RJ June 10, 2013 at 9:39 am

I think this is a great idea. I agree that there are many adults who just don’t know what else to say, particularly if they don’t have children of their own. As a parent, we could help by introducing our child by name and an interest. For example, “This is Amelia and she loves drawing different animals and plants.” or “This is Nikita and she loves doing puzzles.” This would then prompt the person to delve deeper or provide a general comment about the particular interest, rather than appearance which is an easy default.

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Joshua June 16, 2013 at 5:46 am

I think that is a great suggestion. It reinforces to our child(ren) that we recognize and honor their interest as well as encourages the adult (or kid for that matter) to engage them. As a father I often compliment my daughters and son because I want to help build self-esteem, be it around their outfit, artwork, politeness or anything else. I am going to be much more mindful of what I choose to highlight now based on this article. I will not ignore their “cuteness” but I will not allow it to take center stage over more enduring and relevant attributes.

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kristi July 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Thank you for this practical extension ‘how-to’ which will make it easier for adults to talk with children. Compliments on appearance are easy to make and they don’t lead to validating the whole little person.

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Deedra August 23, 2011 at 4:55 am

I love the message.
I have twin girls that are about to turn four years old. They love to dress up. My sister-in-law shared an important thought with me when our daughters, who are only 6 months apart, were very young. She said that she didn’t want her daughter to think that fixing her hair/painted fingernails/ jewelry or anything else MADE her beautiful, she wanted her to feel beautiful no matter what. So I have tried to emphasize that fixing their hair etc. does not make them beautiful, because they are beautiful no matter what. But I appreciate the message here, and I hope to integrate this more deeply into our lives daily. Thank You.

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Senta Belding June 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I want reply to what you said because I think there is a nuance here that is important. I appreciate what you are saying that your twin girls are beautiful, without adornment like nail polish or accessories. However, the point of the article goes beyond that. The point is that BEAUTY itself is not the point. We are looking for other valuable qualities in our daughters, like perseverence, kindness, empathy. To call them beautiful is just to draw attention to outward appearance, which is where we put so much focus already on girls/women.

In my opinion it would be better to refrain from calling girls beautiful as much as possible. Maybe we can say “thank you for noticing someone else had a need”, or “I see you are working really hard on that” as alternatives…

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Taylor June 9, 2013 at 3:09 pm

I disagree on the idea of calling one “beautiful”. Though people tend to use this term in reference to physical beauty, that’s not all it means. I’ve met some of the most beautiful people– and called them so because they presented me with intriguing ideas, showed me new perspectives, supported my and others’ efforts, understood and validated what my thoughts were, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with them. When calling one beautiful, I consider the loveliness of their mind and personality, as well.

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Melanie June 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm

I think it’s terrific to call people beautiful, but in ways that are more meaningful than appearance. Of course it is nice to be called beautiful, and when I haven’t heard it for a while from my husband I’ll ask him “How cute am I!?” But when my daughter gets talking about something interesting, something that happens often, I tell her that her I love the way she thinks and that she has such a beautiful mind. She’s very interesting.

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Alex June 12, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I don’t see anything wrong with the word beautiful or the idea of beauty, because a person can be beautiful without it relating to appearance whatsoever. I don’t think we should avoid the word completely, only use it more carefully. People have beautiful minds, they honestly do, and I would absolutely use the idea of beauty as praise for the innate qualities of a person. In fact, I highly suggest it…because the only way we will ever steer the idea of beauty away from relating solely to physical appearance is by using it to describe what should be valued: minds, thoughts, ideas, actions, etc. It’s replacement that will do the trick rather than removal.

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Holly June 15, 2013 at 1:07 am

As a child, I was not told I was beautiful. My red hair was noticed certainly, and I was told that I had “such pretty hair” by many a complete stranger, but even my parents did not tell me I was beautiful. And guess what? I grew up thinking I wasn’t and had all the problems mentioned above growing up and still do not think I am pretty. So please realize that your plan to never call a little girl beautiful may backfire.

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Alyssa June 17, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I have to agree with Holly. In a world where appearance is so valued, not hearing compliments in regards to appearance and/or beauty can make you feel inadequate in that area. I have no issues valuing my intelligence, abilities and myself as a person, but am most shy in the physical beauty area something my parents never focused on.

However I think the article makes an excellent point and completely agree girls and women need to value themselves on MORE than looks. Hearing you’re beautiful every now and again can do a lot more good than bad.

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Jess July 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I absolutely agree with Holly and Alyssa. Would that someone had ever called me pretty growing up instead of only smart. I wouldn’t have half the issues I’m still battling with self-esteem. 57% of college students are girls. I think the smart message has gotten through. What hasn’t gotten through is tat girls/women can be pretty whether they are razor thin or plump, blond or brunette, black or white, etc.

Kevin June 18, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I think it should be a lesson in frequency not an abolishment of letting your daughter know she’s beautiful. I have a niece and I tell her she’s beautiful or looks good, but then I also usually say for a pigs butt or something which always makes her laugh. I also ask how schools going, interests, things like that but my mother is bad about telling her how gorgeous she is and complimenting her skinnyness which makes me cringe, and I try to tell my mom that’s how eating disorders start but I guess it’s a generational thing that she isn’t getting the reasoning behind it.

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Robin Foley-Edwards July 11, 2013 at 2:28 am

Amen. I agree that it’s very important to allow little girls to know they’re beautiful, smart, talented, their prescence in a room is inviting and makes those around her smile. I too, was not encouraged as a little girl by my Mother or told I was beautiful or important or smart. I too, was dismissed and dressed in clothes that were the first mismatched outfit and quickest pair of clothes to hurry up and get me ready.
We are knitted in our Mothers Woumb by God Almighty and he calls us the “Apple of HIS eyes!” How much more beautiful do you get than that. Beauty, is not only outside but inside too! I feel that we can balance the baby doll dress up love with reading a good childrens book, or even the children’s Bible to our little girls! Anything else is just judgmental to say that we the people are wrong for having spiritual gifts to show “LOVE” by giving compliments to our baby girls and our friends and families baby girls. We are showing actions & words of LOVE! And “Love” covers a multitude of sins. Food for thought…
~Robin Foley-Edwards

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David June 17, 2013 at 8:06 pm

The point is about sexism. Do you talk to boys about their beauty, or do you discuss other things? Men are generally not judged on their appearance. Women always are judged on their appearance. Hopefully, your strategy for your daughters will give them more self-confidence and have less stake in their appearances, however, societal pressures will still have a great affect on how they value men and women. It is difficult to counter this.

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Anne July 8, 2013 at 8:43 am

I’m the proud mother of two boys (age 9 and 14), and I often comment to them on their beauty. And on their interesting thoughts, their interests and so on. I tell them I don’t care about their marks, but that I care about their commitment to homework and school.
They love being told they’re loved. For their appearence, mind, and soul. They share their love of gaming, reading, playing, jumping etc. with me. And tell me that I am beautiful too.
I have a lovely niece (age 8). She is also beautiful, clever, funny, hard-working and interesting to be with. So I tell her the same things, and listen to her stories, thoughts, and dreams.
So, basically, all children need to be beautiful. Tell them that they are! They also need to hear that they are interesting. So tell that too. The reward is an insight into their thoughts and beliefs, which are often deep and philosophical.

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IAmLoisLane July 10, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I actually was thinking about this as I read the post. As I pondered the fact that this last weekend I kept calling my friend’s daughter “gorgeous” (as in, “Hello gorgeous!”), I realized I do the same thing with male children. I call them handsome or gorgeous and girls gorgeous or sweetie. And it is more about personality than looks.

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BMCB July 16, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Little boys are definitely judged by their appearance, but I think that fades as they get older. I’m not around children much, and the first thing that pops out of my mouth when I meet one, whether it’s a boy or girl, is “You’re so CUTE!” Substitute adorable, handsome, beautiful, whatever, but when you first meet a child and don’t know anything about them, that seems to be the easiest thing to comment on. Mind you, I say this even if I don’t personally think the child is particularly adorable. It’s almost an unconscious greeting.

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MomOf3Boys July 19, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Actually, yes, I tell my boys they are handsome a lot. :-)

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Melissa July 21, 2013 at 5:37 pm

I have to agree, Holly. You can do as much damage to a child by not telling them that they are beautiful, as you can by emphasizing, intentional or not, their looks. I tell all my children, 1, 4, and 5 years old, girl and boy alike that they are beautiful. I also admire their character when they make good choices, tell them how much I love watching them use their brains to solve problems, comment on how my heart fills with love when I see them demonstrate compassion… It’s all healthy, and all needed, even the physical compliments, in moderation.

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N M July 23, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Thats about as wrong as you can be. If you think boys don’t worry about appearance… ask all the uncool boys what they think of the popular school quarterback with the thick hair, chiseled face, abs, pecs and biceps to flex.. who has all the girls hanging off of him. While the bookworm SAT ace hasn’t even so much as kissed a girl by graduation. Its just as bad as boys, but as usual today’s generation of adults are focused all on young girls and dismiss boys as not in need of our attention or help.

This sure explains the growing disparity between boys and girls. Boys lower rates in grades, GPAs, graduation rates, employment, salary, college education, higher imprisonment, etc. … until you learn that most of these social issues apply to both sexes (if not in nuanced, slightly different ways) then you will continue to fail our young men.

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Barbara Medeiros August 31, 2011 at 12:15 am

Perhaps you are modeling a new perspective. I was visiting with my four-year old twin nieces just a week ago and had given them matching outfits for back-to-preschool. One of the girls had to try on the entire ensemble…shirt, skirt, tights and shoes…and then pronounced that she would be “the prettiest girl in school”. I quickly disabused her of that notion, pointing out that her identical twin would be wearing the same clothes! I also used the episode as a “teachable moment”, when I told her I was more concerned that her clothes be neat, appropriate, and comfortable…and if she felt good about herself because of something she accomplished, that was way more important to me than her being pretty. We do need to have a heightened awareness of our words, and the effect they have. Thanks for your perceptive insights!

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Cherel June 2, 2013 at 4:38 am

I think it is great that you used that as a teachable moment. Personally, I wonder if taking it a bit further and explaining to her that acting like or being the “prettiest girl in school” can come off as arrogant to others would be helpful. Obviously, you would have to use different terminology than the word arrogant.

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Dina July 21, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I am pretty sure a pre-school would tune out a lecture like that for the most part. I do like the idea of the article though, not making your first or only observation of a little girl you come in contact with be related to her appearance. I have a soon to be 18 year old and we have had an ongoing dialogue about what it means to be beautiful. And the way one looks is wayyyy down on that list. Beauty comes from within. Physical beauty should not be what defines anyone. That’s where shallow people come from.
(although I also agree with Holly’s comment above that it’s okay to tell a little girl that she’s beautiful too. As well as strong, clever, creative, kind and smart…it’s about balance.)

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Barbara August 31, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Thank you for this good article! My English is not so good, but good enough to understand the theme. This i think too: How sick is it, if just little girls are classified about how they are looking, not what the like or can or read and so on…

Greetings!

Barbara

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Kathleen September 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Your post was shared by a friend on facebook. I am a first time reader and appreciated your comments very much. I have several nieces and enjoy the benefit of being the ‘cool aunty’ without the labor of love that is full-time parenting. Nonetheless, I often use every opportunity with the girls to talk about interests and hobbies, but I realize that I too have sometimes fallen into the ice-breaker routine. Your article has given me a good reminder to be more thoughtful in the future. Thank you.

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Perno September 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm

The first thing I tell my nieces is how pretty they look, I’ll try something like this next time I see them. I know I’m going to sound stupid to myself…”Mikayla, how great to see you!!! What do you like right now?” hahah I laugh just thinking of it, but kids don’t care what you ask them. I’ll sound dumb to the adults in the room but I’m sure the kids will get it. Good thinking there, Latina Fatale.

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crazytrains June 4, 2013 at 4:07 am

The mistake you are making is to enforce the idea of being physically beautiful is important. The emphasis on physical beauty either it is true or it is from a kind heart in order to be nice is what causes the problem. I have a 3 year old daughter, and even though she is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in life (of course to my eyes), I refuse to say to her that she is pretty, but I always tell her that she is funny, or smart, clever, or genius. So, few weeks ago she asked me if she was pretty enough to be a princes, since her cousin is told by her parents that she is a pretty princess, and to be pretty is a requirement to be a princess. So since she never heard that compliment from her parents, she was questioning the reason. So, I took her to the zoo. I showed her the peacock, and the some other female animals, and I asked her if she think they are pretty, and she said yes, and I asked her if she thinks they are clever, and she said no. So there it was, the answer to the question. So dear Perno, next time you see you nieces, compliment them on their wits and character rather than their prettiness.

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Aytisi June 6, 2013 at 8:07 am

Umm…peacocks are male. In nature it’s often the male that is the pretty one, with decorative features like the lion’s mane, the rooster’s comb, and the tail of the male swordtail fish.

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Heather June 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I know I came late to the party here but I think I just need to point out one thing that I found disturbing reading the below posts…. I think that if a child has to ask if they are pretty they are starting to have doubts that their parents think they are. And while it is important for them to know they are clever and such, I think lack of being told that they are pretty affects them as well. There should always be a balance. Tell a child they are pretty because every person desires to hear that they are occasionally. Don’t let it become the only praise you give them, however. Let them know they are more than just a pretty face but never make them feel as if they are not pretty because you refuse to tell them so. How is a child to feel if another child calls them ugly if they never have anyone to tell them they are pretty? This will cause them harm in the long run too and we need to find a happy medium rather than one extreme or the other.

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Linda F July 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I think BALANCE is the key…. Notice when an extra effort is made for a special event (Wow… you clean up nice!). Or even when one gets a new hair style (Who knew that a hair cut could accent your pretty face?). My kids, now grown, were always complimented on their appearance – I had to point out their generous, loving natures- , latest volunteer work, good grades, good teamship- to others, so they had other things to talk about than the way they looked.

Eliza June 9, 2013 at 1:59 am

The males are the showier ones; that doesn’t mean their female counterparts are not pretty. Either way we have gotten a bit off topic. ;)

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Kate February 8, 2014 at 3:14 am

To stay off topic, we call them peacocks for males and peahens for females. ;-) Thinking about it a little more, bringing in examples of other organisms children will know or learn about gives them a larger context for many things and can establish relevance.

OhMy June 11, 2013 at 4:44 am

So…your daughter asked you if you thought she was pretty, and you refused to answer, but took her to the zoo to tell her that it wasn’t important?
I’m guessing that’s going to cause a few years of therapy when she is old enough to process that her own mother seemed to not think she was pretty.

I think the thing here is to consistently reinforce that other things are far more important, but I think treating beauty as distinctly different from other qualities actually underscores its importance. I also think that permanently withholding a compliment that every other mother in the universe is willing to share with their child at least occasionally is not so much enlightening, but actually downright cruel.

This article is excellent, if occasionally misunderstood.

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Nicole July 7, 2013 at 5:26 am

I agree completely. The problem with beauty is that though there is no way to measure it, and its parameters are not defined, it is still used to categorize women. I am a Christian, and I want my daughter to grow up seeing all of God’s creation as beautiful…made in his image, special to him. Even if I wasn’t a Christian. I would want my daughter to see people uniquely beautiful… to know that the definition of beauty has changed so much over time that it can’t be trusted. We have to use our hearts to find the beauty in everyone… and to know that she is beautiful, no matter what she look like.

Janna June 11, 2013 at 11:08 am

True story. It’s downright unnatural for females to be do appearance obsessed (kidding). But really, I think her method was brilliant. The parents are the first line of defense – Though, come to think of it, I would love for her to show her that males can also be pretty enough to be pretty princesses ;)

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revelveteen June 13, 2013 at 12:46 am

Peacocks are NOT “male”, or female. There are male AND female peacocks; both have large tail feathers but the male peacock has the bright colors. Many male animals are more striking because they’re supposed to draw away or intimidate creatures who threaten their family or tribe [the manes, combs, etc. make them look larger.] They also employ these features to compete with one another for the females’ attention when mating. Female birds and animals mostly have earth- and plant-type coloring to camouflage and help them blend in so they can protect their young, that’s all. The concept of saying those features make males the “pretty ones” is mainly a human idea.

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plasmidmap June 14, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Peacocks are in fact male, and “peahens” are female: they are collectively called “peafowl”.

Data1001 June 14, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Actually, Aytisi was correct. Although used interchangeably (and incorrectly) by many people today, the term “peacock” refers specifically to the male of the peafowl species. The female is called a peahen, and their young are called pea chicks. This is the same way that chickens are classified: cock (or rooster), hen, and chicks.

Holly June 15, 2013 at 1:12 am

PeaCOCKS are male. PeaHENS are female, collectively they are called Peafowl.

amazingbirdexpert June 15, 2013 at 3:04 am

Peacocks are male; peahens are female.

Bri June 7, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Crazytrains you completely missed the point of what Perno was saying. He was saying that before this article he always told his neices how pretty they look, but that he’ll make an attempt to quell that first response and try something else that doesn’t focus on their looks even if it makes him sound stupid.

As for refusing to ever call your daughter pretty that’s taking it to extremes. There is no reason to never compliment your childs appearance, especially if they are at an age where they are trying to find their own style and identity because appearance is a part of that (do I want to wear jeans or do I want to wear dresses? do I want my hair long or do I want it short). It just shouldn’t be the only compliment you ever give them. Your zoo example sounds like you’re trying to teach your daughter that she can either be clever and plain or pretty and dumb as an animal. Why would you try to use animals to explain that? Why couldn’t you just say to her “Because you are more then just the way you look”? Or “Because I think how clever you are is beautiful”? Pretty and Beautiful aren’t bad words in themselves, it all depends on how you use them

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Dina July 21, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Exactly. One can indeed be smart, clever, creative AND beautiful. Not a thing wrong with that. :)

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Bex June 10, 2013 at 8:15 pm

I see you are coming from a good place and to each their own, but to me … this is just sad :(
I actually agree with article 100% and tell my daughter regularly that she has done well at xyz, is clever, is brave, thoughtful etc etc when she has been, or is being. But to not tell your daughter that she IS PRETTY when she so obviously wanted to hear it? What would of been the harm in that? Maybe explain to her about princesses and princes and kings and queens and teach her some things along the way, but heck if my daughter wonders whether I THINK SHE IS PRETTY … yes I do, and I will tell her I think she is pretty, whilst we talk about being kind, and thinking of others, and being truthful , etc, all qualities that you can have whether you would be deemed outwardly pretty in a ‘conventional’ way or not, and how important those qualities are aswell.

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old dad July 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm

You put it well. Several posters seem to have over-reacted to an excellent, thoughtful piece.

The author points out that she won’t change the prevailing culture that values looks over everything in women, but that perhaps he managed to plant a seed that other things are important TOO. And from the anecdotes she relates, it seems that was much appreciated. She did not convey a message that the girl was NOT pretty; just didn’t introduce it s a topic of importance.

But if, as is inevitable, the little girl is wondering about her looks, how she is perceived, then of course a compliment is appropriate. Dodging the question will absolutely convey a negative result. Much better to say something like “yes, you look lovely” or “of course you are” and then change the subject with a compliment about how smart, or kind she is or something like that. And maybe add something like “everyone is pretty in their own way.”
Pointedly avoiding a compliment on looks is hazardous; low-keying it and putting it in perspective is far better.

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Bex June 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm

*hmmm this didn’t work first time so if it is at the end it was meant to be on the end of the person who wrote the story about her daughter wanting to know if she was pretty enough to be a princess.*

I see you are coming from a good place and to each their own, but to me … this is just sad :(
I actually agree with article 100% about finding other things to say to little girls BEFORE talking about them being pretty/beautiful, and I tell my daughter regularly that she has done well at xyz, is clever, is brave, thoughtful etc etc when she has been, or is being. But to not tell your daughter that she IS PRETTY when she so obviously wanted to hear you say it? What would of been the harm in that? Maybe explain to her about princesses and princes and kings and queens and teach her some things along the way, but heck if my daughter wonders whether I THINK SHE IS PRETTY … yes I do, and I will tell her I think she is pretty. I will tell her this, whilst we talk about being kind, compassionate , truthful , etc, all qualities that you can have whether you would be deemed outwardly pretty in a ‘conventional’ way or not, and how important those qualities are aswell.

For me this was just a little girl wanting to hear her mommy say she loved her and thought she was as pretty and the other little girls parents thought their daughter was :(

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Monica June 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

But a peacock isn’t clever. Why can’t our daughters be told they are smart, funny, clever, etc. AND beautiful? Why avoid it all together? That, in the end, gives the message that you think they aren’t beautiful because you never tell them and they hear that others are told that. I am trying to teach my daughter that she is beautiful just the way she is by not focusing just on looks, but making sure she knows she is beautiful for the whole person she is and that her outward appearance doesn’t need to be changed to make her beautiful. Please, add some balance to life!!!

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Geovanni June 13, 2013 at 6:17 am

To perno: like anything else practice and improve on what you are doing to compliment your nieces. Everything adds up.

To crazytrain: based on the comment above, what I gather is that you are suggesting that you can’t have beauty and brains. Please note this is an assumption based on the info in the comment above.

“I asked her if she think they are pretty, and she said yes, and I asked her if she thinks they are clever, and she said no”

I would say to encourage them to be beautiful and intelligent. It does help their self esteem (as with boys being called handsome as well)rather than not being sure if they are ugly. children can be harsh critics of each other and very mean to each other. It happens with both men and women. I am not suggesting to get make up kit or focus the majority of compliments on looks, but build up their self esteem about their physical attributes as well.

Maybe my suggestion is horribly wrong. but its a suggestion.

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Aarthi June 15, 2013 at 12:17 am

What I’m wondering is how the idea of “a girl becomes a princess by looking pretty, only” became so prevalent. This would have been a perfect time to say “of course you are pretty enough to be a princess, but princesses have to be smart and brave and take care of their people, and that’s why I think you would be a great princess”. So that she knows she is pretty but that her other qualities are what really set her apart. Everyone (girl or boy) wants to be pretty, and it’s good for them to know they are, as long as they don’t base their self worth (and ability to be anything they want to be) on that.

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Dalaina May July 3, 2013 at 9:38 pm

There’s an old story about 2 sisters,. The first sister, a beautiful girl, all her life, heard her parents talk about how smart her sister was. The other, a brilliant mind, heard only about how beautiful her sister was. As adults, the first sister thought herself to be stupid, and the second sister thought herself to be ugly.

Many times, what children come to believe about themselves isn’t learned by what we say. It is learned by what we don’t say.

So crazytrains, while I think it’s wonderful that you are re-enforcing the idea that she is clever, funny, and smart, don’t be shocked if all that she remembers is “I am ugly.”

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jen June 11, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Just talk to children like you would talk to an adult. “hey! how’s it going?…”
If an adult was wearing a particularly flashy outfit, you would comment but you wouldn’t goo over how adorable they are every time you see them…

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karen September 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm

This was a wonderful article especially with the huge following for the toddler/girl beauty pageants. I can’t believe that someone would subject a small child to that type of stress and have them thinking that the only thing you can be is a princess type.
Girls are intelligent and able to do anything that they want in life, as long as there are parents behind them with encouragement and love.
I must admit that when my daughter was born ( after 2 sons) I was hoping for a “girly girl”. Well, she had two brothers to play with and instead of ballet , she is a 2nd Black Belt in Taekwondo and competes in local and national competitions. She is smart, she is beautiful and she is strong. She is also doing something that she loves and works very hard with her coach to be the best that she can in her chosen sport. At 13, she wants to look nice but that doesn’t include make up or anything drastic. She is taking pre-ap classes and some 9th grade classes while in the 9th grade. She is now my idea of what a girl should be, strong, smart and passionate about her life.

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Nicole Devlin September 3, 2011 at 5:42 am

Stumbled upon this article and completely relate. I am only 20, but I used to nanny for this family that was all about looks, status, and being #1 at everything.

The mother was obsessed with having the best beauty products, the best handbag (she had a collection), expensive clothes, the latest apple product, and even commented that I was valuable because of how pretty and young I was. Their 7 yr old daughter was warped into this thinking and while her mother meant to do well, there clearly is going to be body issues and self esteem problems for this girl when she grows up.

I could only do so much as a nanny without over stepping my boundaries, but I completely agree that adults should learn how to talk to little girls. I think parents should educate themselves better on this issue and realize that what they do effects their children greatly.

At least I’m comforted by knowing that whenever I have children (boys or girls) I will take extra care in molding them. Children need a strong foundation to grow on and if you don’t help them to realize what a good self esteem is, then growing up will be rough. Then again, seeing as I don’t have children and am still young, I suppose I can say this is easier said than done, but I will try my best. :)

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Kelly September 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Thanks for this. I have a young son, 14, who is very conscious of his appearance. Has been since he could talk. He has a lot of girl-friends that I take home from school and I am always asking them what they learned in school today. One positive thing and one negative thing. And how they can work through the negative. They are all teenagers and I want to help them to love themselves they way they are. It’s hard and frustrating to hear them talk down about themselves. Thanks for your words.

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Peggy Talbot September 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm

For those of us who work in the beauty industry, it is easy to get caught up in appearance perfection. It is sad to see the upcoming generations so focused on that physical perfection. This is a great reminder for us to teach these young girls that they have so much more value than how they look, and to nuture those special qualities that hover beneath the surface waiting to be nurtured!

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susannah September 9, 2011 at 6:25 pm

i have two wonderful, funny, feisty daughters- 3 1/2 & 15 months. i can’t tell you how many times a day people (strangers, family members, friends) say to her, “you are so cute! do you know you are so cute/pretty/i love your long curly hair/your dress is so fancy/etc etc.” i’m not gonna lie- they ARE ridiculously cute- but that isn’t the message i want either of my daughters to grow up thinking is the source of their significance and worth.

i’ve found that the best way my husband and i can combat this is to encourage her in other areas that are not beauty/appearance related.

i love this post & may re-post a link to it on my own blog.

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K September 10, 2011 at 4:35 am

This made me sad… bc I am realizing that I do this with my own daughter. She is 4 and very girly… she loves dressing up and twirling around for everyone to tell her how pretty she is. But I need to make more of an effort to concentrate on the more important things. Its funny how life gets so busy that you miss the obvious. Thank you for this… very inspiring.

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Remy September 11, 2011 at 12:14 am

Congratulations, you made a conscious decision not to pay someone a compliment that they probably would have loved to hear. Where is it written that it’s “correct” to value intelligence over beauty, literature over fashion?

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Rufus December 18, 2011 at 11:58 am

@Remy:

nothing is “written”, don’t be obtuse. There are however, damaging pressures on young girls and women (and older ones) to be all about looks, and all about airbrushed, unachievable looks at that. A counterbalance is essential.

Personally I would MUCH rather someone show me genuine interest in my interests than make some shallow formulaic compliment about external presentation. The former actually take some effort.

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Wendy Margulies June 3, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Rah. You got it.
It’s all too easy to fall into the ‘I love that dress’ habit…and while it may be true that the kid, or the dress (or shoes, hair…whatever) are super cute – and it may be an appreciated compliment, as a mother of a girl I have to say that I’m always looking for ways to remind my daughter that there are qualities she has that are admirable that are not appearance-based. She gets that enough, but I want the message to be that her intelligence, curiosity, artistic abilities and other skills are equally valuable.

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Kathy Urso June 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I agree. I remember Oprah telling the story abt a woman (teacher maybe?) who told her she was a pretty little thing and how that had such an impact on her. She was only 5 or so and had not been told that before. It gave her hope that she was worthy of love and a future… I don’t believe that looks are the only thing to praise but it isn’t the negative this article leads us to believe…

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GCN June 12, 2013 at 5:24 am

I don’t think the author was trying to convey that it was -negative- to complement someone on their looks, but that if that’s the only aspect of their being we ever seem to notice, it’s all the child will think is important.
So sure, when someone’s made a big effort to look nice, that effort should be appreciated, but balance that with interest in the ‘whole person’.

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Jennifer June 14, 2013 at 3:39 am

I completely agree with Kathy – I have three daughters, and believe me, I will go to the ends of the earth to ensure they are valued for their brain, their interests and what positive contributions they can bring to the world, as I agree with the article that these are of utmost importance. However, I see nothing at all wrong with paying a compliment to my daughter when she has mastered choosing a nice outfit or brushed her hair into a nice braid (that she has been working very hard to master!). Of course we want to raise self-confident daughters who are sure of themselves inside and out, and by myself and my husband telling them we, as their parents, think they are beautiful, by no means does them a disservice. It is just another way we show them how loved, valued, and appreciated they are, both inside and out. It’s all about balance and moderation – don’t focus on ONLY the outside, or ONLY the inside. They are whole people, beautiful and intelligent, inside and out.

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Liz June 9, 2013 at 1:36 pm

This piece is ALL about paying girls compliments. Just choosing the compliments that can help inspire them to realize their full potential.
There is nothing wrong with being beautiful (as a 20 something I constantly wish I was more beautiful). And yes it’s great when someone tells me I am. But the compliments that mean so much more to me are ones about my accomplishments and my successes. It is so much more valuable to be praised for something I worked for rather than for looking a certain way because I chose a good color for my skin tone or was born with good jeans.
Plenty of people will tell a little girl she is beautiful. Not enough people will tell her she is smart, and talented, and independent.

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Liz June 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm

genes* ahh that’s embarrassing

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Janna June 11, 2013 at 11:15 am

Hi Troll! I scanned the whole comment section to find you. If there is one constant in this world it’s the ability for someone out there to take a offense at even the most benevolent ideas. There’s always one! How dare wtempt acknowledge pretty over the book learnin’s. Haha, adorable. It’s a fairly weak gripe but I’ll applaud the effort to bitch about it. Did you take down that meanie head writer? Don’t worry, I’ll give you attention sweetie. And I’m sure that your looks far far outweighs your intelligence. Do you feel better now?

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Dan June 14, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Wow. You really have no idea what a “troll” is. You are insulting someone who stated their opinion. A troll is not someone who simply disagrees with the main premise of an article, or one who doesn’t just blindly presume the truth of what is written. A troll is someone who (1) deviates so far from the article and never makes a relevant point regarding the article that there comment is a waste of time and (2) still demands a response. Your comment adds nothing to the discussion and you end with a question — thus trying to quench your attention-seeking thirst. You are a troll. It could easily be said that if the person you call a troll is ‘attractive/dumb’ then you must be smart/unattractive. However, I know nothing about you so I won’t resort to that. AND TO END AS A TROLL: “Do you feel better now?”

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Jane September 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Thank you for this article.

I find even now, at 22, whenever I reconnect with family or friends I haven’t seen in a while, their first comments are ALWAYS about my appearance. Never mind that I’ve been traveling all around the country for school and my job, or that I play in bands, or that I dance or knit or read… I’ve lost some weight! What an accomplishment!

I hope to have a daughter one day, and I pray that it will be possible to give her a clear mindset outside of superficial worries.

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Meghan June 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I *completely* agree. I am 30 years old and see my family (parents, aunts, uncles, etc.) probably around 3 or 4 times a year. I lived in Paris for six months and the very first thing that nearly every person said after seeing me when I returned was “wow! you lost weight!” I was so mad and found it ridiculous. Upon reflection I realized that my parents were very focused on appearance throughout my childhood/teenage years and in fact still are (my mom recently told me she was worried about my sister because she seemed unhappy AND had gained weight). I am sure if I told them this they would be horrified. After all they did/do praise my sister & I all the time for being smart and accomplished which have nothing to do with looks. I think it shows our societal unconscious obsession with being skinny. I really hope and will make a conscious effort when I have children to NOT talk about weight and appearance.

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Anna July 19, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Meghan,
I share the exact same feelings, particularly when it comes to weight. A family member comments on my weight whenever she sees me after a while, but only to say “oh you’ve lost weight” or “wow, you’re so slim” and I hate it because I don’t like people focusing on my body. I am happy with it but I also know how dangerous body obsession can be and as it is so often the first thing many people comment on. She also comments on my friends weight gain/loss and god if someone she knows has lost a lot of weight the conversation around “how do you do it?” lasts for hours. I know this is clearly an issue on her part but it makes my blood boil. I also hope when I have children I do not ever make them feel that weight and whatever society deems as the most pretty makes them feel any more or less beautiful.

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freewomyn September 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Great article. I couldn’t agree more. I get a little frustrated that everyone tells my 5-month old niece how pretty she is, but hardly anyone tells her that she is smart, brave, strong, etc. I do her numbers and letters with her every day, and I tell her how smart she is – I feel like I have to counteract all the other body-based messages. I’ll definitely use your trick of asking her to tell me about books when she gets old enough to talk and read.

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Leah W. September 17, 2011 at 2:22 am

I Read This, And I’m A 15 Year Old Girl, And It Made Me Feel Special Again, For The First Time In A Long Time. It Is Okay For Girls To Be Smart, It Is GOOD For Girls To Be Smart, And I Am Proud, So.. Proud That Someone Out There Is Spreading It Around, And Telling Little Girls Who Need To Hear It.
Because Sometimes They Never, Ever Do.

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Amanda June 8, 2013 at 2:06 am

Leah – it’s awesome to be smart. It may not always feel that way, especially at your age. But I grew up to have a PhD and I do really cool work in genetics and it’s way more fun than worrying about how I look. I also have an awesome husband who loves me BECAUSE I’m smart. He also thinks I’m beautiful but it was my brains that he loved first.

It’s awesome that you are smart. I am proud of you too!

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Ilene Slatko June 8, 2013 at 11:46 pm

Leah,

I realize that your post is almost 2 years ago, and that you might never see this…but just in case you do, I want to let you know that your post brought tears to my eyes. You are now 17 and probably entering one of the last years of high school. I hope you’ve continued on being a smart and special young woman, ready soon to enter the world and make an even larger impact!

Keep on being smart and strong.

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Lisa June 21, 2013 at 12:54 am

Leah,

All hail SMART! I remember being so fixated on appearance in high-school that it was painful. Here are the points that I should have realized then:
1) Pretty wasn’t going to get me into university. I am now working on my Ph.D. in biology.
2) Pretty wasn’t going to get me the grades I needed to maintain.
3) Pretty wasn’t going to get me a job in my field of interest.
4) Pretty wasn’t going to get my papers published. No scientist sends mug shots in with their research write-ups.
5) Pretty did not lead to me meeting my husband. He thinks the whole package is beautiful, but he always says that he has never been interested in someone who lacks intelligence.
For as smart as I was in high-school, appearance was the one place where I woefully idiotic. I was too obsessed with thinking that I wasn’t pretty enough. I also had a constant stream of people telling me how pretty my younger sister was. It took me awhile to mentally overcome that conditioning.
Be smart. Beauty – true beauty – comes from passion in your life and interests. Intelligence will give you that passion.

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Meredith September 18, 2011 at 6:58 pm

This is such a great article! It’s disturbing how much our culture is obsessed with body image, and it starts as early as birth. I never really thought about how I interact with my little cousins, but this has opened up my eyes, and I see that I’m contributing to the problem.

Thanks so much for posting.

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Josh September 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm

You misspelled “complement” in the fourth paragraph. Otherwise, great article with a great message. I’m not sure what it is about time that reinforces these messages even while great strides are made politically, legally, and professionally.

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louise October 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm

of course it really adds to someone’s self-esteem to write an inspiring article and have someone point out an error in their first sentence. correct spelling is, also, something that , though important, could wait for comment. starting with criticism is not affirming.

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Rufus January 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Not to mention the fact that the commenter you replied to is, in fact, wrong. There was no error.

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Maria October 14, 2011 at 6:31 am
Darci June 2, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Actually, she spelled “compliment” correctly. Look it up.

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Heidi June 5, 2013 at 10:31 am

Yeah, as a couple of people have already pointed out there’s a difference between compliment and complement…

Also, I’m not telling you what you should or should not write, but nitpicking to the point where you make a deal out of a single spelling mistake in an entire article is kind of unnecessary and can be interpreted as a tad disrespectful. I understand that you probably mean well, just be aware that doing so usually does more harm than good. Had the author actually made a little spelling mistake it would hardly have made the message any less professional or clear.

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Mr. Bee July 12, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Speaking as a man, “Josh’s” remark about the spelling of compliment is probably a result of the reverse of what the article speaks of. Little boys are told they should be clever and smart and capable and to be “in charge.” Sadly, a lot of them don’t actually suit this role just as every little girl doesn’t suit being a beauty queen or obsessing about their looks. Josh was just doing what society has told him to do in that he must find some way to “out-clever” everyone and be an authority figure. Possibly I am doing the same thing now. We are all prisoners of our own socialisation.

I like some advice I read above which is that the best thing is to actually treat the little girl like a regular human being and try to forget (unless it becomes necessary) that they are a little girl or a little boy. I have had this habit my whole life of just treating the little ones with the same respect and care I would anyone else and as a result, most kids seem to love me to death.

The very worst of all IMO is people who dress up their little girls like princesses and let them wear crowns to the supermarket etc. Unless it’s Halloween, this is really sick behaviour if you ask me.

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Traci October 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I think this article is great, but I can say its also important to let little girls know they are beautiful. I grew up always being told that I was smart and because of how society is we tend that we are either smart or pretty. So because I was always told I was smart and I never thought of my self as beautiful until college, where I’m now trying to break that mental barrier that I can be both smart and beautiful

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Rufus December 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm

And what if they aren’t beautiful? The “smart ofrpretty” dichotomy is a stupid one, agreed, but it needs to be deconstructed truthfully.

I’m clever. I’m not pretty. That’s the truth., and there is nothing wrong with it.

Result.

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Rufus December 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm

typo, apologies

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Sheri January 9, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I think the problem is with the narrow definition of beauty. Everyone is beautiful, not just on the inside but on the outside physically, too, if we look at them the right way. I try to point out that beauty to my daughter as well as pointing out all of the other great things that she and others bring to the world.

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Jennifer R June 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Beauty is more than skin deep, however. Not fitting society’s standard of beauty does not make you ugly. You can still be a beautiful person, and people won’t even notice the way your outsides are arranged.

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88keys June 11, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I agree. I didn’t hear that I was beautiful or pretty much growing up, and it had a negative effect on me. Please, PLEASE don’t be afraid to tell girls that they’re pretty. Yes, that should not be the only thing they ever hear, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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Mystic November 2, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I want to THANK YOU for writing this; It’s empowering to speak to young ladies in this way!

I will share this theory to many friends and family for I feel this topic is not discussed enough!

You rock sistah Much Love

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Arafat Kazi November 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm

When my little cousin was three through five, I convinced her that she was a runaway tiger from a local zoo who was being raised as human. When she was five, she wrote her first story. I was a character in it. She’s 17 now and an English major. Nothing makes me prouder.

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Danielle June 2, 2013 at 8:26 pm

This is the best thing I read on the interwebs today! Rock on!

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Pauline November 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Very nice article. Of course, the truth is the first thing we notice about a person is usually appearance, just because we haven’t spoken to them yet, so it’s natural to want to say something about appearance first. BUT, who says we have to say something right away, right? I love your example of asking a question instead of starting off with a compliment. <3 Small changes can make a big difference. I'm also trying to make people more aware of how they talk AROUND children. Making comments about how someone "shouldn't be wearing that!" or things of that nature are picked up by them as well. Rock on!

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Bryna November 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I loved this, so I read it twice. Upon rereading, I wondered something, is this really a “new perspective” you gifted your friend’s daughter with? Your points are excellent, but I feel like you’re very pleased with yourself for opening her eyes to an idea that had never been brought up by her own parents. If she’s already reading, I’m assuming they’re focusing on more than just twirling in frills, you know? I wonder if the parents work hard to give their daughter a balanced view already, and you pleased her so much because you interacted with her on the level she is accustomed to. I just wonder if her parents (unmentioned, save for giving the party you were a guest at) are being given a fair shake.I understand your thrust, but as a mother in Maya’s mother’s position, it would ruffle my feathers to read the assumptions you make here.

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curiouserandcuriouser April 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Good point!

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Claudia June 3, 2013 at 10:32 am

I did not read here that she was offering a new perspective. I think what was being described by the author was the fact that even though she is really aware what to do, it’s STILL difficult. Which I wholeheartedly agree with. As a mother who tries to do it differently too, I am fully aware that there can seem to be a bigger impact from wandering strangers. But that is only because the foundation is strong and that the affirmation of culture is in numbers.

Fabulous article, thank you very much. It made me really think and realise we have a long way to go. But we are on the path and that is what counts.

Claudia

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Noelle June 4, 2013 at 5:23 am

That was my first thought upon reading it the first time. It’s not that the ideas are wrong but I also bristled at the idea that this was new territory for Maya. Were I Maya’s mother, I think I might find the article insulting.
My daughter is extremely bright and she gets plenty of comments from my friends to that effect and that makes her visibly happy. Comments about her appearance also make her happy. Generally chatting with her at all when there are other adults you could be chatting with sends her over the moon. And that’s all great. But I hope none of them are assuming that’s her momentary, one-night-only glimpse of these things. She gets lots of honest, thoughtful conversation and lots of encouragement. It’s one of the reasons she’s so dang smart.
I also tell my daughter she looks pretty when I am struck by how pretty she looks and I don’t think it’s wrong. It is honest. And I am telling this to a little girl who isn’t wearing a stitch of make-up, isn’t dressed provocatively, and isn’t dieting. She’s gorgeous – just as she is – effortlessly. I don’t think that’s a bad message to send.

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Leigh June 4, 2013 at 5:17 pm

…or did she merely point out that when we meet little girls (who aren’t necessarily our own daughters) – we should think twice about how we approach them? That it’s far too easy to just slip into a “sugar, spice…” talk?

I prefer the “sticks and snails” AND “everything nice” kind of approach. ;)

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Lisa June 5, 2013 at 2:02 pm

“you’re very pleased with yourself”

yes. this.

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Sharyl June 9, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I don’t think there is any assumptions about what her parents are teaching her. I think the “new perspective”, if one was suggested, was that STRANGERS would be interested in her mind instead of her looks. Probably all Maya typically hears (from non-relative guests) is how pretty she is.

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Lauren November 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Thanks for the thought provoking article. I have blogged about it to day on my childhood development blog.

Lauren

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Heather December 4, 2011 at 9:26 pm

I was picking out Christmas presents for my little nieces a couple of days ago and I hit on a brilliant idea, dress up clothes! When I went to the store there were lots of fairy clothes and princess dresses but there is no way that I could buy those for them. I ended up buying a fire chief and doctor outfit. I’m sure that they will be just as happy with these.

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curiouserandcuriouser April 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Oh my! I did the same when my niece turned 3 ;)

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Karen Fleischer December 11, 2011 at 5:15 am

I totally agree with the issue of a girls image of herself. Part of this is that girls clothing is made to fit skin tight, as if an 8 or 10 yr. old had a figure. It’s really hard to buy girls clothes because they look like clothes for a prostitute!!!!! Now look at the size differences, I bought a girls size 14/16, & a boys size 7/8 they are the same. Why? , most girls already have a complex about their size by 3rd. grade. Then girls clothing sizes change more rapidly than boys. If a girl in 6th grade starts wearing clothes from the jr’s section they are usually in a size 0 or 1, if they gain 5 to 7 lbs. the size goes up to a 5 or 7 in jr’s!! Whereas if a boy in 6th gr. wearing a size 14 gains 10 lbs. they only move up to a size 16 in kids. In seeing this size difference girls start “dieting” AKA : skipping meals. They don’t understand that their brains are not even fully developed at this time and they need the nutrition. Clothing manufacturers need to be aware of this even if they have to rearrange all the girls & jr’s sizes. Sorry to sound like I’m ranting, but this has been a very serious problem for many years now, & it’s getting worse with the P.E, & music programs going down the toilet. I am on facebook if you would like to talk further about this.

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Carole June 5, 2013 at 4:36 pm

One thing about clothing, we have to make kids realize, as we’ve had to realize as adults, that sizes don’t mean a thing. It’s how the clothes fit. Clothing is made in every country imaginable these days, and one size 10, 12, 14, is not another. I myself can take four pairs of the same size and style of jean in to a dressing room and have each and every one fit differently. It’s all fairly generic. What size do I really wear? Who the heck knows, but I know what looks good on my body type, and that’s half the battle right there. Girls (and boys) need to be taught how to dress. It’s not something that always comes naturally, and with all of the fads that go in and out (we all went through them), a kid needs to find their own niche.

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Alexandra December 15, 2011 at 8:30 am

Hi Lisa,

I read your article, which I thought was great, and then I followed the Amazon link to your book. My spirit sank when I saw that inspead of sporting a classy, toned-down cover – as a book of the academic gravity I was under impression yours is deserves – it show a huge photo of a woman (you?) posing in the best traditions of America’s Next Top Model. How can you expect society not to treat women as props when even your book, which supopposedly goes against it, does the same thing?

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Michelle P June 3, 2013 at 4:12 am

Authors rarely have a lot of say about what goes on their covers, and they usually don’t model for them.

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Quinn June 7, 2013 at 11:27 am

well someone who uses her head should change that.

As a writer, I refuse to allow any misleading or harmful content into my work. (By harmful, i refer to any content that deviates, or damages the overall point of my piece of work).

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lh June 8, 2013 at 6:48 am

I thought the same thing about the author’s photo at the top of the page. Raising two girls and a boy, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. But the message is so contradictory to the bust-flowing-over sequined top she is wearing. Certainly one does have control of one’s profile pic.

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Christina July 23, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Really? What the author chooses to wear and how the author chooses to look are contradictory to the idea she presents that we need to stop emphasizing to little girls (and all women) the primacy of appearance? What do the author’s appearance or sartorial choices have to do with the validity of her point–unless you’re judging her on her appearance?

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Janna June 11, 2013 at 11:22 am
Alexandra December 15, 2011 at 8:30 am

*supposedly

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captainmeowbot December 16, 2011 at 4:47 am

It’s the parents who are doing this to their female children. When my sisters and I were growing up, our mom dressed us in sensible clothes and steered us away from things like boy bands, glittery pinkness, makeup, and “looking pretty.” Instead, she encouraged us to become good at things, develop hobbies, do well in school, and respect ourselves instead of being “one of those dumb girls who cares only about clothes and makeup.” My sisters and I had no shortage of dates when we became old enough, and it wasn’t at the expense of our self-respect.

If you make your daughters into subservient pink-wearing fluffheads, you’re dooming them to a lifetime of attracting men who have issues.

And, if you gave your kids some athletic interests, they wouldn’t have to worry about getting fat. I think people who let their children become overweight should be prosecuted for child abuse.

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Latina Fatale December 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm

@captainmeowbot Lately I have also been thinking that athletics is the way to go. I think that it really gives girls confidence. I also agree that parents are the key. today we just posted an article from a little girl who was complaining about all the pink fluffy boxes at christmas. It’s clear that her parents have talked about gender stereotypes and marketing=)

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Michael June 3, 2013 at 5:11 am

Did you ever notice how the children of immigrants that grow up in America don’t speak with the same accent that their parents do, even if they grew up speaking another language in the home? The reason is that we spend more time with our peer group than our parents. Culture, values, self image, etc all tend to veer toward the peer group we grow up with more than what our parents taught us. I think that it is important to acknowledge that all of the dichotomies are false. It is not that the media did it to the girls, nor is it that the parents did it to them. It’s not the culture, and it’s not the educational system either. There is an underlying theme in the narrative that women are victims. At some point we have to concede that women do it to themselves. Might they have received some bad advice along the way? Certainly. We all do. But every individual is responsible for their own choices in forming their identity, and the most important thing about accepting responsibility is that with it comes the authority to make changes.

So if you want to change the world, one little girl at a time, don’t miss the forest for the trees. Rather than making such a big deal about intelligence (which happens to be something you personally value, but who is to say that it is any more important than integrity, which you didn’t mention?) how about you tell the little girls that it’s *their* life, and that starting now they get to be whoever they want to be. Tell them that the world is a treasure trove of fun and valuable attributes that they can have as many as they want of, all they have to do is decide what they desire and go get it.

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Brianna June 3, 2013 at 1:51 am

I know this is probably a bit late to respond, but my parents never pushed girly clothes on my sister and I when we were younger, and they actually tried to keep us from wearing make-up as long as they could. We were both skaters and my sister ended up in basketball, volleyball, and tennis. I was encouraged to become a hockey player after I quit skating. I ended up with an eating disorder and my sister ended up in a state where she has given up on looking pretty and just accepted that she’s fat. Do you actually think it’s right to blame only the parents for the problems girls and young women have? In a few years period where I didn’t really gain much weight, I went from a size 2 to a size 4 because the companies I buy my pants with shrank their sizes. Whenever my parents got worried that I might actually have some type of issue, they sent me to the doctor or counseling. I went to a gym 3-4 times a week on top of practicing for 2 hours 4-6 times a week when I was a skater and still ended up on the cusp of being overweight. It actually really upsets me that you would say that parents should be prosecuted for child abuse because of an overweight child. That right there is part of the problem. I pretty much was an overweight child because I was going through puberty. I stopped eating and continued to gain weight. I ingested next to nothing and still put on pounds. My sister goes on runs with her friends a few times a weeks and is going to the gym and she’s still something like a size 12. Some people just aren’t meant to be skinny and some kids going through puberty are supposed to get fat. You know what my parents were feeding me when I bloated up with puberty weight? What my coach suggested my sister and I eat. I was limited in the amount of candy I was allowed to eat. We had to sneak it if we wanted any. I ate yogurt and applesauce for lunch at school. I didn’t like chips. Yet I still bloated up to 140 lbs. at 4’11″. Who’s to blame there? Abso-freaking-lutely no one. It was in my genes and it was supposed to happen. My parents did not abuse me in any way, shape, or form. Athletics doesn’t keep a person skinny that has the genes to be fat. Period. Sorry that you’re as narrow minded as people that only value women on their looks.

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Quinn June 7, 2013 at 11:31 am

what DID you eat?

I’m asking because I firmly don’t believe “fat” is a body type. I believe curvy, full-figured and big-boned are all body types but if you look at nature, there is no such thing as a ‘fat’ body type. Fat is a human and domestic animal phenomenon that only started occurring since agriculture.

The big problem as i see it is that we are eating things we think are healthy that are not.

Things that come in boxes? Unhealthy.
Things that are processed or otherwise manufactured outside your home? Unhealthy.

If your food has words on it, you are consuming an unhealthy diet. Period. I don’t care what those words say. It is not good for you. High in salt. Often high in sugar. Pumped full of chemicals that stimulate the appetite and decrease metabolic processes.

I’m not being rude. I’m trying to help.

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Jessica June 4, 2013 at 1:50 am

Trust me, it’s much more abusive to have a parent who hates you for being “too fat” than to have a parent who accepts you for whatever size you body is.
Also weight and body size are much more complex issues than just “letting” it happen. People can eat the same foods and get the same amount of exercise and some of them will be skinny and some of them won’t.
My mom fed me unprocessed homemade food with lots of fruits and veggies and whole grains, but once I started going through puberty and gaining weight she started mistreating me, and I knew she didn’t love me anymore. She was stricter on me than the rest of my siblings, and was more likely to call me names and mistreat me.
Guess what? It didn’t do anything to change my body size, and if anything it only made it worse.
I wasn’t very athletic, and when I’d try to be, I would get headaches and feel terrible.
Also I think my hand-eye coordination developed at a much slower rate than the people around me. So sticking me in any kind of competitive sport would’ve just made the whole thing worse.
It’s important to encourage children to find exercises they enjoy, but I also think it’s just as important to remove the stigma on different body sizes.
I look back at pictures of me when I first started feeling judged for being fat, and I actually wasn’t even that big. I was bigger than a lot of the kids my age, but I was also taller and more physically developed than they were too. I wasn’t actually fat but due to people’s judgements and not getting any positive reinforcement, I thought of myself as fat and I think it became a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Either way, it’s taken me a lot of work to be emotionally healthy and feel like I’m a worthwhile loveable person even if I’m not a size 0.
I also think it’s worth noting that my siblings are both thin, but they also have both suffered from eating disorders.
Being “healthy” includes physical health AND emotional health….
And if you haven’t gone through ACTUAL abuse, I think it’s very misleading and inappropriate to put “being a different body size” in the same category as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

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Nicole February 14, 2012 at 5:37 pm

A few thoughts–I appreciate the message of this essay. However, as now-grown child who was never once told she was pretty by her mother (a small flaw among a million blessings), I take every opportunity to tell my daughters how beautiful they are. I wasn’t told I was pretty – although I was – because it wasn’t valued in my family, and I still suffered every last body image pitfall you list above. I think telling girls they are lovely predates the current pop culture fixation on image. That’s not to say that we don’t have a lot of work to do in making our daughters and other young girls build self-esteem, because of course, we do.

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TB June 3, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I had this exact experience too and I had the same thoughts as I read through this. I actually just assumed I was ugly, and I’m actually attractive. I had lots of appearance issues.

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Lynn June 3, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Nicole -I can relate to what you are saying.

My own mother, with I’m sure the best of intentions, was completely not interested in appearance. Unfortunately, I was kind of left to fend for myself through the rough awkward years of adolescence and young adulthood. While she and my father were incredibly supportive on all other fronts, having ZERO guidance or encouragement during the time when I was growing and changing left me awkward, uncomfortable, and lacking totally in any kind of self-confidence precisely when my female peers were starting to find their way. I wasn’t particularly pretty, but I also wasn’t horrible looking – however I would have fared much better (confidence wise) if there had been even a little bit of emphasis on grooming/appearance and dress. Took me years of young adult life to form myself out of the mess I’d made of myself as a teenager. I agree very much with the message of the article, but I also think that it’s not the worst thing in the world to tell a girl she should feel good about her appearance too – just not that it’s the ONLY thing that is important.

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Ali June 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Lynn, I think this is a good point. We shouldn’t overemphasize appearance with young girls, but appearance IS a component of how you influence other people. We shouldn’t teach anyone that their value is solely in their appearance, but I think we definitely should equip them with the tools they need to use appearance to its best advantage. So when my hypothetical future daughter goes out on the field to beat the opposing team, I can tell her that a determined face and stance are good visual weapons to convey dominance. When she goes for a job interview, I can advise her that studies have shown that women wearing a certain amount of makeup are perceived as more competent, and we can shop for sharp, professional working clothes together. And when she’s going out on dates, or places where she might meet single people she’s interested in, I can teach her about how to show off her good looks to pique a potential partner’s interest, so she can then reel him/her in with the rest of her attractive traits (her personality, her brain, her values, etc.). But in all those cases, appearance should be treated as just one more tool that you use in order to achieve your goals, not something that defines you.

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Charlotte from the Bronx June 4, 2013 at 11:17 am

Thank you so much, Nicole for pointing that out. I think there is a *huge* difference in celebrating one’s physical characteristics and enhancing them, whatever they may be and making one’s self up to look like a carbon copy of whatever fad may be considered “the style”. I have complemented *both* little boys and girls on aspects of their appearances, but I don’t think that makes me shallow because I also try to speak to them as if they are humans and not idiots.

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LinZed June 5, 2013 at 6:18 am

Nicole, I am so glad you said this. And disheartened by how many comments I had to read before coming across yours. Similarly, I was a child who was told by pretty much everyone that I was smart, accomplished, clever, witty… every compliment that theoretically counts. But I was never told I was pretty or beautiful. And that is the one that sticks. In my adulthood, I have often been told that I am. Beautiful, that is. But I don’t believe it. Not in my heart of hearts. It sounds cheap and insincere now.
They are not mutually exclusive. Girls can be both clever and pretty. And we want to and should believe that we are both of these things.

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Carole June 5, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I agree. I don’t have daughters, but if I did, I would tell them that they are pretty, AND smart, and that they can do anything they set their minds to. Find what they’re good at and help them to excel in it. They don’t have to be smart and good at everything (which was my dad’s expectation, “do it well or don’t do it at all”).

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Carole June 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm

I meant to add, that my mother always told me that I was pretty. And during my early teenage life she continued to do so (she died when I was fifteen), because like most teenage girls I had poor self esteem.

The flip side was a verbally abusive father who continually told me that I was ‘stupid and would never amount to anything’.

Guess which comments stuck?

I never fell into destructive behavior, but then those were different times. It’s not that I couldn’t have, there was opportunity, but it was always in the back of my mind how disappointed my mother would be. Apparently she did her job, and she did it well. I valued myself even when I didn’t, if that makes any sense.

The point is, negative, hurtful comments can sometimes cause as much, if not more damage. Although I agree that in the society in which we live today, the over emphasis on beauty is out of proportion. Not to mention that the beauty ‘ideal’ now revolves around women who have had multiple surgeries to achieve that ‘goal’.

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Kay June 6, 2013 at 12:48 am

I have to agree…I was never told I was beautiful, I had plenty of hobbies as a child (everything from dance to “science camp” to figure skating and swimming)…my parents made no hesitations to make me the most well-rounded, smart and clever person I could be and I am (on road to becoming a doctor actually). But never once was I told I was “pretty” or that I should be happy with how I look and honestly, I just never had confidence in that area of my self…I’ve had self-image issues ever since I can remember and that’s only the beginning.

I’m not saying that what you’re trying to show here is wrong, actually I think it’s wonderful that you’re not associating a child with his/her clothing preference or how they look…but just wanted to let people know out that there that telling your child once in a while that they look cute today or they’ve done a great job in choosing such a nice outfit….it goes a long way. Trust me. In my 20′s now and I’ve just begun to be okay with myself. Smart, clever and independent is great (and I THANK my parents for that) but theres nothing wrong with a compliment to boost self-confidence and esteem in the physical department once in a while.

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sam June 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm

My mom cared a lot about me not looking too girlish, because being girlish was not accceptable for her. I was only praised for good grades and other accomplishments.

I grew up thinking that I am ulgy and that people just love my brain.

I wish that somebody had told me as a child that I was pretty.

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Melissa June 11, 2013 at 11:40 am

I’m so sorry this happened to you. Still, would you tell your son over and over that he is handsome? Would it matter as much if you didn’t? I am just disturbed, like the author is, over how much “you are pretty” means to girls. I’m saying this as a woman who grew up being told I was pretty but “not made for college.” Pretty doesn’t last, sadly, and without encouragement that I had any other value my ugly, awkward teen phase was horrific. My mother wanted me to feel better so I was put on weightloss drugs and had plastic surgery before I was 18. I regret it all. Being pretty didn’t protect me from anything. What helped me was going to college and making friends who thought I was funny, nice and clever – personality traits that are real and lasting. Granted, the world treats pretty girls better but instead of encouraging girls that they are pretty no matter what, we should try treating girl like we do boys- where looks are just a secondary bonus. Your parents could have shown you value in many ways but a hollow “your outsides are acceptable” wouldn’t really have said much. What you and I both needed were parents who said, “you are valuable and irreplaceable and I love you unconditionally.”

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Stephanie July 6, 2013 at 7:38 am

Reading through the comments I’ve also been thinking about the flip side of the coin, how much we emphasize being handsome as an important trait for boys. I also feel bad for the women here who don’t feel beautiful because growing up they weren’t told they were pretty but if society didn’t put such a heavy emphasis on women being valued for their looks maybe this wouldn’t be such a problem. Obviously everyone wants to feel attractive, male or female, but I have a feeling that for men the notion of being attractive includes accomplishments and traits that are not completely embodied by their looks. Most of the comments in this respect have been from women. I’m curious to hear a male perspective on the issue. If any dudes happen to read this do you think, as a boy, being told (or not told) you were handsome played an important role in your personal development and self-esteem as an adult?

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Lena June 14, 2013 at 4:39 am

My mom sews clothes. That’s one of the things she has always loved doing and feels passionate about.

She’s also an engineer; an aerospace engineer, and loves math. She gifted me with both a sense of self and forging ahead because I like what I like and hey, who cares if it doesn’t fit the mold, and also a sense of taking pride in how I look- choosing clothes that flatter my build, colors that complement my skin and hair, etc. She doesn’t wear makeup, and never pressured me to, either. But she did teach me that I am valuable for my insides, and gave me the tools to feel confident with my outsides, given the situation.

I am a helicopter mechanic. I have the respect of the men in my shop when I show up to work every day, for both my work ethic and my knowledge. I like knowing how things work, and taking them apart, and putting them back together. I wear cargo shorts and a t-shirt to work, and from 20 yards away on the aircraft ramp, you cannot tell I am a woman.

I also like to go out, make myself pretty, and wear cute clothes, shoes, and makeup. There’s nothing wrong with that. The trick is to balance it with my work life- which is as much a part of who I am as the woman who puts on a fancy dress and heels to go out on Friday night. There’s a time and place for both. I’m so very, very thankful my mom (and dad too!!) encouraged the entire picture, and a balanced viewpoint- it’s great to love what you love- whether it’s taking apart engines and feeling a sense of accomplishment, or sewing (or wearing) a beautiful dress that fits one perfectly and makes them look (and feel) beautiful, and feeling the same sense of accomplishment.

Here’s to balancing the inside and the outside, and celebrating the things that make us strong, smart, increcdible people! (also, here’s to my parents, whom I totally lucked out with- they are truly amazing people!)

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Pleased Cheese February 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Heck yes.

Alas, my niece has a few “princess” outfits, and she pronounces herself beautiful when she appears in them (though you can hear the question in it; seeking reassurance). Whilst everyone else exclaims “Ohh, you are!”, I tell her, “Yes, but you look just as beautiful in your normal clothes, too”.

She’s four this year and I think we’re starting to make progress. Instead of dressing up last time she was here, we played with pretend swords; coloured in; played Foosball (all her choice); practiced counting to “big numbers”; and she actually asked me whether “some girls marry girls” (then she held a “wedding” for two female toys after “marrying” a boy and a girl).

Like you said…one at a time :).

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Karen Crisalli Winter July 6, 2013 at 9:22 am

We’ve simply co-opted the “princess” theme into a “warrior princess”. My youngest makes clear distinctions between a “warrior princess” and a “decorative princess”.

A warrior princess is in training to be a queen. When she grows up, she will be a ruler. We also talk about the importance of taking this training seriously. The goal is to grow up to be a good queen, not an evil queen!

Decorative princesses never get to grow up at all. They just sit around being pretty and powerless. Kind of sad, really. Not very attractive for my fierce and independent daughter.

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Jennifer February 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm

What a great article with a message that more people need to hear. Thank you for writing it.

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Jenny March 11, 2012 at 4:46 am

This is a wonderful article on an issue that I honestly haven’t thought much about. It is very difficult not to compliment little girls on how adorable they are but you are absolutely right. I work with elementary school children and I’m going to make an effort to speak to the girls differently now that my attention has been drawn to the issue. I must admit, I do see the effects of cultural expectations of women even with the kindergarten girls. They are highly concerned with clothes, jewelry and even high-heels (yikes!). All of the girls I take care of are bright and surprisingly thoughtful so I’m sure they will respond well to more academic conversation. Thank you for your insight and I will be looking for your book!

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Latina Fatale March 21, 2012 at 1:46 am

Jenny-read books to them with alternative perspectives…like the Paper Bag Princess!!

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Claire March 21, 2012 at 3:13 am

I love this alternate way to interact with girls. It is true beauty and looks are the first things commented on by adults in relation to kids. I love, love this idea.

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Jean March 27, 2012 at 7:03 pm

We readily ask a visitor to not allow our young dog to jump up on them, and would not hesitate to command them to not feed our dog poison, so surely we can watch over our children like hawks, politely changing the subject and creatively diverting attention.

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Kirsten April 14, 2012 at 2:21 am

My cousin, who is in her thirties now, had a mother that called her by the pet names of “beautiful”, “sunshine”, and others that boosted her self esteem and gave her compliments for her entire childhood. She has lived her entire life loving her looks and thinking she is beautiful and has used this as a means of being a strong, powerful, and successful woman – although not in ways that are degrading or demeaning to herself. I can understand the point of this article, but honestly, it’s nice to give compliments to your daughters or little girls in general. Whether it be “beautiful” or “intelligent” or both.

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Gina Agnew June 3, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Great response, in no way do I feel bad when I call my daughter’s beautiful. It is because I want them to see themselves the way I see them beautiful! It a delicate balance of giving them self confidence while not spoiling them.

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Chamois April 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Fatale,

Thanks for bringing light to this subject. In our culture, we spend too much time worrying about looks and size without thinking about how it’s affecting children.

If outside influences help girls learn more about who they are on the inside, maybe it’ll counterbalance the unhealthy influences from media and peers.

But, it starts with the home. If a parent obsesses with weight in an unhealthy fashion, kids will absorb it and pattern the parent.

However, we also need to sneak in compliments from time to time about their appearance to boost confidence in that area. Let girls know they’re beautiful just as they are because ignoring it might result in a backlash effect.

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Rae April 29, 2012 at 4:22 am

Wow, I actually cried with joy at the end of this. The next time I meet a little girl, I will treat her like the person she is, not what she looks like. I love you for this, and what you’ve done for Maya. Still crying (don’t worry, they’re happy tears, really).

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Ginger Ale August 14, 2012 at 4:01 am

This. Is. AWESOME. I am the eldest of four children and my 8 year old sister loves nothing more than to devour a book. She has a better vocabulary than half of the people in my college classes, and really couldn’t give less of a hoot about what other people think. I wrote my college application essay about how her gallantry through her celiac disease inspires me, but she has shown me so much more than that. Elli represents the person I wish I could have been 12 years ago. My life would have been so much different if I had her confidence and bravery at her age. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to help foster her sense of self-worth, and I could not be more proud of her. Thank you Latina, for reminding us that every interaction with a child matters, no matter how short.

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Michelle Rizzo June 1, 2013 at 4:05 am

Have to say, I d0 not agree! Even at a young age, appearance is extremely important. We have all judged the child that looks disheveled, hair messy, hair in knots or dirty finger nails or face, or who wore the party dress to school!
That continues on into being made fun of because of your upper lip hair at age 11 that you were told “no one noticed” so you shaved it. Maybe it is your first job interview and you are clueless as to what is classic and would make a good impression on your potential new boss! Not to mention how happy girls feel with pretty pedicured toes! The truth is, it is extremely important to look and feel pretty from the inside out! Teach your little girls a nice balance, tell her she is smart and beautiful and special! Show her how to apply make up properly, instead of letting her friends do it!Plastic surgery and eating disorders go far beyond commercials and peer pressure. Teach the little girls about values, self worth, making a living and supporting herself…. And looking pretty, knowing how to maximize your eyes will always make you feel good, just for you! It’s a great ego booster for all girls to get compliments, at any age!

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Julie June 8, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Appearances are NOT important : you CHOOSE them to be important, and they become an issue when many people who find it important are gathered.

Judging people on their appearance is the easiest way. If you work a little harder and talk, heart-to-heart or mind-to-mind, you will find out that the disheveled kid with bitten nails and badly assorted outfit is just as human as you.

Sure, telling someone they are beautiful is a boost to the ego, because we were conditioned to find it ego-boosting, whereas intelligence, being articulate, or being good at sports is frowned upon, especially in girls/women.

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Pedro S. Silva II June 1, 2013 at 11:59 am

A high school friend posted this on facebook. I’m glad I checked it out. I have a five year old daughter and I have observed the same thing about our society. I actually even posted a blog about it recently. I was hesitant to do so, because as a male, I have found that some women are so bought into this worldview, that if I say something about it, there are women who will fight against the awareness and even turn the tables on me saying that I am trying to suppress their sexuality. Fortunately, there are other women I know who have realized this and see that they are being played and that what they are actually doing when they are trying to be “sexy” is often a programming to get approval of what is acceptable to some made up criteria of attractiveness. If there is any interest in reading what I wrote, it can be found at http://seriouslytripping.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/eye-can-see-right-through-you/.

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Mike June 2, 2013 at 2:22 am

Sorry, but I can’t agree with this completely.

We’ve reached a point where we’ve started applauding unhealthy and overweight. I understand not focusing everything on beauty, but as usual, we tend to swing the pendelum in the other direction and now we think it’s ok for a woman to be “healthy” ie overweight.

Caring about your weight doesn’t mean a girl has to end up being anorexic or getting plastic surgery. It could lead to healthy behavior as well.

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Bri June 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I have never seen anything that applauds and encourages women to be overweight as healthy. The Dove Real Beauty campaign has tried to promote self esteem in women and girls by showing that ALL women are beautiful, no matter what their shape, skin color or even age is.

There is a picture out there where someone put a picture of the girls from the Dove Real Beauty campaign with the girls from the Victorias Secret Love My Body campaign. The difference? The Dove girls have soft curves, fuller hips and busts but are in no way fat or overweight (there are no rolls or overhangs, no double chins), yet they still look bigger then the VS models who are all boney hips and tiny waists. The blonde in the middle is so thin that it almost looks like you can trace the shape of her thigh bone in her leg. http://sites.psu.edu/egm5087rcl/files/2012/10/Dove-real-beauty-campaign.jpg

I would like very much to see where exactly you see people encouraging obesity as “healthy”, because none of the women in the above linked image are “unhealthy”, except perhaps the VS girls.

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Karen Crisalli Winter July 6, 2013 at 9:14 am

Unhealthy and overweight are not synonyms. There are many people who are thin and unhealthy. There are many people who are “overweight” by the charts, but can manage a 20 mile mountain-bike ride just fine.

Truly “overweight” means that you are carrying more weight than is personally health for you. That can’t be judged by charts or appearance. At the exact same weight, 3 different people could be overweight, underweight, or just right. For this reason caring about your weight does not lead to healthy behavior. It leads to obsessive focusing on a single indicator that may or may not mean anything.

Think about it like body temperature. Does body temperature matter? Certainly. Are you unhealthy if you are not exactly 98.6 degrees at all times? No. Some people run hot, some people run cold, and body temperature fluctuates with environmental conditions. Obsessively checking your temperature several times a day and carefully adjusting it with cold showers, hot showers, and medication will not improve your health.

It is reasonable to check your temperature? Sure! Some women check their temperature daily to track fertility. If you’re having other signs of illness, checking for fever can help identify an infection which needs treatment. If someone is showing signs of hypothermia or hyperthermia (heat stroke), it is vital to check temperature so that proper treatment can be provided.

Caring about your weight doesn’t lead to healthy behavior. Caring about your temperature doesn’t lead to healthy behavior. Caring about your health leads to healthy behavior. There are circumstances under which measuring your weight and/or your temperature can be helpful in the pursuit of health. But they are indicators, not goals in and of themselves.

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Maruska June 2, 2013 at 5:14 am

THanks for this.
I thought you might like a poem my friend wrote. It’s the second one on the page: http://www.andreahope.org/written.html
It starts off: “When your daughter tells you she wants to be an astronaut…”

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Barbara Shoff June 2, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Great article.

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axiesdad June 2, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Brilliant article! As a grandparent blogger (3 grandkids, 2 of them girls) Things my Grandkids Should Know I am conscious of the need for us adults to encourage children in the areas that are good and avoid being a part of the gendercasting that keeps both boys and girls from being their best selves.

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Robyn June 2, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I’m guilty of this for sure. I am also conscious to make sure I also compliment them on how smart, creative, and amazing they are in other ways.
I have two girls and I do call them beautiful often, but they also understand (because we have many conversations on this topic), that looking pretty is not important. Being beautiful is a whole package. Beautiful, amazing powerful girls worthy of all good things.
I want them to know they are beautiful, unique, intelligent, and capable of creating anything in this world.

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Erik E June 2, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Telling kids they are smart harms them, too (see book “Nurture Shock”). Then they stop trying hard things to avoid the chance of failure.

Whatever you praise should be a virtue, like working hard, making hard choices, controlling oneself, planning and executing that plan, and so on.

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Juniper July 21, 2013 at 12:53 am

I really want to focus on complimenting my (future) children on things they can control. Growing up, I was constantly praised for being smart. And it was very gratifying, but it also felt like a lot of pressure. Any time I failed at something, I was devastated. Oh no, I’m so smart and I still can’t hack it! I must REALLY be a screw-up.

I want to focus on complimenting my children when they are kind, hard-working, brave, or forward-thinking. I want them to know that they’re smart enough to do anything if they work hard, but not smart enough to expect to achieve great things if they just coast on their intelligence.

My mother did tell me I was beautiful when I was feeling ugly, but never implied that appearance was the most important thing. I think she struck the right balance. Of course, she couldn’t drown out the societal point that appearance is the most important thing about a woman, but it wasn’t a message that was reinforced at home.

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Yvonne June 2, 2013 at 4:33 pm

My daughter is 3. She doesn’t care about weight, but maybe she is on the cusp. I don’t discuss weight in my house just because I watched my mom yo-yo diet for years growing up and I never could wrap my head around all of that angst. Have never owned a scale and have no plans to do so. I do tell her she’s pretty (just like I tell her she’s a good girl). She should know that, but it isn’t something we dwell on. I say it when she is in a cute frilly dress, or is covered in dirty and wearing her carhartts. She is learning to write and loves art. I get more and more opportunities to tell her what good ideas she has. I will say though that my mom never really did this with me and I turned out well. She was an activist feminist when I was a kid so there was plenty of discussions around me about the changing roles, requirements for, and expectations of women. A lot of the books she bought me were about famous women in history and since I loved history in general that worked. I don’t think everything you do has to be explicit. You can create a nurturing and affirmative environment that is more subtle. We parents are supposed to model good behavior. If we mamas reach for new opportunities, do things that show we are intelligent, have discussions that show we think of politics, math, engineering, science, etc our daughters will see our worlds are not just about makeup, hairstyles, and Victoria’s Secret. Not saying you shouldn’t ask a little girl what her thoughts are, but when you leave it is the mama who reinforces those female/feminine good thoughts and experiences. In the end though, children learn as much from us about what to do as what NOT to do. My mom went out of her way to raise an activist and that is not me. I tend to be practical/middle of the road. An activist needs a idealistic streak that I do not possess. I am also a tomboy and try as I might to make my daughter in my own image, I can already tell she is fluffy, whimsical, and girly in ways I never was. I never liked makeup. I am just about certain she will. She likes being the damsel in distress. I much prefer to help myself even if I end up with less than what I started. I am certain that I will teach her some things and she’ll discard those pearls of wisdom as not at all applicable. We have to be comfortable with the idea that women come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities. Some girls will be the bubble-headed boy toys. Some girls will fly to the moon. Some will raise children who will change the world for the better…and all the various and sundry in-betweens. Really that is ok.

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Claudia June 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I have an alternate theory. I remember so well the way the status of early childhood seemed to imply some sort of common ownership by adults, as if one were a plaything, made one fair game for unsolicited attentions such as those mentioned in this blog. I felt at the mercy of Grownups I had never seen before (usually unintroduced) who felt entitled to swoop down on me and babble lavish inanities in ‘baby talk’ – which I utterly despised – often squishing my face or pulling at my hair while they were at it. Far from enjoying any embedded ‘compliments,’ I wondered instead what made these somebodies think I had any desire on earth to hear what they thought of my freckles (especially considering what I thought of those), my dimples (so what), my ponytail (Do NOT Touch!), or how “big” I was the last time they saw me.
On rare and memorable occasions, however, an adult would – well, actually act like an adult! – or, much more to the point, would interact WITH me, with respect for my intelligence, rather than talking AT or All Over me. Such an adult would be interested in what was interesting to me, in actually knowing something about me. Encountering an individual like this was like finding an oasis in a desert of bewildering human behavior.
I think the central message here is the same, and I wholeheartedly applaud every message shared here concerning the responsibility for the way our attentions shape human self-esteem from early childhood on. (For me, the truly damaging messages about he dependence of one’s worth on one’s looks came later, toward adolescence – and my peers could often be the deadliest perpetrators – who no doubt were taught by the same code.) I feel strongly that interaction ought to be intelligent and based on respect for intelligence between all parties present, when engaging with children of any gender – or any age, for that matter. (This blog no doubt deserves a rejoinder on behalf of all the ‘little boys’ who have to hear all about how Big and Strong they are… ) Human beings need to grow and be nurtured from the inside out, not from the outside in, if any of us is to have a prayer of being able to hold our own in a healthy manner, in any social role whatsoever.

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Liz July 12, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Oh, I agree. I couldn’t stand being around adults when I was younger because of the inane blather adults directed at me, like I was either a baby or a doll. And from the child’s point of view, there is really no good response to “You’re so pretty! Look how tall you’ve gotten! What a cute dress!” (It’s hard to respond to even as an adult. Beyond “thank you” and “you look great too”, where does the conversation go?)

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DSA June 2, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I agree with this to a point. Growing up, I knew I was smart. I also knew I was awkward and that the pretty girls didn’t want to have anything to do with me, no matter how many books I read or how well I did in school. In fifth grade, we did an exercise at school where we passed around pieces of paper and wrote nice things about each other. One of the popular girls wrote “pretty” on mine, and it meant so much to me.

Females are wired evolutionarily to want to belong. Cavewomen had to band together for safety and companionship while the cavemen were off drinking beer and spearing mammoths.

For a little girl who knows she’s smart, being told she’s pretty can be a highly memorable experience.

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Christina June 2, 2013 at 6:54 pm

From the beginning of my eight year old daughter’s impressionable life I have been conscious of defining beauty. She brings up many topics that alert me of societal pathologies such as superficiality and self identity issues. She has stated that she is fat or that no one is commenting on her hair anymore since we cut it.
Something I do is comment on a particularly non-attractive woman by stating how pretty she is because she is giving to the needy or because she smiles and greets everyone. “I love her smile”. The same goes for the opposite scenario.
Yesterday she saw an attractive woman. I was so proud of her and me when she said, “She would be prettier if she smiled more”.
It is very important to define what pretty is. “Smart is sexy”, or “Smart girls (or boys) are hot!”, are common phrases in our home. Parents, especially the father , whom little girls highly look up to, should remind their little girls that a nice body is not the number one attribute. When a little girl sees her dad reacting when a pretty face walks by she is going to aim for every bit of that. Now what would happen if the father reacts the same way to intelligence and goodness? One of our major jobs as parents is to provide a definition of what’s valuable in a human being so not only will children try to be that but they will set their standards for those around them.

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D.B. June 2, 2013 at 7:10 pm

That’s a good read….now I just wish people would get off my 3 year old Grandsons back for liking the color pink and BOYS just don’t do that! *sigh*

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jack June 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I really like what you’ve written. As the parent of a 6 year-old daughter I am (and have been) constantly wary of what I communicate to my daughter for these very reasons.

But I have to disagree, at least partly.

Every child is different. Every person is different. What sets up one for failure sets another up for success. The world itself is unfair, confusing, and often contradictory. We might plaster, smooth and paint over one corner so no one will get hurt, lost, or confused, but sooner or later we all come up against something ugly, sharp, and brutal.

This might be a male perspective – we tend to prepare our children for the external while mothers prepare them for the internal – but it is a necessary perspective. The world does not follow the rules.

We want to implement blanket philosophies to help people feel equal, to eliminate pain, to equalize potential, and to do a million other nice things. Because people are different, there is never a true “one size fits all solution.”

I think the good in your article is in getting to her level, asking her a personal question about books, and engaging her as she is a regular person (not a child person). Children might lack the vocabularies and experiences to communicate everything on their mind to us, but they understand us from birth. They have their own personalities from birth, only added to or nudged into social conformity later. You spoke to her as you would speak to any stranger, and it was to her … not what she looked like, represented, or what you thought she was. That was the magic in it. That is what made it work.

I avoided telling my daughter she was pretty when she was younger. Her mother was adamant we not focus on appearances, for specifically those reasons you mentioned. She was still somehow the girliest girl in so many ways, before she could even walk. A year after her mother left us, on father’s day, she woke up early, took a bath, combed her hair, and got out a Halloween dress and put it on for church. She was excited and kept posing for me and finally said, “daddy, do you think I’m pretty today?”
I realized she was wearing my favorite color – something she normally would only wear at Halloween.

I realized that it was good to focus on her abilities. She is a bright girl, has some artistic talents beyond those of her peers, etc. I always focused on those so she wouldn’t get a “body image problem” …
but it is appropriate for us to give positive comments too. “You’re hair looks nice today,” “You did a great job matching your clothes,” and “you look pretty today” are needed just as much as focus on the substantive things. If we, as parents (particularly dads) don’t give them positive recognition for these things, they will receive attention of some sort from boys later. Daughters raised by attentive fathers are less likely to engage in promiscuity for attention, just as sons of attentive mothers are less likely to engage in crime.

Our daughters need both kinds of attention – positive compliments on appearance, and positive compliments and encouragement on their other talents and abilities. They will be faced with celebration and disappointment in both as they go through life, and it is fair to allow them confidence in both.

I love your article. Thank you for posting it.

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Phoenix June 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm

I love this with one caveat: for a child with dyslexia, especially one who’s old enough to be in school and struggling, it could have the opposite of the desired effect. I would ask “Do you like books?” instead of assuming she does. Or “What’s your favorite subject at school?”

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Judy Lee Dunn June 2, 2013 at 9:16 pm

I have thought these same thoughts for a very long time. As I think about it more, I wonder if parents (moms) may be subconsciously contributing to this when they dress their daughters up all fancy and focus so much on their hair and other outward stuff. I am not suggesting that we should put girls in “boys’ clothes,” but maybe give them more freedom in choosing their own clothes. We might be surprised at what they choose.

I love engaging little girls in discussions where they need to use their minds. They also need to know that “boy toys,” like Legos and X-boxes, are okay for them to play with, too. I thing tomes ARE changing. And I was please to see so many female engineering graduates at my own daughter’s college graduation a few weeks ago.

Thought-provoking post here.

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Isabel June 2, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Bookmarked under “Excellent articles to show everyone I know”! Thank you so much for writing this.

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e simon June 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm

I am so glad to be reminded of these concepts. I have someone very special in my life to encourage who is also the cutest baby in the world.

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Julia June 2, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Right on. This is exactly how I make an effort to address little folks. I’m always amazed that when you ask more thoughtful questions, you get more thoughtful answers.

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kori June 2, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I’m sending this to my Pediatrics instructor with a suggestion that she should assign it in the future. Too much of healthcare also plays into stereotypes and forgetting that our words tell the world what to value.

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Jonathan June 2, 2013 at 11:11 pm

To be fair, as a heterosexual male, I would also prefer winning America’s next top model than the Nobel Peace Prize. That prize is an embarrassment, and more villains and outright terrorists have won it than actual pursuers of peace. I would, however, prefer the Nobel Prizes in the other four categories. So perhaps that statistic isn’t nearly as bad as you would make it appear to be.

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James June 3, 2013 at 12:23 am

I have a son who is about to be born at the end of this summer. For what its worth, I hope grown – ups talk to him the same way. Little boys (and big ones for that matter) can be just as subject to stereotypes.

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Richard June 3, 2013 at 12:52 am

Not telling little girls that they are pretty is not going to stop them from wanting to be pretty, or wanting to be appreciated for being pretty. Teaching girls that the first thing you notice is their appearance is honest, because the first thing you notice *is* appearance! The problems you listed do not stem from telling girls (or women) that they are pretty. They stem from society being psychotically out of whack, lacking perspective, values and an established social script that tells everyone what they can expect in a stable society. Not telling a girl that she is pretty is not going to make her feel any more comfortable about her appearance; it could even *make* her concerned, if no one ever says anything about it. That’s because little girls want to be pretty!

I’m glad that you did not stop at the superficial. I love talking with little girls, even though a lot of people really hate it that I, a single, adult man, do so. I don’t just compliment them for their appearance, but I don’t leave it out of my conversation entirely, either. I try to get to know what they are like, what is important to them, who their family is and what they want to do. Or, I just let them prattle on, as some children like to do when they find a receptive ear.

I grew up in a highly conservative household (for most of my childhood it consisted of my mom, sister and myself), in a fundamentalist Christian environment. We didn’t have little girls wearing mascara, eyeliner and lipstick *ever*. They didn’t parade their bodies around; it simply would not have been tolerated. Girls were taught to dress modestly, and they were expected to meet academic and athletic performance goals. In fact, 3 girls in my 7th and 8th Grade classes graded all the schoolwork papers of the rest of the class, because they had the highest test scores in the class. Society mocks such a life, but we didn’t have the body image problems you mentioned, either.

I believe that a lot of the self esteem and body image problems that we have are due to a society that values superficial excess, thrills and glamor as the path to epicureanism. Everything has to be a series of rapid succession shocks; our society values sensation and emotion over contemplation and intellect. People, particularly girls, want to be valued by a group, and will work hard to be valued by a group, even if that is self-destructive. They want to be admired, desired and powerful. The way our society goes about achieving these goals is unhealthy and self-destructive. That isn’t going to change by not telling little girls they are pretty, because they are always going want to be regarded as pretty.

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Shaela June 3, 2013 at 1:09 am

When my daughter was young, I endeavored to make certain she would not be focused on her appearance. I regularly told her how smart or creative or well-behaved she was. I purposely did not tell her she was pretty (and she was beautiful!) — plenty of other people told her she was pretty — or so I thought. Evidently she needed to hear that she was pretty from her mom, too. She grew up to be very unsure of her appearance. She is now a beautiful mother of equally beautiful twin three-year olds. Knowing what we know now, we both make certain to tell her daughters they are smart, creative, well-behaved AND beautiful.

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Elaine Morrison June 3, 2013 at 2:15 am

Excellent! I was surprised when I was in Israel and another young woman informed me that wearing make-up (and much worse, someone being suggested that they’d look fabulous in make-up and that they should try it) had the underlying message that the woman is not good enough the way she is…and that every time someone would apply the junk to her face she reminded herself of that ugly little fact. Same with uninvited fashion tips. I was puzzled but the logic made sense. It also made sense that coming from the outside it was like a hatchet slashing away at the flesh of a person’s worth. Then I saw documentaries on how Chinese foot binding (and the modern day heel) attracted men because it made the woman captive, frail, and helpless against his advances. Think about it: she can’t run away or stand strong to defend herself should she disagree. And these same items enter our heads as flattering. We’re buying into our own destruction. We eat this up. And it doesn’t do the men in our society any good either. Even if they’re perpetuating it, we don’t have to agree. We can see through the guise and be what is ultimately better for both women and men in our society.

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Elaine Morrison June 3, 2013 at 2:19 am

correction:
Excellent! I was surprised when I was in Israel and another young woman informed me that wearing makeup (and much worse, someone being suggested that they’d look fabulous in makeup and that they should try it) had the underlying message that the woman is not good enough the way she is…and that every time someone would apply the junk to her face she reminded herself of that ugly little fact. Same with uninvited fashion tips. I was puzzled but the logic made sense. It also made sense that coming from the outside it was like a hatchet slashing away at the flesh of a person’s worth. Then I saw documentaries on how Chinese foot binding (and the modern day heel) attracted men because it made the woman captive, frail, and helpless against his advances. Think about it: she can’t run away or stand strong to defend herself should she disagree. And these same items enter our heads as flattering. We’re buying into our own destruction. We eat this up. And it doesn’t do the men in our society any good either. Even if they’re perpetuating it, we don’t have to agree. We can see through the guise and be what is ultimately better for both women and men in our society.

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carolyn June 3, 2013 at 2:20 am

I agree to some degree with this article and encouraging the intelligence of young girls. However as one who grew up with having negative body image comments made to me daily by both family members, “friends” schoolmates and strangers, I believe it is absolutely imperative to daily tell children how beautiful and handsome they are. It took me until i was in my 30′s before i was able to look at myself and truly believe i was beautiful and accept my body. I do believe encouraging education and critical thinking and teaching children self confidence in all aspects including love of their bodies. In my opinion excluding any reference to a child’s beauty is a mistake. Children are beautiful/handsome & adorable. The mistake we have made is that we forget to praise them for their bodies, minds, hearts and compassion.

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Henny Fisch June 3, 2013 at 2:31 am

While intelligence and beauty are gifts that should be cultivated and appreciated, little girls (and boys) would do well being recognized for kindness, integrity, altruism, and creativity.

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Portia June 3, 2013 at 2:51 am

This mentality is so pervasive in our culture. A group of three other young women and myself attended the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders NCCWSL in Washington D.C. This past week . We were all inspired by smart young women around us and fantastic role models that spoke about women and leadership, but this was squelched rather quickly, during a visit to the Smithsonian museum of American History. Naturally we were all stoked to go and see the exhibit on the nation’s First Ladies, women who held very prominent leadership positions in our country. All we found of them was a decadent display of their inauguration gowns and little more. There was Dinner china and small blurbs of what they did, but they were minimized to their appearance. A young girl was gazing at the dresses alongside of me, she was about 8 years old, and said ” the dresses are so beautiful”. I looked at her and tried to think of something to say. I felt a great bit of responsibility because I knew the message this young girl was receiving from this display. She was learning about American history and the great leaders that steered the history of our nation. The history was mostly of men and the one exhibit that explicitly looked into the lives of women, showed that women were showcased for their appearance. Few people took the time to read the small plaques beneath the dresses. My response to the little girl’s awe at the beauty of the dresses was. “Yes, they are beautiful but these women did so much more than just look beautiful.” She seemed a bit shocked by my reply, but answered yes in a hopeful tone of voice. I remember feeling the desire to be a beautiful woman when I grow up. I can still feel it now, the aspiration to be a beautiful princess, a strong one though, my dream was to be Jasmine. I wish I could have said more to the girl and I hope she heard my message and hears it more. Women have always been more than just beautiful despite what the American History museum says.

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Adam June 3, 2013 at 4:16 am

I applaud your efforts! Given this is an article about women, perhaps my thinking is not best served here, but… Anyways. I wonder if this kind of talk simply isn’t valued *in general* with kids. But will be expressed in different ways for different genders. As a teacher, I’ve noticed it is the exceptional person who actually is interested in what any child thinks or enjoys or is excited about. They seem to be treated as empty vessels upon which to project your own insecurities rather than thinking, albeit somewhat wonky, people who do or think strange things because they don’t have any experience. Well. One person at a time, I suppose.

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Lara Lassila June 3, 2013 at 5:14 am

Thank you for this fresh perspective and an important message. I did not grow up with pink or barbie dolls and I do not expose my daughter to these things intentionally, but of course it’s there. My daughter enjoys dressing up and I cannot help gushing when she puts on a pretty outfit regardless of how well coordinated it looks. Sometimes she is breath-taking and sometimes she combines several patterns at once. But I do celebrate her enthusiasm for looking pretty as much as I celebrate her wonderful drawings, kicking of a soccer ball, or climbing up a tree dirtying her new dress (yay thrift stores). It is important to emphasize brains, creativity, athleticism, social responsibility, but also feeling beautiful on the inside and out. Thank you again for a great story!

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Teacher Kurt June 3, 2013 at 7:11 am

I am an English teacher, and guess what their presents are every birthday and holiday? They get a book. Nowadays, it’s usually an ebook. They don’t have a n eReader, but thanks to me, my sister now has the Free Kindle App for PC. I try to buy them age appropriate books, and when they have both turned 14, I will be buying them books about the Holocaust because my sister wants me to wait. her kids, her choice. They were into Barbie, all things pink, Ariel, the Little Princess, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast as little girls. I always talked to them about much more substantive matters. Whenever they asked what i was up to, I always told them about the lessons I was teaching my High School students. Things just slightly above their current levels. A big one with Middle and Lower High School students, is, “If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?” it;s still one of my favorites, and I start the year off with it because it let’s us as a class dive right into learning, and makes kids dive right into what they already know. What I am constantly working on as a teacher is wait time. We really do need to slow down, and let people think before they blurt things out….

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Louise June 3, 2013 at 9:09 am

Please please be careful. My parents brought us up without pretty hair slides and ribbons, without pretty dresses. We were not told daily that we were beautiful and pretty, but clever and polite. We were encouraged to do well at school, to read, learn to play music and be creative. My parents meant well but my sister and I had terrible self esteem, we believed we did not fit in with our beautiful peers. We felt unloved by our parents, ashamed that we must have been so unattractive, we didn’t not deserve pretty clothes and ribbons. We did not do well at school because we lacked the confidence and self worth. We both became unhealthily preoccupied with our looks. My sister spent a fortune on clothes, having her hair and nails done when she left home. I never feel pretty enough to wear pretty clothes and felt an outcast. It wasn’t until I was in my 30′s and I wanted children that I sought cognitive behavioural therapy. I didn’t want my children to be exposed to my issues. I am now very happy with how I look. I am happily married and have 2 little girls. I tell them every day that they are pretty and beautiful. I tell them they are pretty because when they smile and laugh they brighten up the World and that is what pretty things do. I tell them they are beautiful because they are kind and caring, because they try their best at everything they do. That they are beautiful because they enrich other people lives and that is what beautiful things do. My children are confident and happy and very very much loved.

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cjohnson June 3, 2013 at 11:04 am

I love this. And I love the idea of being conscious as to how we interact with little girls. So here’s a question I had, though- when interacting with little girls who do not fit the dominant social norm of “pretty”- the western/european skinny/straight hair/small nose/etc b.s.- is there an angle by which telling those girls that they are pretty works to expand the narrow social definition of what is “pretty” or do we work to continue to deconstruct the importance of “pretty”?Perhaps if the definition was vastly more broad, it would not have the tyrannical effect it does currently? Or does that continue to identify female worth with outside physical factors? The issue is so complex….

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Bonnie Prestin June 3, 2013 at 11:20 am

I love it! But here’s the rub with my daughter. She’s 11 and she’s got a little tummy. She’s not fat (ie unhealthy) but she’s on her way there… So what do we do now? We have to comment on her weight – when she wants an extra donut or cookie – we have to talk to her about choices… Help!

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Hillary June 6, 2013 at 11:08 pm

She is only eleven. Please don’t comment on her weight! Just establish good eating habits and talk about not eating too many sweets because it’s just not healthy…nothing about ‘her’ weight. You may disagree but that child will put excess worry on things she doesn’t need to be worrying about! I feel like it could be just as damaging to her for you to comment about her tummy and weight as it is to eat the extra cookie…..

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Bri June 7, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Don’t put it in the context of weight, put it in the context of a healthy lifestyle. Make cookies and donuts occasional treats that aren’t kept in the house always, and instead keep more fruits and veggetables on hand. Plan more physical activities for family time, like bike riding together or taking a walk every day before/after dinner and talking about her day.

My daughter is also 11 and she’s seeing me dealing with my weight. She tells me that she doesn’t see me as fat, but I work a 12 hour overnight job and have put on some extra pounds the last few years. I tell her that I’m not unhappy with my shape, it’s that putting on too much weight is not healthy for me and leads to heart disease and diabetis. I don’t buy soda or cookies or chips, we snack on home made popcorn, fruit and berries, or we’ll make cookies together on occasion. Soda is allowed when we eat out or visit friends if they offer, but she also drinks tea and juice and ice water. We recently both got new bikes and on weekends go out to the park together to ride on the trails. I don’t drink diet shakes or fill the freezer with diet meals, we eat real food that we buy and prepare ourselves. And in the weight I’ve lost I’ve showed her the difference made in my appearance, how my skin has cleared and how much energy I have now that I’m healthy again.

The best way to help her is to show her by example. Get healthy as a family. Plant a vegitable garden together and go out and play with her to get everyone some exercise. Let her help with meals by letting her make salads or choose what vegetable to make that night. That way the focus isn’t just on her weight or her tummy and possibly making her self conscious about herself, and instead on teaching her how she can take the best possible care of herself as she’s growing.

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Sheryl June 14, 2013 at 5:14 am

Please, please, please be very, very careful about commenting on her weight! Even doing so in a loving manner can cause issues much later in life. I was heavy as a child. My mom limited my food intake (only 2 cookies, no more!) and, when I was 12, took me to my first Weight Watchers meeting. She was trying to save me from being overweight. Instead, I learned to resent limits and when I was on my own, I ate as I wanted. Being told I needed to lose weight also made me feel like I was broken or not good enough. And I also learned that food was comforting to me and I became an emotional over-eater. Even now, Mom can’t seem to grasp that losing weight for me is so much more than cutting down on my serving sizes or getting rid of the snacks. Her concern set me up for a lifelong struggle with my own self worth and self control. So, out of love for your daughter, model good eating habits, teach her about healthy foods (are you bringing in plenty of fruits and veggies for snacks, or filling the house with those donuts and cookies?), and don’t reward her or comfort her with food. Show her that leaving food on her plate is acceptable and not a crime against humanity (there are starving children in ____!) But don’t comment on her weight, or make her feel like she is wrong or bad for choosing to eat another donut. Love her for who she is, tummy and all! And really, she may be putting on weight to prepare for a growth spurt, which will even her out, so limiting food may not be a good thing anyway. I bet you will have a healthy teenager who is well balanced and feels good about herself because she knows her parents love her no matter what she looks like!

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Michele Marks June 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Excellent article. I have always been one to ask a young girl, or boy, how they are enjoying school and what their favorite subject is. If they’re pre-school age, I ask if they have pets or something else that will lead us into some kind of conversation. Kids ARE adorable, but I never felt the attention they receive should be solely based on their outward cuteness. I just enjoy talking with them and finding out what we have in common.

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Ascent June 3, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I would love to see some actual research that backs up this author’s claim, but I have a feeling it doesn’t exist.

Girls do indeed have a self-image problem, it is disturbing that young girls worry about weight and looks so much. However, the author makes completely unfounded leaps of logic based on nothing other than her opinion and tries to link them to the few statistics she tosses out. Journalistic quackery.

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anita June 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Yes! I’m glad someone else recognizes this. My mother never mentioned looks while I was growing up, and so I never was bothered by some of the appearance issues I witnessed plaguing my friends. As I am older now, I am really glad for it. Because it was never an issue of interest, I never felt pressure to be gorgeous, and instead focused my efforts on being good at things as a child. Pass this article on, because I believe it is so right.

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Pascal June 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Felt good reading this. I’ll try to remember that as my little girl grows up. I do share the same opinion about the stupid “multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, [and] celebrity-manic culture” that the US brought to the world. It’s hard fighting the system, but we can do it one little girl (child) at a time.

A proud father.

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Luke June 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Good article, but this shouldn’t be something you have to squelch yourself over. Children are people too albeit younger, less experienced, less able in many ways, and more vulnerable, they’re people: they have ambitions and dreams and serious interests of their own. It is really important to talk to and not at a child, they appreciate being taken seriously, and I suspect they know they are different from adults without exactly knowing how that might be. If I walked up to an adult and talked all about how they looked and not to them about who they are that would be insulting and I think the same goes for children and perhaps more so for young girls who get a rough deal in just about every human culture (which is shameful and sickening). Good on you for doing this but I reckon you are going to find the experience of talking to these younger people a rewarding and educative experience the more you do it, I certainly have from the conversations I have had with children I have met. Thanks for the article.

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Holly June 3, 2013 at 3:42 pm

This is a really interesting and thought-provoking article. I want to address some of the above comments, because I am curious about how the fact that it’s going against the societal norm plays in later in life. One of my friends is smart as hell, and even at 28, still has a huge complex about how no one ever told her growing up that she was pretty. Her self-esteem really is screwed up beyond belief. As a larger lady with esteem issues, she often mentions how damaging it is to hear, “You’re so smart!” over and over, and never a compliment about her physical looks.

Also, to react to some comments, my other question is how damaging can it really be for a 3 month old to be told they’re cute? That kid isn’t reading. I’m frankly not convinced they even qualify as sentient. So while I can even see why at a year and up one should start focusing on intelligence or other talents, I am not convinced that calling a baby intelligent instead of cute will really be doing anyone much good.

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Jen June 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm

This article is great and inspiring, but speaking of appearances, did the photo attached to it really need to be a white, blue-eyed, blonde girl?

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Leslie June 3, 2013 at 3:54 pm

This is an absolutely fantastic article!! Being the first-time Mom to a little girl, my husband and I have constant conversation about not addressing her by her looks (she is precious, I swear) but rather focusing on her brain (and yes, she’s brilliant too). Thank You for writing words I plan to share with all my Mom friends!!!

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Lisa June 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm

We can “talk” all we want, but when television and magazines are throwing “beautiful” and “sexy” in their faces, even at the grocery store checkout, it’s a difficult battle…..

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Ronald Joseph Kule June 3, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Kudos, Sandra, for posting Lisa’s message and keeping it paying forward. The notion of communicating with little girls as if they were actual human beings — beings with small bodies for the moment — is so refreshing!

As a fellow writer, I know that we change the world one person at a time but, done well, that is good enough. Glad yo know you, Latina Brava!

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Jasmine June 3, 2013 at 7:28 pm

As great as the message that you’re sending is, I think it is also important to let children-not just girls-know how pretty/handsome they are, because even with brains being valued over beauty, one day they’ll be around their peers that value beauty over brains and they will start to compare themselves to others, just like their peers, on the same societal images of beauty, just like their peers. So yes, we should make sure to engage them in conversations about more important things than looks, but we should also not completely disregard the idea of complimenting them on their looks either.

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Emmbear June 3, 2013 at 7:35 pm

This is a fabulous article. As a young adult watching my many siblings grow up, I agree with much that was said.
However, as many people have already touched on, I think it is about balance. I was always praised for intelligence, and I still have trouble believing I am beautiful, embracing my femininity, and being “girly.”
If a girl is only conversed with about her mind, beauty will be harder for her to see in herself. The same is true of a girl who’s beauty is the only thing recognized.
Balance is, I believe, an important thing to consider.

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triplesec June 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Great article, even though you ALSO apply this entire thing to young boys! Let’s treat them all equally, as young sentient beings, rather than pets.

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William June 3, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Thank you. Wonderful article.

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Shelli June 3, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I don’t think the problem lies with a well meaning compliment from another female. I think it goes a whole lot deeper than that. We need to look at the messages the media are constantly bombarding our children with. Promoted by the silicone industry. Also another bone of contention is….and I’m just going to say it, “Barbie.” She is the unrealistic model of a naked woman that little girls think they are suppose to grow up to look like. Lets put the blame where it belongs.

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danica June 3, 2013 at 9:35 pm

although I agree looks aren’t everything, the feminine heart needs to be seen as light, as beauty, as a primal need.
any woman or girl who is not told she is beautiful can become depressed and despondent – overly focused on accomplishments and ultimately unsatisfied with her life. Always tell another female she is beautiful. Always.

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Stephen June 3, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Great Article :-D
Gonna be a dad soon and this is good stuff to think on, digest and act with.

Thank You :-)

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Holly June 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I enjoyed your post. I have a 9 year old daughter. When she was 2, she was getting ready for bath time and was admiring herself in front of the mirror – totally naked! I watched her for a moment as she posed and checked out all sides. She turned to me and said in complete seriousness, “Mommy, I’m so pretty!” I almost cried and said, “Yes you are!” Inside, I was saying, “Hold on to that Baby, we lose that sense of ourselves too quickly!”

It isn’t that she’s over concerned with appearance, she is secure within herself. Because she is secure, she tries new things, (she’s an intermediate fencer) gets up in front of people with no stage fright, knows her own mind but respects others, is compassionate, loving and beautiful inside and out. She’s smart, (her favorite subject is science), artistic, energetic and I think she will find her calling in life as a movie director, circus ringmaster or CEO of the world! I am so thankful for the gift she is and the privilege I have in being her Mom. I have the opportunity to model to her that true beauty is about the whole person and making friends with who you are.

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Peggy MacGillivray June 3, 2013 at 11:49 pm

I loved this article, but felt a little sadness at the same time. it is wonderful that you went and talked to the child in that way, but if she doesn’t get that a lot at home, ( and maybe she does) , then a drop in the bath will not cool the water.
I agree girls grow up much too fast these days. How I hate to see a 10 year old striving to look 15! and the parents who lament and boo hoo over it, THEY buy the clothes. Or just give up, saying it is only clothes not important.
It IS important. Girls are developing earlier, in many ways now. 8 and 9 years olds getting their periods, and developing much younger. I believe that is a very strong reaction to the meat that society eats today, which is full of hormones and anitibiotics.
We need to teach girls to value something besides looks. I agree. However, it was the most important thing when I went to school, and I am 60 years old. OH it was easier to make friends I think, who then accepted you for you, but there were always the accepted ones, the cool ones. The pretty ones, who had all the right clothes, at least the popular clothes that everyone wanted. That much has not changed. It is past time for us all to do something about it. So everyone, keep dropping in your spoonful, because with enough spoonfuls, eventually it will cool the bath. :)

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Lea June 4, 2013 at 12:11 am

This article is really sweet. I read it a few months ago, and again today. It is so touching. I wish I had had smart female role models when I was growing up. I am in my late 20s now, and although a college graduate with varied interests and wit; I really feel like all that matters to anyone else is ‘am I hot enough today?’ most of the time. :(

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M June 4, 2013 at 12:23 am

As a young teenager myself, I agree with the idea of this article, but I can’t say I agree with the idea of not telling girls that they look pretty. I grew up as a total feminist. I always noticed when girls were self-conscious and did my best to display who I was to new people and not what I looked like. With that being said, I liked being told I was pretty. It didn’t make me feel like that was all I had to be in life; it made me feel good about myself. If no one had commented that they liked my hair, or thought my eyes were pretty, I might have started trying to make myself pretty through make-up/ dieting. I hated it when all people talked about was how I looked, but I liked people noticing that I was pretty. The problem with girls is that they don’t think that they are pretty, so the natural solution is to assure them that they are beautiful, not to avoid telling them the truth that they are pretty. I agree that people shouldn’t focus on looks when talking to girls, but mentioning it is fine.

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Michael June 4, 2013 at 3:08 am

You are damn right about acting the way you do with little girls.

But according to me, we should act exactly the same with little boys… It would probably increase their self-esteem as well, and their communication skills, which is usually less developed for little boys. The major effect I anticipate on communication is the ability to express what you like and what you don’t like and confronting ideas with someone who doesn’t think the way you do, which are two abilities most violent kids and criminals don’t have (and politicians sometimes :P). It is proved that criminals improving those basic skills decrease the risk to go back into jail. Why not train that ability in young children ?

And it’s false to think that man don’t have concerns about their body weight at young age. I clearly remember myself at 10 or so and being concerned because I went from 78 to 81 lbs during Christmas holidays…

And anyway, it’s pretty much the same goal both sex are looking for when a man go to the gym to have big muscles and a woman go shopping to buy a new dress because she “needs” it. It’s two manifestations of the same problem : both care more about how the look than what they could learn today to gain knowledge and skills.

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crazytrains June 4, 2013 at 3:45 am

The problem I see with the angle of view about the subject in this post is the narrow definition of beauty. Biologically, a female or a male is considered valuable based on her or his merits to create offspring with higher chance of survival. So, if people believe that a skinny, symmetrical looking girl has a higher chance of producing a child who would have a higher chance of attracting the opposite sex, then there is nothing wrong with the common desire for the appearance and looks. Even animals of different species practice that approach, the bird with bigger feathers, or the lion with a bigger mane is more in demand than the rest. But what we are over looking is that we are human and basis instincts are not suppose to be the first priority. But, characters such as Kardashians, Beyounce, and any other talent-less beauty queen who defines success based on granted merits rather than earned ones, are the reason that we, as the most intelligent species, still practice instinct driven lives like the rest of animal kingdom and not as intelligent ones

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crazytrains June 4, 2013 at 3:55 am

Here is another problem with this subject. Everyone is trying to fix the image issue by pushing the idea that every image should be considered beautiful. But what they should focus on is the commonly believed goal for a girl in the society. As long as, we keep thinking that the purpose of a girls life is to find a mate, and have family, then all elements which feeds to that agenda stay important, such as beauty, weight, look, etc. But if we start to define the purpose of a girl’s life not to be able to attract the best male mate, but just to be a person on her own, then those requirements for attracting others which leads to image, fashion, and appearance requirement become irrelevant. So, the problem is not the unjust desire of society for physical beauty, it is because of what women, still in 21st century, believe as their purpose in life.

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crazytrains June 4, 2013 at 4:41 am

Comparing the physical beauty of average women to average men, shouldn’t be the men who need to use make up to make himself more pleasing to the eyes?! Sadly, even now a days, I see majority of women still considering their appearance as tool in social challenges. It is sad to me to see that the social conversation is always about obesity, images, looks, and not about the brain. Why, most girls are more concerned about their looks than their intelligence? Why most men evaluate a woman based on appearance than mind? Okay, naturally, men are attracted to commonly accepted attractive female as partner, but why women are falling for that? When you look at all the great minds in our history, none were the persons who chose a partner based on looks. So, instead of trying to convince everyone to value any look equally from the physical stand point, we should try to convince them the value of the mind and brain.

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Michelle June 4, 2013 at 5:35 am

I loved the article and it’s message, but just wanted to let you know that another sequel to Pinkalicious was just released that should interest you – Emeraldalicious. :-)

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G So. June 4, 2013 at 5:42 am

This is a great article. So many times people forget that it IS possible for extreme self loathing, or anorexia or other types of bodily insecurities to stem from single comments about someones appearance – especially in youth when people are impressionable and don’t have the broader perspective to see that, perhaps societal pressures to look a certain way aren’t exactly correct or something to aspire to (and I know this unfortunately from self experience). It’s a great idea to not speak ‘down’ to little kids as though they are ‘stupid’ but instead to encourage them to have an opinion, to acknowledge it and to listen to it without judgment. Part of the reason that I am reserved as an adult whenever I participate in a classroom at college, I have come to realise, is that my parents never encouraged me to have a viewpoint (on anything, politics – religion – even little things) and they would never sincerely listen to what I had to say. Even nowadays, my father hardly listens to me, instead speaking over the top of me (which I now point out to him) – and I always recall never being encouraged to speak up in my youth whenever the wider family was having a conversation over dinner on say, Christmas day or other big family occasions. I was always afraid of saying something stupid and disappointing my father – which stemmed from his bad temper and disapproval whenever I made any small mistake as a child. It’s funny to see how a parents’ behaviour really does affect a child’s ability to voice themselves, and the child’s belief that they have something worthwhile to say – and this lasts into adulthood. Now that I have realised why I am so reserved I can make an effort to change it – but surely there are some people who don’t realise the pattern – and remain under confident or shy for the rest of their lives. We must encourage our children always to speak up about their thoughts, feelings and view and to believe that they have an opinion worth listening to. Empowering our children to speak up is one of the great gifts parents can give their children.

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Maureen June 4, 2013 at 5:44 am

This post was beautiful and a well-timed wake-up call. Thank you.
Last night, my almost 6 year old daughter cut her own hair. Not just a little snip, but big sections of hair that could loosely be described as “bangs”. The same bangs that took a full calendar year to grow out to be long enough to tuck behind her ears. The same bangs that no longer looked like a mullet. Sure, I when I discovered the scene, I was first worried for her safety. “Did the scissors brush too closely against her eyes and skin?” But my mind quickly went to her upcoming birthday party. “Would I have to remember how awful she looks by memorializing this look in pictures?” She was just starting to look pretty, instead of round and awkward, now that her bangs were off her face. I knew my feelings were wrong, but I could not help myself. Of course I love my daughter no matter what she looks like. But I appreciate the reminder that our culture will judge her soon enough. She doesn’t need to think about how this event makes her look. She needs to know she is bright, strong, curious, and loved exactly the way she is.

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AmazednAppreciative June 4, 2013 at 6:23 am

Thank you for this enlightening post! This was a well-written article. I enjoyed reading the comments as much as the article. There are many thought-provoking messages that have been made by the author and the commenters. Thank you! I’ll pass this article on to my fellow society members.

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Mandy June 4, 2013 at 7:17 am

Thank you very much for this. I have an 18 month old & I was not aware that I need to change the way that I talk to her until I read this. When I get her dressed up or put bows in her hair I call it “making her look all pretty” and never before have I thought twice about it. Yes, she is gorgeous all the time, so why do I do that? Maybe because I also do it to myself. That’s just how I’ve always been… Whether or not I break my own self or thinking and talking to myself this way, I will be sure to focus on how smart my daughter is, and that she isn’t just pretty when she is dressed up, but always, inside and out. Thank you for this much needed eye opener! And to the person who wrote about not giving the parents credit here, they make a good point, but obviously that is not the point at all of this article. Thank you so much for writing this :) Take care.

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Cara grant June 4, 2013 at 9:41 am

I really love the principles here, but upon looking up Lisa Bloom I find myself disconcerted to discover a lady who is coiffed, made-up and dressed just like a super-model!!

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froogger June 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm

You know, this post is still circulating the net. I think I got linked from Facebook. Anyway, hello from Sweden.

Couldn’t agree with you more – it is how adults meet (adress?) a child that helps him or her define what is important. My own daughter is merely 1.5 years old, but I’m already training myself in focusing on what I think she’ll need the most. Encouraging intellect, praising effort, and trying to help her be conscious of her feelings.

Sometimes I wish she wasn’t such a cute ray of sunshine when meeting other people, but I’m guessing our standards reflected in what we do outweigh strangers comments. Until her teens anyway. After that I just hope she’s grown strong enough.

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Lauren Jones June 4, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Thank you! I have two nieces, ages 10 and 13, and two granddaughters, ages 3 and 5, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your insight!

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Lauren Jones June 4, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I forgot to mention that my elder niece already has girlfriends who starve themselves. We’ve talked about it.

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Marissa June 4, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Since most of the wee ones I’m around are boys, I don’t get as much practice with this. But heck, why does it only have to be little girls?
Even in the wonderful, intelligence and creativity driven household I’ve grown up in, my psyche has fallen victim to the supposed importance of being pretty. I still like being told I’m smart or clever more than being told I’m pretty, but you can just ask my mom how much I fret about my appearance sometimes. And it’s my go-to icebreaker with girls my age and older, too – “Oh, that dress is AMAZING!” “Honey, you are just too pretty.” “Where did you get those shoes?” They’re always genuine compliments, but again, the focus on appearance.
We’re all a little vain, and it’s hard not to tell precious little ones just how precious they are. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fawn over their intelligence and creativity even MORE.

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Stephanie Rubiano June 4, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I took my daughter to the pool yesterday and the mother of the young girl we were meeting (both girls are 8) told me how happy she was that my daughter was wearing swim shorts and a swim shirt (like what a surfer would wear) because that is what her daughter liked to wear. She said that some mothers had actually given her a hard time in the past because her daughter chose to wear that rather than a “conventional” bathing suit. I replied that I loved my daughter’s choice because it provided more protection from the sun, allowed her to be more active without “wardrobe malfunctions” AND we were able to stay away from tiny bathing suits!

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Louise June 4, 2013 at 9:26 pm

This was a wonderful concept that I hope catches. It is true, that we do focus one what we see “cute” or “pretty” in a girl and we loose sight on what we really want from our girls and how we really want us to feel about them.

I also believe that being a girl, doing the “stereotypical” girl things such as dress-up, fix our hair and/or nails is also important if this is what a girl chooses to do. Many girls determine their talents through these things. So, in that we instinctively get excited when we a see a sweet little girl in pig-tails wearing a big beautiful princesses dress I believe there can be a balance in letting that little girl know, that you loved her “choice” in her outfits assembly. Asking her “why” she choose that color or how wearing a princesses dress, nail polish makes her “feel”. Doing this, teaching young girls to word their first impressions this way are their icebreakers in meeting a new friend.

I do this. I run a small dc in my home that happens to be all girls. I am a mother of 4 boys, how did this happen? All the girls are different in so many ways. There are of course common interests, they share common ideal. However, I know what their favorite book is. We read daily, several times so they know my passion for reading. They love it when I take notice. If I noticed first without them announcing that they are wearing new socks, got their ears pierced, have pink clips in their hair. They all (even though one wears Tomas the train shoes) get excited about new shoes.

Best of all, the love when my only daughter, who is 13 years old come home. She, brightens up their world, each and every one of them. Why? Because DD’s passion is art, she is beyond talented for her age. She has convinced her art and fashions teachers that she is capable to do beyond her grade level (where she would be other wise limited she has convinced them she is capable). She walks in dressed, hair, make-up and outfit like she is a movie star/princess. She settles in and invites all 6 girls to her studio and they create each and every day until their parents arrive.

I, the Mother who wanted to teach her only beloved girl that it wasn’t about what you wore, how you did your hair, your make-up if you (at 13) wear make-up defines who you are. She decided that she was going to define who she is in the very avenue I was hoping to avoid.

I don’t take that desire out of the girl, I embrace it with invested interest that goes further than, “oh, my, goodness… you are so cute I could just eat you up”!

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Lisa June 4, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Is it really different with little boys? I have a 10 year old daughter, and perhaps because I *don’t* spend as much time around boys, I find myself just as compelled to comment on their appearance. I love seeing little boys in button-down shirts, polo shirts and dockers, or dressed up for a special occasion. I almost always comment very quickly on how handsome they look.
I think there is plenty of room for balance. Sincere complements are ok; I DO tell my daughter when she looks beautiful, and I tell her friends, too. I also tell them when I notice something in their behavior which impresses me – maturity, being responsible. And, of course, I praise their accomplishments and/or their efforts. But I don’t see those as reasons NOT to tell them when they look lovely. When I see my adult friends, I always comment if they look particularly nice. I want my daughter to know that how she chooses to present herself to the world DOES matter, and I also want her to feel pretty in the things that are appropriate. I don’t think we want little girls to think their appearance doesn’t matter – that leads to girls wanting to wear things that are completely inappropriate with no thought about why they are making those choices. So put on the pretty dress, and enjoy feeling special! But complement them on their achievements, too – MORE than on their appearance. And make the comments about appearance be targeted towards the choices they have made – girls should know that people notice when their hair looks nice vs. when they don’t brush it in the morning!

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DoctorinHeels June 5, 2013 at 1:14 am

I liked the message, but I think it went a little too far left. I don’t think withholding compliments from little girls works to foster this great focus on the intellectual side of them. Self esteem in smarts and self esteem in looks are different, but not mutually exclusive; it’s possible to foster both. As someone who was popular, smart growing up, and always the “pretty girl” in school, my mother never made me get lost in compliments on my looks. Yes, she called me “Princess” and told me I was the most beautiful little girl but Saturdays also meant Barnes & Nobles runs. She told me how smart I was relentlessly and for different things. I had to tell her about my reads, write a summary on a book of her choice, then discuss. Who cares what other people are saying? It took people years to catch on with the “smart” compliments but they got there, even though I was in the top 5 or 10 year after year. It was always, “Oh she’s so tall, she’s so pretty, love her hair.” but I wanted to be a doctor even though I modeled; and, I’m a med student now. My mom still corrects the “Is she a model?” with a modified “No, *smile* she’s in med school.” used to be, “No she’s at [private university] now, pre-med.” It’s all in the parenting. Maya can be a smart, beautiful, “Princess” who loves books. :) We’re out here.

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Mrs B June 5, 2013 at 2:47 am

I am quite stunned by this article. I have 1st grade daughter that has never, ever brought up the topic of thin vs. fat, pretty vs. ugly (or any other physical attribute like that) when describing herself or others. What are these young girls being allowed to watch and read??? Who are these parents that would LET a girl under twelve wear makeup?? What are the parents discussing in front of their children??

My daughter is never allowed to watch broadcast TV, and only watches what I select and approve of, in videos and On-Demand. This doesn’t make her a ‘weirdo’ by any means! She is attractive, reads at a 4th grade level, plays sports and the piano, is popular with both the boys and girls in her grade and is in every way a normal 7-yr-old. But as a family, we have never-ever discussed how people look, only how they behave (are they nice, shy, bratty, talkative, etc. ). You can’t be influenced by this terrible way of thinking if you are not aware of it.

Parents need to have more control over what their kids watch on TV, read, hear (limit them to only hanging around kids and adults who are not discussing these topics in front of them) and in all other ways be a more in-tune parent.

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Julia June 5, 2013 at 3:11 am

Although I like what you are saying about appreciating our girls for their brains, I am also tired of the suppression of gender differences. It’s natural and normal for girls to want to feel pretty; the problem is when it becomes their identity. Like almost everything else in the world from wine to work – it is all about balance and moderation. I think this may be what you are trying to say…

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jr June 5, 2013 at 5:14 am

I like your article but why the diet advertising…”5 Foods to never eat” along the side? Ironic.

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Jack June 5, 2013 at 5:38 am

I loved your article. I just wish there was something similar on how to speak to little boys.

I have never in my life been complimented on how I look. And I just feel creepy commenting to my nephew that he looks ‘handsome’.

I’m just saying that there is a lot of gender prejudice that needs to end. And you will not end one without also ending the other.

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Birgitte June 5, 2013 at 6:14 am

Thank you! Tears are running down my cheeks. I have been working with girl guides and girls scouts all my life and you nail it so well!! Thank you.

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Stella June 5, 2013 at 6:59 am

We have been careful to foster my niece’s self-esteem. I will share 2 stories, these both happened when she was about 3.

I broke my arm and was unable to shave my legs in the summer. Sitting on the side of the pool one day with my niece I looked at my legs and remarked how hairy they were. Not adding anything about how I felt gross because of it. The very next day my niece walked up to me and proudly announced “I have hairy legs like you aunty”. She was sooo excited to be like me, I was great.

I am overweight and one day got on the scale with the same niece there. She first had to weigh herself and I told her what she weighed, then I got on and told her what I weighed. Her response “Yay you are the winner!”

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Lisa Jing June 5, 2013 at 7:03 am

I think it’s important to balance acknowledgment and encouragement of interests, accomplishments, appearance, and various attributes which include what’s customarily considered both feminine and masculine traits. A genuine compliment on one’s appearance can do wonders for the self esteem of both girls and boys, especially in the teen years along with recognition of hobbies, talents, academics, sports, etc. Whatever we notice and comment on in another person has the potential to influence. A sincere, well rounded approach is most likely to be helpful and healthy. When we acknowledge the whole person, we can’t go wrong.

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shazzy June 5, 2013 at 7:11 am

Appearance is not the be all and end all… but i have a HGUE abdominal tear from my babies lying sidways,,,, now (after diet & exercise (i was always fit) i look constantly 6 months pregnant and with my children now 4 & 2 i have no ‘baby’ in arms for people to realise im not. Its horrible it brings me down everytime i am asked all because of a BIG protuding belly (im a size 10 by the way so it looks terrible) but the surgery could kill me, hence i havent had it done, but I assure you if people maybe kept comments to themselves, that people just cant seem to, we wouldnt have this problem ><

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Bernadette June 5, 2013 at 8:21 am

Life is about balance and part of the balance is the way we present ourselves – it is natural for women to want to look attractive and it is natural for mothers to teach their daughters how to achieve this. I grew up with a mother who rejected me and I know how detrimental the lack of guidance in this sphere can be.

I enjoy sewing and fabrics and when I notice a small girl who looks lovely I tell her so just as I would compliment a woman on her outfit. This does not mean that I nor the person I am speaking to is incapable of having an intelligent conversation about other things.

Paying a compliment to anybody, child or adult, does boost their self esteem and we shouldn’t become sanctimonious about what those compliments reflect.

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Helena June 5, 2013 at 9:35 am

I’m totally with you, and allthough it’s on my mind it’s still hard to remember and act like in all situations. But I really try and think it’s so, so important. Its always on my mind to treat girls as individuals, since I have two daughters, and not approach them with “Hello girls!”, but say their names. And be interested in who they are, inside, what they have been up to during the day etc. Same for boys, but I think of it more with girls. With boys: try to give them some compliments instead. They seldom hear: “Oh how cute aren’t you today!” or “What a gorgeous shirt you have”. They hear people say that to other children (read: girls), but can get sad and not understand why noone tells them they are pretty as well. To boost little boys and make the society a little more gender equal.

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Amy June 5, 2013 at 11:02 am

This is a useful and important article about the importance of how our interactions with girls shape their self worth and what they think are good/important qualities. I have a lot of girls in my family and I make a pointed effort to discuss things of value with them other than the superficial. What I like about this article is that it provides talking points about how to start a conversation with a girl the first time you meet her. I am personally guilty of fawning over little legs in tights and bows in hair. That’s normal. But this article was helpful because it showed me HOW to change the conversation.

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Helena June 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

I do agree that it is extremely important to teach our children that there are other thing to value more than looks. This article is an important eye-opener to a lot of people – as the comments above reveal – and it will make a difference for many young girls. But take it one step further.

I would like to rise two important questions about this:

1. How would this article look if it was about an adorable little boy? Would you still actively decide not to comment the looks, or would the thought of doing so not even cross your mind? Would you ask him about his favourite book, or something else? Why is this article called “the way ti

2. What if Maya wasn’t all that pretty? Would you talk to her at all then? Since you now chose to say something instead of giving a compliment? Would she have gotten your attention and all this new perspective if her hair was dull and her teeth were crooked?

Compliment a not so pretty child, instead of not complimenting a pretty child. See how he or she will grow instantly. Help him or her gain more self-confidence in every way possible. Think about it, when do you most need to hear something nice about your self -when you look your best, or when you feel like you look really bad?

Why do we have to leave that part about looks out, why are we not allowed to comment a great head of heir, cute freckles or a great smile? Or notice a pretty outfit, if the kid is proud of it? If the kid likes the clothes or the hair-do, I bet it’s nice to hear someone compliment it. We can still talk about “smart” things too, like books, pollution or other interests as well!

But, at the end of the day, it’s not what we teach our children about them self that matters most. It’s what we teach them about others. How can we stop others from judging us, if we don’t stop judging others? Tell the children that it’s OK to be ugly, pretty, skinny, fat, different, clever, mentally challenged, strong or weak – for other too! Tell them not to judge other kids because of their looks, clothes, interests, intelligence or what ever it may be. Teach them by showing them that you – you as a confident grown up and role model – do not judge others.

(Please excuse spelling and grammatical errors, English is not my first language.)

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Ingrid Laskó June 5, 2013 at 11:50 am

Thanks for your thoughts.

I remember when we had a discussion at my doughters school, when she was 8 – now she is 17 going on 18 – and the issue was G-string. What we thought about that those young girls should weare them or not… Now one can think about shaving. Sometimes one can read about that both woman and man, grown ups! shave everything and then I mean everything. As a mum that feels very, very strange, and wrong. In the other second I get unsure about myself – perhaps Im just an unmodern kind of mum?! Thinking about what signals we give our kids. If we take a shower together at the gym, and there I am, all naked and all shaved, everywhere and nothing left… in front of my teenaged doughter. It´s not going to happen in my case.

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tiffany manning June 5, 2013 at 11:51 am

Good point! Still, I’m a psychologist, and a woman, and I love getting a bit girly, like getting dressed up and stuff – would it not ultimately depend on the personality and preferences of the kid? I never fail to compliment someone on anything about them I find appealing… looks, clothes, manners, nice hands, good taste in lunch choice… I hope we can ultimately just be real with each other and have no rules. Having say that, it was a point well made and I will probably approach the next kiddy encounter a little differently.

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Kelly X June 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Thank you for posting this! A wonderful perspective. I have a 6-year old that is obsessed with Barbie and Pinkaliscious. It is a double-edged sword. If I attempt to guide her towards “The Paperbag Princess”, she digs her heels in further for Barbie and friends, so I do as you have done and use the oversexualized toy to build on conversations of a strong girls and endless possibilities. I still make every effort to find books at the library that have strong female characters and positive self-image that isn’t grounded in the clothes she wears or the way her hair looks. It’s not easy. The Amelia Bloomer project is a great resource for books that promote these ideas.

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Mrs BigTopp June 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Hi. I loved your article and your desire to praise little girls in a thoughtful and responsible way. I have written a response to it here, http://mrsbigtopp.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/our-daughters-are-very-beautiful/
because although I agree – i also think that if we do not give them a healthy and stable understanding of their beauty – that it is a sad thing for them.
I loved the article, i really did, I just wouldnt throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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Princess June 5, 2013 at 3:02 pm

The kind of responses you described are what makes kids cute. Their curiosity, fresh perspectives, intelligence, excitement etc. Those are the things that make me want to squeal, not the external things like their dresses and hairstyle. Being so close to pure, unconditioned, beautiful humanity, who wouldn’t want to squeal?

I feel sad. Sad that we live in a world where this has to be pointed out. Perhaps I grew up with a different set of conditioning, in a different society. But then again I always felt that the way kids are treated have been unfair and demeaning.

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Danielle June 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Wow, I obviously came to this article a few years late but I think it’s awesome. I’m getting to the point now where I’m thinking about having kids, and it’s such a huge deal to teach little girls that their value isn’t based on their appearance. Growing up my sister and I were cute little girls and we would get compliments all the time, but nobody was as impressed as the day I spelled Mississippi all by myself at a family birthday party. I still remember the feeling, and I want that for my kids. Thanks for the reminder!

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kelli June 5, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Just a thought….while I do agree with you in some ways …I feel that telling a little girl that she is beautiful (just the way she is) sends a message as well. I started by telling my Granddaughter ….”You are beautiful. You are kind. You are smart. You are important. ” just like in the movie The Help! Little boys as well as little girls should have that confirmation to give them the self-esteem they need to carry on in this world. Telling someone they are pretty or beautiful is just what some people need. I would however, stress the smart, kind, important as well. Then continue with the books or special talent they might have….like dance, gymnastics or soccer.

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Deb June 5, 2013 at 5:27 pm

IS there a Spanish translation for your article that I could post for our Latino family? It is really great! Thank you.

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Stephanie June 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm

So true…I have the most beautiful 5 year old. Everywhere we go people always make comments on how beautiful she is and she even has been asked to do modeling and commercials. I wish people would stop because she has become vain. Everytime someone gives a compliment we remind her to say to the people, “But more important, I am very smart!” People look at us weird and I wish they would realize how unconstructive their comments are. She is really smart though and is already reading 2 years above her age level. We really focus on that. Also when we do give compliments, it is very specific to either the action she did.

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Susan June 5, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Looks like I’m the one dissenting voice about the article. There is absolutely nothing wrong with remarking on a child’s beauty or their outfit! Appearance is an important part of who we are, and our clothes and demeanor are a reflection of what we feel like on the inside. (And its the first thing people notice about us. This is not shallow, it’s logical.)

The article assumes that the adult has only one standard of beauty (thin and stylish)… But, THIS is the idea that needs to change. We need to see beauty in every person, and feel free to remark on it…. It will always make the recipient smile! THEN, you can start the deeper conversation.

I have a feminist friend who raised her child like this. She only complemented her daughter’s mind, never her “cuteness.” The daughter grew up feeling that her mother thought she was unattractive.

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AvMeg June 5, 2013 at 8:14 pm

So very true. I feel that the idea of ??treating children more equally, whether they are boys or girls, has turned since I grew up in the 1970s. It’s not that I want us to make girls into boys and vice versa, but today the understanding of how a boy and a girl should “be”, is just too narrow. We are back in the 1950´s and 1960´s…

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Lina June 5, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Thank you for sharing my thoughts :-)
I really think, that such innocent well-meant compliments can influence a lot what we need to hear and what we think is important.
Let’s try to think ahead and not stimulate the crazy lopsidedness of society’s values further.

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Karen M June 5, 2013 at 8:57 pm

I came from a large extended family whose members placed a LOT of importance on appearance. My daughter is almost college age now, but as she grew I worked very hard to change that environment. Any time I could, I nurtured her creativity and intellect and cheered accomplishments instead of focusing on her looks.

Our girls are bombarded daily by the media, especially magazine covers in checkout lanes, reinforcing the message that women who aren’t thin, tall, or beautiful don’t matter. Turning that around can be very difficult, especially in the middle school years when girls often become more body-conscious due to puberty changes. I would love to see more programs in the schools and youth groups in the late elementary years to address this…..here in the south many girls are often worried about being attractive by 3rd and 4th grade. Unfortunately a negative body-image theme often creates much larger self-esteem problems in the upper grades, and again when dating begins.

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Annie June 5, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I don’t think this concept is entirely foolproof. Despite having meticulously avoided all of the above and (I hope) infused my 7yo with what it is to be ‘healthy’ and ‘content’ and that ‘beauty comes from within’, she is still/already conscious and making reference to the fact that she is bigger/wobblier/fatter legged than x friend or y girl at school…. and it’s not just today’s child. i remember feeling *exactly* the same at the same age, with no pop/celebrity culture influence, definitely no parental pressure etc. i suspect a natural (even pre) ‘tween’ identity starts forming as your sexuality starts emerging. i actually wish my parents *had* told me how beautiful i was, then i might not have always worried/felt i just wasn’t. the type of thinking described in this article can work both ways.

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Joshua June 5, 2013 at 11:42 pm

As a father of a little girl, I must tell you that not only is my daughter beautiful, but all little girls are beautiful. As long as we teach and remind them that beauty is really on the inside, things should work out. As far as the ABC poll about little girls “worrying” about being fat, that’s nonsense. Kids just don’t grasp those self image concepts at that age. They just don’t.

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Taylor F. June 5, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Thank you so much for writing this! I am a seventeen year old girl who is constantly plagued by the fact that looks tend to fall in a higher priority to teenage (and sadly younger) girls than does intelligence or personal accomplishments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with adults when I was seven, let alone teenaged, as I tried to insert my opinion on the world or nearly force them to ask me what I was reading. So thank you for giving me a bit of hope that women who still believe in the power of females still exsist out there! I work with younger children on occassion and I always try to ask these questions because really, male or female, physical attractiveness needs to diminish as a factor of value.

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Stephanie July 6, 2013 at 8:33 am

Thank you so much! I struggled with the same things but, when I was 17, I still hadn’t found my voice. It gives me hope that you have the confidence to stand for what you believe in. Keep up the good work!

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Laura June 6, 2013 at 12:36 am

I don’t know, I was told as a girl that I was smart as well as pretty. I feel like they both should be complemented. To not hear that you are pretty can be as damaging as not hearing that you are smart. When it comes to little boys, many will comment how cute or handsome they look, as well as their intelligence and for the most part, they turn out fine. I understand where you all are coming from, but why should we take those compliments away just because the child is a girl?

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Bansari June 6, 2013 at 1:53 am

This is a wonderful message and I really hope that if I have a daughter, I can manage these body-centric messages she’ll invariably get from everyone. I wish I could just tell my family and friends to stop doting on her looks all the time…in a tactful way!

It’s so important to teach a girl that it’s not only okay to be smart, but to be proud of it. When I was in college, I clearly remember not telling new guys I met that I was at an Ivy League college because I grew up with the perception that smart girls were somehow less attractive…we really need to make sure our daughters don’t grow up thinking that too!

Great article!

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Tony Brooklyn June 6, 2013 at 2:53 am

There’s a 1 and 1/2 year old girl living in my building for the last year. I chat with her on her level; my intro was “this is your toe, and this your knee, and my name is Tony. Don’t I have a silly name?”

Cute little pixie that she is, I do not tell her that she’s cute or pretty or beautiful. The following video (intense in places, but wonderful) is the main reason why.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6wJl37N9C0

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sarahsmith June 6, 2013 at 3:20 am

Your article noted that “Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart.” I may not be bright or successful in my opinion, but I will be a physician in two years (in the middle of medical school at the moment), and that counts as bright and/or successful to some people. But STILL, I would rather be hot than smart. “Hot” brings employment, respect (whatever kind it may be), free stuff, compliments, etc. “Physician” brings sneering comments, comments about how you must-be-filthy-rich and how you-probably-kill-people-by-making-medical-errors all the time, etc., as you try and save people’s lives while giving up much of your own.

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Val June 6, 2013 at 4:07 am

This article definitely brings to light an issue in our society today. However, in my experience, I am not sure that this is quite the right response. I think that NOT telling a young girl that she is beautiful at a young age can negatively effect her. It is not a bad thing to want to look beautiful. I also think it’s not a bad thing to want to jump in puddles, have tangled crazy hair, and throw sand in the sandbox.

I think it is a wonderful thing to tell a lovely cute girl, when you see her, “oh my goodness you are so cute!”. Why? It’s the truth. She’s adorable. Physical beauty is one of the first things you notice about a person. That is so natural because literally that is the first encounter with your senses. My friends and I do that all the time. I’ll see my friends and say “Oh wow your hair looks great!” or “That’s a cute blouse!”. For me, I notice and I know people enjoy being complimented. What’s wrong with a girl feeling good about a compliment? Nothing! Her life should not depend on it but it’s really a natural way of meeting and greeting with someone.

The funny thing is, my next question for my peers or for those sweet little ones who are so adorable is “So what are you up to?”. We talk about lots of things. The thing is in most of my conversations, dresses and make up and nails are really not the topic of conversation. I have had many conversations with little girls about books, bugs, animals, space, the ocean, singing, art, reading, writing etc.

I think these girls need a balance of both. When I was growing up my daddy told me every day that I was beautiful. He still does. He told me I was beautiful when I woke up in the morning, if I was dressed up, and if I ran in from the backyard with my “grass, dirt, and worm salad”! I loved dresses and dolls and barbies and I loved riding bikes with my brothers and yes I loved mud like a little pig. Mud and I were best friends. However, I was not allowed to 1) paint my nails 2) wear any sort of make up 3) dye my hair 4) listen to indecent music 5) watch any TV shows besides PBS or Veggie Tales.

I love getting a mani and pedi. My hair annoys the crap out of me most of the time so I let it air dry curly but occasionally I straighten it or do those “perfect” curls with my wand. And makeup I wear for work, sometimes to class, out on special dates but really I don’t feel the need to wear it and I think I look pretty good without it. Of course, I look great with it too!

I’m just saying, I was a cute kid and I’ve always been a little socialite so I got compliments like that all the time. I didn’t get the media crap telling me that I had to wear makeup and dress perfectly with the fashion at the time to look beautiful. I had my parents, especially my dad, who told me I looked beautiful ALL THE TIME.

Yes beauty is important to me. Yes looking good is important to me. Is it the end all be all? HECK NO. I work out to be healthy. I like to shower and dress nicely because I don’t like it when I stink and I like to match and wear things I like.

Also, I am an avid reader and have been since I was young. I loved reading about women leaders and frequently did and do so. I am really smart and I have great ideas. Also, I’m in nursing school. I plan to go for my DNP (Doctoral Nurse Practitioner) one day. My mom and dad were all about my education and I went on tons of educational field trips and to many museums as a child.

Last thing– I AM POOR. My family is poor. I have 5 siblings. My mom has a masters and my dad a doctoral degree. My mom was a stay at home mom for 20 years and went back to work full time 3 years ago. We never go on vacation and we can’t visit family around the U.S. We don’t have the electronics most people have in their house or the cars most people drive.

Every little girl is beautiful because yes you are looking at her physical outward appearance but inside of her she’s got a beautiful heart, a beautiful brain, a beautiful soul, etc. I understand that some people put way too much emphasis on the beauty and not enough on the brains but I don’t think it’s right to separate them. And I am a person who thinks that everyone is beautiful. Literally.

I had a patient who was 500 lbs. She was miserable. I got her to smile and she had the loveliest smile. It was truly beautiful to see. I know she thought of herself in a negative light but I thought when she smiled she was beautiful and told her so. We also chatted about how she went to med school and where everything went wrong for her and how she got to where she was.

I’m an unrepeatable person. So are you if you’re reading this. I think you’re beautiful. I think you’re smart. I think you have the ability to do whatever you set your mind to.

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Nicole June 8, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Thank you for your comment! You have said exactly what I thought when reading this article. We should give truthful compliments whenever the occasion presents itself. Telling a little three year old girl that she looks darling in her pink nightgown is going to do far less damage than the beauty magazines she’s going to start reading as a teenager. It would have been so easy to tell that little girl how cute she is and then transition the conversation to her books.

I am the mother of a sweet, intelligent, angelic, beautiful three year old girl. When I found out I was having a little girl, I kept saying, “I hope she’s not a girlie-girl. I hate the color pink. I don’t want to have tea parties, change dolls outfits, braid hair, I don’t want to do any of that. I hope she’s a “tomboy” like I was.” Well, her favorite color is pink. She loves princesses and My Little Pony. She likes to have cute ribbons and flowers in her hair. And I wouldn’t have her any other way. She also likes to get her hands dirty with mud and fingerpaints. She is cute, no matter what mess is or isn’t on her face. And I tell her, and I tell her often. In no way do I think that is going to lead to her wanting to get plastic surgery.

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Laurie June 11, 2013 at 10:02 am

I have a friend who claims I come from a different universe. And I , was beginning to think maybe she’s right. But here is a reply I can identify with! Thank you, Val!

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eema.gray June 6, 2013 at 4:08 am

I have two daughters (15 months and 3.5 years) and frequently fall into the set piece of “you look so pretty in that dress/hair combed/etc.” My parents did not raise me to be conscious of my looks and thanks to them, I managed to avoid body obsession until well into high school. Both girls have wonderful bright and outgoing personalities, love their books, love their soft friends and I know I need to make more of a point to acknowledge these things that make them special, not just that I think they look beautiful. Thank you for the timely reminder.

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Akshara June 6, 2013 at 5:10 am

Good looks and brains can be mixed up in a healthy combination. The trick is to know how to do it. Incidentally, how good looking I am depends on who is looking at me, including myself. I, myself, am very obssessive about losing weight. I don’t have eating disroders (thank god!) but I do count what I eat and go crazy over working out. I am…..average. Not slim and I think the day I accept it and understand that I am pretty as I am to everyone around me, I will have gone a long way in my mind.

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Bo VanderKloot June 6, 2013 at 5:33 am

That is just one of the many ways adults reinforce stereo types and condescend to children. I recently stopped asking or guessing childrens ages. It just isnt important but we are always making it a subject of conversation. Adults certainly would feel uncomfortable talking about out age and its effects on health and development. Why do we do this with kids? I remember as a child how adults often exaggerate enthusiasm it just made me think they wernt being very real.

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Anna June 6, 2013 at 5:43 am

I appreciate that your thoughts made me think as well–about both my past behaviors and my future behaviors. But something that I thought while reading the article is that I speak to little boys in the same way! I always tell them how cute they are, and how much I like their hair/eyes/clothes/way they talk. Would your point of view on this be that we shouldn’t approach any children this way? Or just girls?

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Liz June 6, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Nicely written article with some great points. I try to mix it up big time with my daughter’s books. The Paperbag Princess, Princess Smarty Pants, The King’s Equal and Just Grace are a few that come to mind immediately. But we also read Pinkalicious………….I try to stay away from the canned pretty books as much as I can. It is an interesting tension and one of the reasons we do not own a TV. There is enough out there that is too focused on the pretty. One of the other commenters mentioned about loving her daughter’s unique outfits. I support my daughter’s individuality with that too. Trying for the strong individual with her own chutzpa.

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TheBoyandMe June 6, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Interesting. Part of me agrees with you that it’s essential to show people that there is more to them than their looks, but I also think that it’s a little sad that you didn’t tell her she looked pretty or cute as she’d obviously made an effort with her appearance. If she’d made an effort to write her name nicely or read, then you’d congratulate her wouldn’t you? I tell me three year old son all the time that he’s gorgeous, and clever, and funny. I also point out beautiful and aesthetic things to him in nature, but don’t make a point of highlighting people’s looks. The other day he turned to the assistant in the supermarket and told her that she looked very pretty, and it made her day. He’s never said anything like that before and I thought it was a kind thing to say.

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Hillary June 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm

“Pretty is as pretty does” as the saying goes around our house with my 3 year old girl. There is nothing wrong with ‘showing’ our girls that we respect ourselves enough to keep ourselves looking nice. However, I feel it’s important to EMPHASIZE and talk and teach more about acting nice – talking nice and being sweet and that is what makes us look nice! I also believe the rising numbers of early makeup wearing and eating disorders are attributed to what the media is portraying to little girls about women. I don’t think it’s the compliments they get from loved ones…. I believe mom’s of little girls have to be so careful to never talk about their own body image in front of them. We need to teach through example a healthy lifestyle and never make a point of ‘skinny or fat’. AND never ever criticize our children or anyone’s physique.

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Faye June 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I love your words Hillary. I grew up with a mother that openly detested everything about herself for being “fat and ugly”. All I remember of her as I was growing up is her looking in the mirror when she’s get dressed, with a disgusted look on her face, and her calling herself ugly names.
As I was growing up, the comment I would most often hear from people was “ohhhh, you look EXACTLY like your mum, don’t you?”
So, what did that mean for my self esteem?
If my mother felt that she was disgusting, she must think the same of me ….
I suffered an eating disorder for many years, and was in an abusive marriage in my 20′s that further intensified my beliefs about myself.
Now in my mid thirties, I am in a beautiful marriage, with a most wonderful three year old daughter, who looks exactly the same as me. Though I have physically beaten the eating disorder, mentally it is still a challenge every day. I refuse to say anything negative about myself, as already the “you look so much like your mum” comments have started, and I am determined to end the cycle.
My daughter is clever, funny, fast, strong, thoughtful, silly, naughty and all those things that little people all are.
And she is also beautiful.
When she wakes up in the morning with her curly hair looking like a bird’s nest, she is beautiful. When she has more icecream around her mouth than inside it, she is beautiful. When she is covered in grease from helping her daddy fix the car, she is beautiful. And when she puts on a “fancy frock” (as she calls it) to go out to dinner, she is beautiful.
All because she is a beautiful little person to be around.
Her bedroom is currently being repainted in her favourite colours – green and blue – and I would love to have your words “pretty is as pretty does” printed on her wall above her drawers. Such a beautiful saying
xx

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Stephanie July 6, 2013 at 8:44 am

I love hearing stories like yours. Not that any one should have to go through what you went through but that you learned from and overcame the negative behaviour that influenced you in your formative years. I think one of the main reasons I avoided body image issues is because not once in my entire childhood did I ever witness my mother say anything negative about herself, physically or otherwise. Seeing the people you look up to love themselves makes an enormous difference. Your daughter is very lucky.

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Sasha June 6, 2013 at 10:54 pm

When I was growing up, it was my mum who spoke constantly about weight and how ‘fat’ she was and my younger sister and brother used to play at the gym while she exercised, so I stopped eating lunch and nearly all meals from grade one incase I got fat. She also used to say how beautiful she was, and EVERYONE used to tell me what an angel and how beautiful my sister was and they wished they had girls like her. No one ever mentioned looks to me. As we got older, EVERYONE would constantly go on about how stunning, intelligent and funny my sister was and so I became withdrawn and shy feeling so ugly. It was never magazines but people that made me feel ugly by ignoring me.

I don’t think it’s bad to compliment someone and make them feel good about themselves, it just shouldn’t be the only focus of attention. Ignoring the subject altogether can be just as detrimental to someone.. Just find a balance…. As long as everyone feels loved for being themselves that’s all that matters.

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Sara June 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I agree with you.
Giving complements to someone how thinks he or she is beautiful after spending time putting on various of clothes, scarfs etc is a nice thing, just as nice as saying “I like your style. Have a good time/evening/time.. When you got time we can play….”. By doing so, you give the person attention for the job the just put in dressing up/doing the hair/etc and then move on to do something together.

My kids are 5 and 9. They dress up looking nothing like the magazines (spiderman, highheels, hat, 20 or so braclets and bikini outside a t-shirt) and I NEVER judge them but saying “wow, you look cool! What are you playing?” And from their answer, we play; detectives, supergirls, super-power-people, school, café, circus or what ever they fancy.

I always incurage friends of mine who tend to gender-talk a lot to ther kids, how great it is to see the young boys with nailpolish, for example or pink t-shirt. Somewhere I hope I’m giving them new though they will like.

Regards from Sweden!

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Karen June 6, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Hi
I am pleased this article is balanced with many points of view. Our children still have to fit in with the society in which they live and if they are too different they will get a hard time.

Regarding sizes of clothes, cut the labels off when you buy new clothes, size does not matter, comfort does. We do not need to be reminded if we are a size 6 or XL and others don’t need to know. Pass the clothes to other siblings because they fit!

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Noah June 7, 2013 at 2:35 am

I came to learn how to talk to little girls, but I stayed for the great writing.

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Shashi June 7, 2013 at 4:31 am

Well, you don’t have to withhold praises from little or older girls. It is the marketing assault on all fronts (movies, TV, hoardings, magazines, …) that over glamorize only a certain standard of women that is to be blamed.

What if little Maya was not good at reading, would she have felt that she must read, or something is wrong with her?

These are knee-jerk reactions, and the root cause is most parents themselves are setting wrong examples OR not being there to talk to their children, give them their time.

There is nothing wrong in pampering just a little bit to little kids, girls OR boys.

What would have been the stand 100 years back, when marketing was not so omnipresent, and girls were not dieting at 4!?

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Hodor June 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I think marketing is only the immediate cause, while there is an underlying cause is that people in general do not think they are responsible for their own thinking and actions, and get pressured to do as everybody else. This indirectly causes a lot of other problems as well.

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Shannon June 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I agree. It’s not me telling my daughter she is pretty that gives her the message she HAS to be. It’s the fact that out of the last hour, over 50% of the commercials were about weight loss and being trim/fit/healthy/working out and the other WOMEN around her who insist on makeup/botox/hair coloring/what are we using to be hairless this week that put far more pressure on her. Companies who have clothing sizes based on a number rather than a measurement, for heaven’s sake. Who wants to be a 14 rather than their actual waist size? Especially when your SIZE is only half reflected at 126lbs and 5’10? It’s demoralizing.
I have always been fluffy. She has never been fluffy. I read all the time and never went out of doors much and never really had physical interests. She has always been a dancer. I’m busy making sure that she sees and thinks about MORE than her looks but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t take my breath away sometimes with them. My other daughters make me laugh or make me think or are beautiful, too. Reading is a love we all share, often trading books or opinions or gifts of books, but it’s not always healthy to encourage reading when it’s to the exclusion of teaching your children to go outside or spend time with them being out there, which most of us no longer do. We have no balance of activity, we “fake-ercise” on our ellipticals to make up for sedentary lifestyles. I have one daughter much like myself and I can see, looking back, where I didn’t do more to get her out and moving at times in her life when it would have been appropriate and now, as an adult, she’s much like me in form and activity level and I am sure she also has the same qualms about not having learned appropriate balance. Society and marketing will hound her for her size, telling her how she can lose inches.
There has to be balance in how we live and AVOIDING telling little girls they look nice is just as bad as making it the ONLY thing you tell them. I admire my daughter’s innate skills at putting together an outfit and I tell my son’s friends when they come over that they look nice today if they do. I also ask about them and their interests and we have well-rounded conversations just like I would with any adult, vs trying to talk down to them and create an artificial scenario to “build” them.
We as adults are doing a bad job of modelling behavior and our children are learning it. Not from telling them they are pretty or not but because of how we dress, look, and buy product.

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Brooke Kochel June 7, 2013 at 7:08 am

Bravo! I read purplicious to my 3 year old tonight followed by Its Ok To Be Different. Raising young girls at 3 already has glimmers of things I just want to throw my arms around them and protect them from. I do tell my daughter how brave she is instead of pretty. Now she tells me how brave she is. They listen and believe and become.

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Lynn Paterson June 7, 2013 at 9:14 am

Beautifully expressed. When we speak with children it is like speaking with our own self at childhood… our inner child. Coming into the heart space and allowing that to guide you to heart-ful communication will always mean you are doing the best you can for each other. Children are naturally in the heart-space but as we age we start leaving that place more and more. It does not take much to get back into the heart, and if we allow it, children will show us the way.

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Empathatic June 7, 2013 at 12:24 pm

This is a wonderful post! It’s endearing to read about addressing the gender issues which plague our children as they develop. As a father of a wonderful five year old girl myself, it’s refreshing to see someone taking the time to consciously speak to a little girl favoring brains over looks and accomplishments over appearance. Sadly modern media, societal pressures, and even other parents and their children will work hard to break down the reinforcement we try to so hard to put in place. Soon the child will be exposed to peer based pressures which will not be as cut and dry as many (not all!) books will make them out to be. After the ideas and thoughts of her friends, classmates, other parents and influential adults begin to influence her way of thinking, she’ll have the joy of modern media and the reinforcement that success=beauty when applied to women… The criticism of others who do not fit the current societal ideal of beauty despite their hard earned success in whatever they chose to do. Gender issues are always an issue, and addressing a girl with “What wonderful things you can do!” instead of “My, how cute you are!” will go a long way to helping the child develop priorities that will reinforce the ideal of Content over Cover. As great as this is, I feel that it’s a bit imbalanced though, and I hope I do not offend anyone if I add to the other side of this discussion. I hope to change the post from “How to talk to Little Girls” into “How to talk to Little Children”.

Yes, modern media still has prevalent gender stereotypical commercials, male dominant roles, overtly sexist advertisements using female sex appeal to sell male products, or even to sell female products in the hope that it will appeal to and ingrained desire to be the defined societal “beautiful”. But, there is an alarming trend for both genders now. A media reinforced demoted role for both. It’s best visible in many commercials (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S62sl-qWEqo) where the female roles are service oriented (cooking, cleaning, child care) and the male roles are typically idiots, demeaning and incompetent. Lots of these commercials often have both stereotypes portrayed. The example of these commercials is only the tip of the iceberg, similar gender inequalities can be found in children’s cartoons, television shows, and even films.

The common trend is for women to be beautiful and to care for the house, and the men to be idiots who cannot measure up to the woman at home (or at work, depending on your choice). These are reinforced not just through media, but by peer pressure as well. We encourage girls to be what they want, to strive to be smart, to be the best, to be wonderful at EVERYTHING, and to top it off you have to be pretty too because no matter how successful you are it means nothing if you aren’t beautiful. Her male peers will reinforce it at an early age by picking on her appearance, and her female peers will follow suit. The adults will try to tell her she is beautiful instead of telling her life means more than looks, and they’ll reinforce that through the media they watch, and the actions they take day to day. When the parent focuses on clothes, and makeup, and appearance it reinforces that pressure. When we talk about how pretty some other adult looks, or who we find to be pretty in movies and TV shows, it reinforces the behaviors. When we criticize others based on appearance alone in the presence of the child, it AGAIN reinforces that behavior. These criticisms and ideas are societal placed, and reinforced day to day. But it’s not exclusive to girls.

Boys will suffer through the constant bombardment of sports, athletic activity, physical exercise. When a child falls behind at school we look at the genders differently. With a girl there are questions of encouragement, inquisitions in to whether the parents are working hard enough. With a boy there are moments where their behavior is dismissed as being “just a boy” or “he’s just active, like boys will be” and there is no effort to change the way it’s taught or help develop the areas he may excel at. There is reinforcement of the idea that if they don’t do well on tests, it’s ok, boys aren’t as smart as girls. Just go outside and play ball, or run around the park, or ride your bike. You’re a boy, you won’t be as good at academics as girls. Yet the boys who are not, or cannot, succeed at sports are demeaned, degraded and even cursed at. We use terms like “sissy”, and “pansy” and “weakling”. We don’t encourage study as much, and we push them to the back of the class, ignoring their behavioral outbursts and attributing it to “youthful exuberance” instead of looking at the method in which they best obtain and retain knowledge.

This trend is perpetuated in the medias reinforcement of male child behavior. In commercials it is often the boy child who is wrecking havoc, or destroying toys, or throwing fits. Often the boy is portrayed as simply a force of nature, not something with intelligence or meaning, but simply a power without focus. The adults males are then portrayed in roles of apathy, idiocy, and even ignorance. They like to watch sports, are subject only to the women who have to “look out for them” and are portrayed unfavorably. Even in the sexist commercials addressing women at least occasionally a woman is portrayed in a positive light, even if the gender role is from the 1950s.

This is something we must strive to change, and effort must be made to promote equality for ALL genders, to encourage children to be who and what they want to be, to develop them in the way that best suits their personalities. Restructuring of the school systems, reinforcement of positive gender roles, encouragement from the parents based on achievement and successes, avoidance of negative media reinforcement and hopefully the removal of these prevalent gender destructive messages will eventually lead to a better future for our children. There is no reason to demean one gender in order to lift up another. Both genders should be treated fairly, and without regard to outward appearances and societal pressures.

We have a long way to go, but I think it’s possible if we address it as a group.

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Jill June 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm

People still comment on my looks first and I’m nearly 35. Just the other day I went to a new dentist and he rounded the chair to intro himself and said “Oh my, aren’t you pretty?” And I thought that was SO strange. I mean, what bearing does it have? None, but I accepted the compliment and moved on. I often say that my face is probably the least interesting thing about me. I speak three languages, I graduated from Culinary School with a 4.0. I scored a 30 on my ACT. But I still put on mascara everyday….. Seems we’re all stuck in this cultural rut.

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Tammy June 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Perhaps we should continue complimenting girls on all their aspects and turn off the t.v. Little girls have been told for centuries that they are beautiful, yet we are at our highest for eating disorders, etc NOW. Let’s look at some of the other culprits beyond telling a little girl that she is pretty. I tell mine she is beautiful, smart and funny all day every day.

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Meter June 7, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I as a male from Norway would also rather win the american top model than the peace price. I would not be honored to be in the company of a lot of the winners of the last decades.

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Hodor June 7, 2013 at 5:38 pm

About your suggestion of what to talk to older girls with. I would really like to do that, but i only discuss such things with boys, because girls have a tendency to get really upset if I talk outside what is politically correct, and also tend to interpret anything as an attack on them personally. Perhaps that is because they as little girls were not able to have intellectual conversations, but it’s just the way it is . So I only do that with girls I know really well, while I can mostly discuss such topics with any boy I meet.

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Cathie Miner June 7, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I’ve been trying to do this for quite some time, trying not to tell them how absolutely cute they are. I ask them about school, what subjects they like best, if they like school, etc. I may compliment them on their manners. I may say, “you seem like a very smart young lady”, things that give them credit for their own accomplishments, rather than their looks. But it can be extremely hard.

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Lori June 7, 2013 at 7:08 pm

while the author is right about there being a huge problem with our little girls and self-image, I would argue that little girls’ self-esteem issues and focus on their looks vs their other attributes is more largely influenced by years of watching their mothers obsess over their own image/weight rather than someone telling them how pretty they are. children look up to their parents and that’s where most of this is learned, i would imagine.

even with my son, i make it a point not to use words like “fat” or “diet” in front of him. but i absolutely will tell my son how handsome he looks or even future daughter because they need to know they are beautiful inside and out. i know my own parents didn’t do a good job of making me feel pretty growing up. i needed to hear things from adults to counter the names i was being called at school. just something to think about.

to that point though, i will say that we have a responsibility to teach our children that looks are not the most important thing in the world. balance is everything. i tell my son he’s so smart and other compliments just as much, if not more than i tell him he’s my handsome boy.

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Leah June 7, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Re: “A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.”

First, I am totally there with you on the general slant of your topic, and bravo for the beautiful point by point story. I also strive to go with acknowledgement of who someone is (children and adults) rather than looks. And I get how hard that is sometimes! however, I wanted to remark on the above line: what about–A life of meaning, a life of ideas, presence, and being valued. Period. Not for anything, simply because we are? for our unique gifts we give to the world, no matter what they are–reading books is just one thing, valuable (I’m one of them, trust me–and this culture has really rewarded me for such things).

Please don’t rush into thinking that I’m saying everyone needs to just be totally accepted as they are no matter what they do–not pushing for enabling here. I’m simply saying–for who they are. Period.

Thanks again! great article.

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Emily June 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Like anything, don’t over do it. You wouldn’t incessantly talk to kids about books all the time and nothing else, just like you probably shouldn’t constantly praise their good looks. Switch it up a bit, and give praise when it’s needed. As one person said here, everyone is beautiful, just people see beauty differently. But sure, some are blatantly beautiful where others sometimes get overlooked. Confidence helps a person become beautiful, even in the adult world, men are attracted to confident women. Teach kids confidence, praise their abilities and compliment them.

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Pamela June 7, 2013 at 8:40 pm

It strikes me that a lot of the comments on this thread are still about evaluating and training children, as if that’s what we need to do to mold them properly. How about we just treat them like people when we meet and spend time with them? I mean, do you seek to take advantage of a “teachable moment” when you meet a new adult or have coffee with your best friend? (etc.) The reason the author’s conversation “worked” was because it was authentic conversation, a conversation of discovery–rather than trying to find something to compliment them about or to train them to think a certain way or boost their self-esteem. It simply moved past what so many adults stereotypically do and on to real conversation that connected two people, heart to heart and soul to soul.

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Jenna June 7, 2013 at 8:47 pm

love love love the article, but don’t you think you should vie for a profile picture that’s less…well…sexy? Young girls who see this are still going to want to look like you first and think like you second. From one hot, intelligent woman to another, it’s easier to avoid self-esteem issues and feel proud of your intellect if you happen to be born beautiful.

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Nathan S June 7, 2013 at 9:49 pm

I’m convinced this film identifies the root cause – hyper-sexualisation:
https://www.facebook.com/filmsforaction/posts/10151515373125983

Well worth watching…

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mackenzie June 8, 2013 at 12:28 am

i really think that everyone needs to hear “you’re beautiful” and “you’re loved” every day, no matter if it is a little girl or a 30-year-old woman. you can be “beautiful” for the amazing person you are and in that new dress you maybe feel more alive in. we live in an intensely visual world, and i see nothing destructive about embracing the physical side of life as far as it is balanced with the rest. i want my future daughter (if i have one) to grow up feeling good about herself, her body, and her self-worth. is withholding a compliment on her prettiness going to change our culture and her sense of value?? i would want my daughter to know she is valuable and loved and gorgeous inside & out. i am troubled by what is going on with messages sent to young women and seek to spread self-love and acceptance.

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Amanda June 8, 2013 at 1:36 am

I like your ideas. Hmmm….changing little girls one at a time? Instead of pushing your better girl agenda on little girls one at a time, it would be far more powerful to accept them as they are one at a time. Yes, you asked her about something she liked–but it was because you found it important so you asked and you lucked out that she did too. How about this: Maya, its nice to meet you! What have you been working on today? Whatever she says, you are interested. You ask inquisitive questions. You look her in the eye. You smile your acceptance of her ideas. THAT is validation of the soul. Its not about books or looks; its about a child seeing she is validated just as she is. THAT empowers her to make choices on her own, to become who she would like to be.

And if you don’t know Purplicious, you haven’t been reading enough kids books marketed for girls! lol There’s another article topic for you. Its a travesty out there finding choices for beginning reader girls. Thanks for the good thoughts. Write more for us!

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Tara June 8, 2013 at 4:24 am

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with giving a girl a compliment based on looks. At the same time, it is important to give them compliments on other things as well. My daughter is pretty. She is also smart and sings well. We tell her these things as do other people. She STILL has no self-confidence (she’s about to turn 11.) And while on Sundays I did put dresses on her to go to church, that is not what she spent the majority of her time in. I, myself, rarely wear dresses and do not wear make up at all. Yet, she still turned into a girly girl who loves shoes, clothes, and make up. I want to know where she came from!!! And we have the opposite weight problem…. she thinks she’s too skinny and needs to gain weight.

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Eli June 8, 2013 at 9:20 am

Thanks! I agree and would add that similar comments fo or boys.
CHildren do not need random compliments, they need love, affection and attention and only superficially the former can serve.

Engage them in a real conversation, ask them what they like and dislike, show respect for them and they will think that what they do is of interest, is relevant.
TEll them that they look good and they’ll think that how they look is relevant.

Of course engaging with them is harder that going with a random compliment, but children deserve all our effort.

Those who liked this article should read the book “unconditional parenting” by ALfi Khon to realise how many of the things we say can damage them.

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Michelle wettengel June 8, 2013 at 11:21 am

I took my 8 year old daughter to pick up some photos I had developed. I took a moment to look them over and then the woman behind the counter checked me out. When we walked away my daughter said, ” Mom I can’t believe she didn’t say how cute I am”. At the time I thought it was funny then I felt sad that maybe this is the point (8) where people stop telling her that. She is getting to that stage where she has lost that little girl look, her teeth have come in big and crooked and she is moving into sort of an akward phase. Now that I think about it I felt sad that people might stop telling her that and I have been over compensating for it pointing out her beauty every chance I get. That funny little story has a whole new meaning after reading this, thank you.

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Kris Buczinsky June 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Typical adult. Know nothings. Every enlightened adult knows you open a conversation with a child by talking about purple giraffes.

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Sylvia June 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Thought provoking and relevant article. Here in the UK we are into about the fourth generation of kids having kids. People who haven’t yet learned appropriate social skills themselves are bringing new lives into the world with not much to pass on to them, and who do not have the advantage of a battle axe forty-something mother at the foot of the stairs waiting for them to say “You look really nice,” or equally, “You’re not going out dressed like that are you?”
I don’t know when, in this country, it became acceptable for little girls to be dressed like trailer trash: there is a big difference between making an effort with your appearance and looking like jail-bait.
Encouragement should be given to children about their looks, but positively. “Listen, I can see why you chose that dress, but the floral one works so much better for you.” They won’t see it as a put-down, but a sign that you care and you notice them (half the time they dress appallingly to get attention…!) “Listen son, I know what you normally wear is comfortable for you, but this is a family event and it means a lot to aunty/uncle/ grandad, and you do look grown up in that good shirt you bought last month. Give it a go eh?”
I also like being surprised by young people. We get a lot of work placement youths where I work, and they’ve usually been out of employment for some time, and positive comments mean a lot to them. You wonder when was the last time someone asked their opinion and spoke to them like an adult. They’re so blown away when you’re actually interested in them.
So avoid looking at the surface sometimes, get at what is inside them, and mentor them.

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David June 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I love this post. I have a little sister who focuses so much on beauty and it makes me sad to think that she’s already part of this culture now. It will be hard for her to change that.

One note of caution: I’ve noticed a lot of people posting that they will start complementing young girls for how smart or intelligent they are. However, there is some really neat research from Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck showing that these types of complements can backfire. A better compliment to give, according to Dr. Dweck, would be something like, “Wow, you are such a hard worker!”

I also have a follow-up question. I am married, and I often compliment my wife on how pretty she is to me. Do you think that this is wrong?

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Dennis June 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Why stop with just the girls, include the boys also. They need the encouragement also.

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thesingingchef June 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Very inspiring and so true. When I was little, I was pretty and cute and precocious. I was also quite aware of how adults were insincere with children and it bothered me terribly. As I came from a family of readers, all of us kids were quite ahead of our peers in our reading skills. While my school chums couldn’t wait to “grow up” for many of the typical reasons (staying up all night; eating what you wanted; driving a car; having your own money) I couldn’t wait to grow up so people would stop patronizing me! The only one who didn’t do that was my father: I still recall his very serious attempt to explain communism to me when I was six. Thanks Pops. Now at the tender age of 48, I’m an English professor, but I also maintain the style and composure of a former professional actress, and frequently discuss “costume” and “gender performance” with my students, sharing with them why I enjoy wearing dresses and makeup, but that I also am aware it’s a choice and that I do think of it as costume. Guess what: I STILL get patronized (but mostly by faculty who eschew such fripperies). Le sigh.

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Julie June 8, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I don’t think the problem is how parents or well-meaning relations/friends talk to little girls and boys. The problem is the media pundits, self-help gurus, tv doctors and other loud-speakers who thrust forward their narrow, superficial criteria of “success”.
If there was an overnight change in attitude, and suddenly, everybody complimented little girls ONLY on brains and smarts, well, soon enough, those who don’t possess those qualities in sufficient quantity (because, yes, they exist) would feel put down, with good reason!
I think that girly-girl women who put everything on looks and attractiveness will always exist, no matter what their parents and relations tell them. The problem is not their existence, it’s the importance and credit we give them for it.
We all have strengths : for some, it’s a knack for solving difficult problems; for others, it’s a gift for attracting others; for some, it’s helping and nurturing; for others, it’s creating beauty through art. (etc.!)
What we have to learn is to value EVERY qualities, not only the ones who have been deemed desirable on the financial market.

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Eva June 8, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Thanks, I do this all the time. Though I’m amazed it still doesn’t come natural – I do have to think about it. I have also changed from replying “wow, look at how good you are at drawing/dancing/playing soccer/etc” to “wow, that looks so much fun to do!/I love drawing/playing soccer too!” when my daughter (or other kids) proudly presents her drawings or skills.
It’s so important to change focus from looks and “being good” at things to showing interest in whatever the person is doing.

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NoAdditives June 9, 2013 at 4:35 am

Appearance is the first thing we notice in anyone, it’s not a bad thing.

As for girls wearing makeup and dieting, that comes more from what they learn from their female role models than from people commenting on their pretty hair or nice clothes. If they see their mother putting on makeup because she feels she needs it to look better, they learn they need it in order to look pretty. If their mother is concerned about her weight and comments on it, they learn to be more concerned with their own weight. If they hear their mother commenting on parts of her body that she doesn’t like, they learn to find their faults.

I don’t wear makeup on a daily basis, and when I do I only wear powder foundation, a little blush, and some mascara. It doesn’t look like I wear makeup at all, but it does help me feel like I look a little fresher and happier. I stopped saying my hair looked nicer when it was straightened as soon as my oldest daughter (then 2 or 3) started saying her hair was pretty only when she had a bow in it.

I never talk about being overweight or needing to lose weight. I don’t deny myself a treat once in a while and I certainly won’t say anything regarding my caloric intake if my children can hear it. When my husband mentions me needing to work out more its in the context of being healthier, not me needing to bet thinner.

When my kids have asked about my stretch marks I have told them in a matter of fact way what they are and how I got them. I do not say anything about how I do not like them.

I tell my girls they are beautiful. I tell the they are smart and funny. I also tell my son he is the cutest little boy ever and that he is also smart, funny, and silly. Because they are. And telling my children they are beautiful does not negatively impact their self-esteem, it does not make their self worth center around their physical traits. It’s simply the truth and frankly, they need to grow up thinking they are attractive in addition to being intelligent, athletic, funny, and whatever else they may be. Having confidence in their appearance is better than feeling uncertain about it.

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sally June 9, 2013 at 6:31 am

The article had good intentions…and after reading every single reply I can appreciate the ongoing conversation and viewpoints. So here’s mine…

It’s evolution folks… as social creatures girls & women alike NEED to feel beautiful & appreciated. There is NO escaping this. (Males need to feel significant too, yet being a different sex the priority scale differs) So if you actually care, don’t even think about taking that away because of your own bulls**t attention issues or painfully harmful feminist agenda. If you “avoid” saying what is on your mind a young child will subconsciously know… do it enough and an insecure basket case is born. Children in the age group the author focuses on have completely unbiased world filters because they are still pure.. simply be genuine when speaking to a child at this stage of development. Even though they may not consciously understand every word, their intuition and subconscious can read love, appreciation, acceptance, honesty, etc far better than you since their world has yet to be screwed up by outside agendas.

Being a woman with 3 daughters and 1 son I have earned the right to say the following:
Allow your daughters to be goddesses. Not only do they deserve it, THEY ARE! Simply teach them the difference between inner beauty & strength vs unrealistic social paradigms. And seriously, drop the equality/feminist crap. Equal rights is one thing, but we are built different then men and each sex is better at DIFFERENT things. 99.99999% of women do not want the majority of jobs, 24/7 focus, or physical characteristics of men; nor do men desire to be on compassionate call, on the feminine wave of emotion 24/7, or have to enjoy grooming as much as us. I love looking sexy and do fully shave for my husband (along with many other beautiful goddess tasks), and he loves taking care of me in SO many manly ways! Teach your girls to embrace their feminine cores, and your boys their masculine, and (respectfully & lovingly) the alternate if your beautiful child falls into that category as well.

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Rani Crowe June 9, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Yes. Generally we first tell girls they are pretty, and boys they are smart or brave. We tell girls they will break a lot of hearts and tease them about how many boyfriends they have. These are the default norms for talking to children. I absolutely agree with this article. I will add, though, that taking the time to really look a child in the eye and ask them what they think and treat them as an adult goes a long way for both genders. Modeling respectful engaged conversation builds confidence and respect in all kids.

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Kenneth Adams June 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm

As a dad, I want to thank you for reaffirming my belief that we have to model success for our girls. It’s not clothes, looks, popularity, money. It is service to others, intellectual growth, exploring, building and so much more. If you have a chance check out what my 9 and 7 year old daughters have been doing at http://www.paperforwater.org and keep up the great writing and encouragement to all parents.

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Rohini Tiwari June 9, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Although I agree with you that little girls should be praised more for their finer qualities, I also believe that they should be complemented when they are looking good.
I grew up to be an international model with a very firm head on my shoulder and no eating disorder whatsoever , because my parents taught me , that beauty is not just how you look but it is also about who you are. I was complimented about my looks all my life but was still an A grade student who did volunteer work in her spare time.
This is what I am trying to inculcate in my 5 year old daughter. I tell her everyday , she is beautiful, she can achieve everything that she sets her mind to do, when she works hard .She is praised for her helpfulness, when she shares, her empathy and her thoughtfulness. She is amongst top 5% high achieving students in her grade and still thinks she is a pretty princess.
As parents, aunts and uncle we need to make them confident individuals and like it or not , we are all judged from the beginning on how we look. I believe give them so much self confidence and support that when they go out to face the world , no matter what anyone says and does , they still believe in their own selves.

I also feel , you just don’t need to talk about books only to steer the conversation away from looks etc, even talking about princess stories you can talk bout the positive values, of forgiveness, helpfulness, being unselfish etc.

A compliment is a compliment and I personally feel does no harm to a child’s psyche .
Hold her ,compliment her and tell her she is a very beautiful person because there are going to loads and loads of people out there who are going to say just the opposite and then it will be your support that will see make her hold her head high and keep her self belief and confidence and THAT would be your biggest gift to your little girl.

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Karen June 9, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I have a little different perspective. When I was a little girl, I was told that it was a good thing I was smart, because I wasn’t pretty.That has had a major effect on my self esteem all my life. I know I am intelligent and good at what I do but I have always felt like I just wasn’t as good as other women. I never had daughters-I was blessed with sons. But I sure as hell tell my 2 year-old granddaughter how beautiful she is. I also tell her she is smart, but I will never try to make her feel she is less than she is.

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Sally June 9, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Enjoyed reading the original article. I have 2 (grown) daughters. I have a question – some children are NOT either attractive or Sport-able or clever or amazingly talented in some other area. They are average. They look a bit ugly sometimes or neat, have long or short hair, neatly done or messy. Their achievements are mediocre and their dreams are pretty middle of the road. So – what do you say to thse girls? I have an answer too. You say very little. But anything you DO say is geared towards opening their mind a little. Inspiring a dream. Raising expectations. As an earlier writer said, each of these aspects are important and blinkered focus on only one is unbalanced. Its a good idea to become accustomed to inviting wider response from any individual. Remember, every word or action is a seed. Whatever you choose to say, remember that you are shaping their future – and your own. Encourage. Support. Build. You don’t have to be Special to be special to someone.

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JF Owen June 9, 2013 at 9:24 pm

That’s a great post! I suppose that I’m as guilty s the next about telling a little girl, especially one of my granddaughters, how nice they look. I encourage the other things too but, once I know them, I tend to lead with a “look nice” comment.

I suspect that’s a generational thing and one that is long past time to change. Thank you so much for your insight.

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Danielle June 10, 2013 at 12:32 am

As a nanny of 4 girls- I love this advice!

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Rick June 10, 2013 at 12:33 am

Eh, I have mixed feelings about this article. While I get the idea and it’s a good idea, five year olds aren’t very sophisticated and appeareances are one of the early situations which can frame a discussion about issues like peer pressure. I’m not sure how kosher it is to indoctrinate someone else’s child without the parents’ permission. As the father of an 8 year old, I know there are a lot of stereotypes. My daughter even said recently, “Boys can play all sports, girls don’t play baseball. That’s not fair.” On the flipside, while girls are told they are pretty, boys are assumed to play sports.

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Ellie June 10, 2013 at 1:07 am

I read this months ago and I strongly disagree with this article. The issue with “feeling fat” is NOT what others say to them, its what their mothers/important female relations say around them. Not that the women say the children are fat, that the women say things like “Oh I am such a heifer, I shouldnt have eaten that sandwich” or “Did you see *name of friend*? I cant believe how fat she’s gotten” or “I need to go on a diet if I ever want to look good at the beach.” Complimenting appearances is not the problem, degrading yourself or others is. Couple this with the amount of media kids are exposed to which include vindictive women, self loathing, and ads for the newest diet featuring skinny women, and its a recipe for disaster.

If you go around and never tell a girl you think she’s pretty or like her hair/clothing/etc, that girl is going to think you think she is ugly. Yes, you should not fixate on her looks, but a simple compliment goes a long way. Children are smart. They learn social cues and behavior long before they are mobile and communicating. Their first social smile is around 3 months. A kid knows from a very early age what it means to visually get someones attention and how much attractiveness plays a part. You cant just pretend its not there, either. Two dogs at the park, one is in need of a bath, the other is a complete furball, everyone loves on the furball. There are two kids at the park, one is average in appearance, the other has long ringlet curls, bright eyes, and a great smile. More people talk to the second child. There are a group of teen girls and a group of teen boys at the park. One (maybe two) of the girls is decidedly the prettiest and the boys are doing everything to earn her attention while the less pretty girls are being ignored. A child is going to become acutely aware when adults stop complimenting her appearance.

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Aub June 10, 2013 at 4:26 am

I’m not into twitter … but you asked for a response and although i don’t usually i feel driven to share about my little girl. She is 2. Although she can rock a dress … she’d rather wear … well … nothing usually lol she’s 2 … but sweats and a tshirt are her fav if ‘forced’ to wear clothes lol … i just wanted to share that she is not into dolls, her favorite toys are cars and jungle animals and her favorite show is Diego. She has been saying proudly all day ‘I am an animal rescuer!’ after joining me last night late @ 11pm to rescue a stray/dumped cat we had the chance of meeting at the park that afternoon … <3 i love my little girl … she's just like me when i was a little girl … animals in the place of dolls and mud pies in the place of tea partys … wouldn't have it any other way :) … loved your article

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Jenny June 10, 2013 at 4:59 am

So now you’ve made her feel like she must read, and eventually write a book in order to be valuable. You’re just exchanging one issue for another. I

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Lisa June 10, 2013 at 5:02 am

Eh. I don’t know. I think we worry too much about everything these days. I don’t think there’s any harm in telling a little girl or boy that they look cute. It’s not like that’s all people are saying. Yes we notice looks first, upon arrival- that’s the natural progression of things. Then they do a bunch of different things and we comment on all of that.
Honestly I think little girls are getting the majority of their bad ideas from the media. I see groups of girls singing “put a ring on it” and everyone thinks it’s cute or funny. Or they find out who some skinny celebrity is and want to be like them.
Sigh. I just think we’re spinning the heli blades too much these days.

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Anon June 10, 2013 at 7:17 am

You can compliment a child on their appearance without turning them into praise junkies
“I see you are wearing a blue dress today” “look at the all the colours on that shirt, I can see red yellow etc look at the braids in your hair.
There is no need to use words like pretty or even make a comment on how they look yet still make a child feel noticed.
Children in my care will often come to me with artwork, clothing choices and ask me if I like them. My usual response is “do you like it coz that’s what’s important
There is a difference between noticing a child and praising a child. .

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shobha June 10, 2013 at 11:21 am

LisaBloom! hey!I just read—” Here’s to changing the world, one little girl at a time.” n tht of sharing dis one–
my niece born n brought up in US visited india i toook her evrywhere for sightseeing n shoppping along with my sis in law. she would jump seeing pink n insist dat she wanted it…let dat be just pencil / eraser/band… i was taken back!! while we were still on the outings spree i took her to cross roads n shoppers stop n asked her to buy anything in my account as gift for her ( for free) she got excited but….i added it has to be either skyblue…or garden green !! ;) she looked @ me sharply n lost excitement .. but i told her she has to choose her gifts on her own n it could be anything in those colours / any toys except barbie MY !!! she was mad… but had no option . but i remeber well! during her next trip she nade it a point to wear those blue n green dressses n books to read!!!!! i was damn happy i could change her perspective …

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MsHaps June 10, 2013 at 12:35 pm

It’s not that easy. When I was growing up 50 years ago, the people who mattered to me, both men and women, told me I was smart and talked to me about books. The first person who told me I was pretty was a college advisor. As a result I suffered from eating disorders and low self-esteem because I thought I was fat and ugly. When I asked my aunt and mother how come they’d never told me I was pretty they said, “We assumed you knew that and we wanted to reinforce that you were smart.”

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Cam June 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm

this happens because you saw OTHER girls being called pretty though. ideally what the author hopes to accomplish, is a world where pretty isnt even something people think about complimenting someone on. if no one is ever called pretty, no one can develop low self esteem, because looks become irrelevant

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Dr. Anat June 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Definitely! Talk to young girls about their interests, delve into their minds, don’t treat them like decorative objects empty of mind. No doubt, girls who are taught only to be pretty are severely deprived of an inner world, a personality, and their humanity.

But, that doesn’t mean you have to ignore their appearance or suppress your delight in their cuteness, as the author describes doing. Girls need FEEDBACK (not just empty praise) from the world about their appearance.   They need to learn how to exist in a world of appearances, and understand what it means that appearance has an impact on the impression we make on other people. We need to help girls with that. If YOU don’t give girls feedback on their appearance, the only message they will get about appearance and their bodies will come from the media. And we all know and agree that the message from the media about bodies is distorted, unrealistic and narrow at best- it spreads a very limited conception of beauty and overemphasizes thinness.  

Teach girls how the inside and the outside connect, how the contents of their hearts show on their faces, how they have creative choices to express inner qualities on the outside. Show them that bodies come in different shapes and sizes, and beauty has a wide range of aesthetic expression….not just mascara, and boob jobs, and botoxed faces.

How do you do that? The very enthusiasm that the author suppresses is a good starting point for reclaiming our delight in appearance- for some reason when it comes to kids, we can easily take joy in their appearance regardless of shape, size, color, or look! Why is it that we gradually lose this natural ability, and instead turn to intense criticism of our bodies and appearances.

Also, don’t make appearances a taboo topic.  TALK to girls about their bodies and you will tap into the deepest of their emotions and fears.  Little girls will tell you many things about themselves, but they will be afraid to open up about their bodies. Why? If we can’t talk to them about their bodies, why should we expect them to talk to us about it?

Little girls should feel good about themselves inside and out.  Probably, most people, including the author, would agree with that.  

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Amanda June 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm

This has been my approach with little girls for sometime now, and it is amazing how they are much more relaxed when you are not talking about their looks. Little girls don’t “get” the whole appearance thing, but they feel like they should, and once someone points it out it can be quite unsettling.

The hard thing is, now that I have my own daughter, is how to help others talk to my girl in this way? With out being controlling and uptight that is….
So far the only thing we can think of is whenever someone comments on our girl’s cuteness, prettiness, etc…we try to reply with something like “and she is really ______ (smart, generous, funny, nice, brave, etc…) too!” Mostly we just get weird looks in return. Oh well….

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Repe June 11, 2013 at 1:38 am

I have 2 daughters. One 8, one 5 months. I tell my 8 year old that she is beautiful, daily. But, what I also say is, that her heart makes her shine. Her personality is what makes her beauty pop. I tell her she is smart and friendly. I tell her that her sense of style and self is so strong and that she should always stay true to what makes her smile that wonderful smile of hers, because she needs to love herself before she can fully love anyone else. She knows the difference between a pretty face and a pretty soul. It’s okay to tell a little girl who looks adorable that they are so, just so long as it doesn’t stop there.

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Nilufer Soucek June 11, 2013 at 6:54 am

Wonderful article. Our daughter attends an international school, studying French (she’s 4). I’m very proud of her accomplishments and try to engage her in deep, educational conversation all the time. Once, a friend of mine mentioned how “pretty” she was and I intentionally threw out “smart and creative” as well. This can be a hard thing to navigate, but it’s definitely worth it!

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Eva Harp June 11, 2013 at 11:52 am

I love your point. I haven’t read you book, yet.
I taught teen girls for several years. I tried my hardest to steer them toward deep development of character. However it starts at home whatever mom and dad do and say. That is who that little lady will be.

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Melissa June 11, 2013 at 11:58 am

Some of the comments here are really telling. How often do we say “young man, remember that you are attractive on the inside no matter what.”? We don’t. It almost sounds silly. I think a lot of folks are missing the overall point that beauty is meaningless. Beauty is an opinion and it can be different for everyone. What does beauty mean to you? What are you really trying to tell a girl when you say she has a beautiful heart? That her arteries are clear and shiny? No! You are saying “you have value to me!” The author is offering up some alternative ways of saying that. Some people are not pretty. I count myself among them and no, I really don’t care. I keep clean and healthy but I rely on my personality to set me apart and I find value in my relationships and accomplishments. Why do we as a society feel so compelled to tell women that they are attractive no matter what? It’s silly! You are unique, valuable and irreplaceable no matter what but “beauty” is an empty word. Don’t use it interchangeably with “loved” or “valued” because it puts too much weight on such a silly notion as “you are acceptable on your outsides.” And especially for the conservative Christian women acting like this is how it should be, please remember “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” Proverbs 31:30

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Devora Mason June 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I don’t think that noticing, commenting or having beauty is offensive or condescending in and of itself. If I understand correctly, the main problem you seem to be addressing is that most of the beauty that exists today in America is unnatural, unsustainable and causes feelings of inferiority and ugliness when one can’t keep up with it.
I feel that in Israel, where I live, there are so many types of beauty both natural and tweaked that a woman can really feel comfortable dressing and primping herself as she sees fit without negating her overall worth as a person.
I love the conversation you had with that little girl but it should still be okay to fluff her dress and spin around all the while telling her how cute she is. My mother always told us we were beautiful and she meant it, even when we suffered from extreme fashion and beauty faux pas.
Nice piece.

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Devora Mason June 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I don’t think that noticing, commenting or having beauty is offensive or condescending in and of itself. If I understand correctly, the main problem you seem to be addressing is that most of the beauty that exists today in America is unnatural, unsustainable and causes feelings of inferiority and ugliness when one can’t keep up with it.
I love the conversation you had with that little girl but it should still be okay to fluff her dress and spin around all the while telling her how cute she is. My mother always told us we were beautiful and she meant it, even when we suffered from extreme fashion and beauty faux pas.
Nice piece.

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Leanne June 11, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I partly agree with this article: that there is too great an emphasis on physical appearance and physical perfection in our western culture. However I don’t think that focussing on a child’s intelligence and achievements solves the problem. A child who gets their identity from achievement can suffer HUGE pitfalls, just like the child whose identity is in their appearance. How do they handle failure? What if they are not ‘the best’? A child needs to know they are UNCONDITIONALLY loved, respected, thought of as beautiful, precious and a treasured child – not that they need to be able to look good or read well or be intelligent to succeed and please people they look to for affirmation.

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Cam June 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm

This is so true too. It troubles me that in society today people think intelligence and success are what we need to value. Not everyone has a high iq, not everyone has the capability to be super successful. What everyone does have the capability to do is develop a strong character. Anyone, even someone with a learning disorder, someone with down syndrome, etc, is capable of having a strong character. It is character traits- kindness, love, acceptance, compassion, that should be the top of our list of what we should encourage our youth to have…not “intelligence” or “good looks.” I know i beat myself up a lot because I get stressed with only a few things on my plate, and i compare myself to others, people like CEOs who have a billion things on their plate at all times and seem to be fine.

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Maria June 12, 2013 at 2:06 am

You presume there is a causal link between parents/adults telling children they’re beautiful and the risk of developing body image issues. I think this is simplistic and I’m not at all convinced it’s accurate. Besides your lack of empirical evidence, from my own experience I had disordered eating behaviours for years when I was younger and I can tell you categorically it wasn’t because my parents told me I was beautiful too much; on the contrary!

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mrp55 June 12, 2013 at 2:19 am

When my now 22 year-old daughter asked, at the age of 5, what a “diet” was I told her it was the food we eat to keep our bodies healthy and to keep it running so we had enough energy to do what we wanted. I then proceeded to tell the director of the preschool she attended to instruct the college students who volunteered to NOT discuss their diets and body issues in front of the children.

I never talked about my weight in front of my children. I served healthy foods, did not deny snacks or make food a reward. They both are now 21 and 22 years of age and do not obsess about diet and/or food. They both know what they should eat–and not. They do not obsess about their weight, they exercise and take care of themselves. And, yes, they do eat fast-food when they want– but not to excess.

Children learn from the examples set by their parents. They eat the food that is prepared for them. The learn to eat food that is not that great for them in moderation.

They–boys and girls– I have one of each need to learn they are not judged on appearance and/or weight. They have many more attributes.

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Lisa Reinsch-Johnson June 12, 2013 at 3:40 am

Thank you for the inspirational post. I used it as a jumping board for my own here http://lisa.voidcast.ca/?p=28024

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Sandy Ryan June 12, 2013 at 7:18 am

My daughter is a celebrity but anyone who speaks with her more than 5 minutes sees that there is a lot more to her. She is smart, intuitive, principled and witty. I raised her praising her virtues, her intellect and placed a higher value on who she was rather than what she looked like. All little girls must be told they are pretty but not any more than they are told they are smart, kind, strong, imaginative, patient, giving, or whatever virtue or strength reveals itself. Until Hollywood stops flaunting anorexic, face painted, young girls with tight or short clothing being rude to adults, parents are fighting an uphill battle.

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Hilary June 12, 2013 at 8:28 am

What I take away from this article is a more general comment that we should always treat all children as individuals and be interested in finding out about them – their interests and what they care about – and not just assume we know what they’re like because they’re children. Which come to think of it is true of adults too, it’s just that we are less likely to lump all adults together and assume we know what they’re like (although often we do pigeon-hole them to do with their appearance).

I tell both my boys (6 and 4) that they are gorgeous, and so won’t avoid doing so with my baby girl … but I hope that, as with my boys, we will spend far more time talking about the imaginary games they play.

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John June 12, 2013 at 10:47 am

Yeah, looking at the picture it would seem obvious that the kids mom went to a lot of trouble to make her look cute. So what kind of comments does she think people will think of first. Oh she looks very intelligent I wonder what books she reads. No I don’t think moms should dress their girls like boys but let’s face the fact that this is complicated.

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Tim June 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I recently met the 5-year-old daughter of one of my wife’s co-workers when they had us over for dinner. I was warned that she was shy, so not to expect her to talk much with us strangers. When we arrived, she was playing with her LEGO toys, so I started looking at what she was building and asking her questions. When she learned that I have a large collection myself, work part-time at a LEGO Store, and knew all about the sets she had, she warmed up to me pretty quickly. Soon she was digging out her pile of instruction booklets to show off how many sets she owned.

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anna June 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Great article. I think every part is needed…I have 3 girls and a boy, all grown up now. I have always told them they were gorgeous and I have always had discussions on all different topics, listening to their ideas. They have never had any “look-issues” and always felt comfortable whatever the situation. You should tell your kids that they are beautiful, but it shouldn’t be gender or look-specific, just basic. Don’t chuck one for the other. A daughter loves hearing her father say that she is beautiful, she will feel it forever in her heart and that matters.

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Beeseer June 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm

If I may, I’d like to build on this premise. We should STOP giving our little girls baby dolls to feed and take care of. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Cam June 18, 2013 at 6:37 pm

I love love LOVE baby dolls, but have absolutely no desire to have a child. I am in my late 20s and all my friends think it is weird that I am so obsessed with baby dolls. I think it is weird that they want to reproduce.

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Joan Cook June 12, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Thank you for your post. As a mom of a daughter, age 19, I can tell you that the trend to find your self worth in your looks is born at an early age. However, my daughter is strong and conversant and sometimes a pain in the ass. She does get down on herself for her weight 5’7″ and 170 lbs, but she is beautiful both inside and out and I couldn’t be more proud. At 48, as a recently divorced stay at home mom, I went back to school to get a business degree (graduated in 2011 -Thank You very much :)) and showed my kids that it isn’t only important to get an education but to use your brain to take care of yourself. I am constantly challenged to maintain a youthful appearance in order to maintain my place in a 20 something world where I now work and play. It’s wise to give kids a balanced perspective. Our inner self that is reflected in our outward appearance, is displayed, not for accolades, but to allow their self love to shine through.

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Cynthia Killian Woodruff June 12, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I understand what you’re saying and I think the statistics you quoted were probably right, but I would have loved for you to comment on how nice I looked too, because I always had on my sister’s hand-me-downs and everyone had already seen them. I feel like the issue you’re saying is more fault with the parents than with a stranger.

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Rob June 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm

As a father of a 5 year old girl, I take very seriously the problems of self esteem, peer pressure and sexualization of girls. I applaud the author for her intent, but I think there is an inherent problem being created by the ‘solution’.
Ignoring the idea of ‘beauty’ is problematic. On paper, it seems wonderful to compliment girls on what they read and their accomplishments in school or activities, but what message are we sending when we never tell them that they are beautiful? I would think that promoting this would actually increase the issue of self esteem – Imagine you’re the little girl who is told how interesting you are and how smart and how wonderfully you did on that math test, but is never told she is beautiful. I would think that after a while, she might think that she isn’t beautiful.

Like most topics, everything in moderation seems to be the best choice. I have no issue with anyone telling my daughter how beautiful she is, or how nice her dress looks, or how cute her hair is. Because its true. And she needs to hear that.

Having said that, the compliments need to have a follow up – life can’t just be about looks of course. We tell our daughter constantly how even though she looks beautiful, that isn’t very important – what is important is that she get good grades and learn new things all the time. Its important to give back to the world and to those who are in need.

We’ve also discussed, many times, that some kids in her class may not have nice clothes, and that if the other kids make fun of them that she should always stick up for the kid, because clothes aren’t important, being a good friend and a kind person is. She knows to not make fun of someone if the look different or ‘ugly’ as conventional beauty goes.

Girls need to understand beauty, not be sheltered from our fear of it. They need to know that they are beautiful, and that beauty takes many, many forms. They need to realize that the ten year old battling leukemia who has no hair IS beautiful, more than just because of the battle they’re fighting, and more than just because we think they should hear it, but simply because they are.

Yes, our girls need to get away from society’s beauty norms (as if they are ‘normal ‘at all) but they ALL should be told that they ARE beautiful. Every day. Along with being told that they are smart, and funny, and good. Because most of the kids I’ve met are.

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Ms. Wendy June 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I am a Preschool teacher and this article made me very excited. I am implementing this plan today!

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Kathleen June 12, 2013 at 11:32 pm

it never ever occurs to me to address any child with a comment about their appearance. Unless I know them well and want to compliment their choice of attire. As a child people seemed to think it was their right to comment loudly on my appearance, they kept that up, actually, until I made it clear it was not okay.
I really think all kids should be taught to instruct rude people who want to comment on their appearance with a terse- my body is none of your business, or something equivalent.

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Jim June 13, 2013 at 1:58 am

My 3rd grade–now 4th grade I imagine, granddaughter was visiting for the first time since January when she and her parents and brother moved out of state. I made oatmeal for her and unlike the other grandkids, she said she liked it and we discussed the small dash of cinnamon I had put in it. As she talked, she seemed so much older in the 5 months since she left and, golly, she was beautiful. I searched for a way to tell her this, but something held me back. Our conversation was about breakfast and other things and that made me realize, as it was happening, that her beauty in my mind was something I didn’t need to share.
Thanks for opening my eyes to see that I did something good! I will continue as I have 8 other granddaughters below the age of 18.

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Heather June 13, 2013 at 1:58 am

When I was a kid my mom decided she didn’t want to ever compliment my appearance, maybe for the same reasons as you, or maybe because she thought it would make me conceited. My mother never once told me I was beautiful. I grew up believing I was ugly. When I was in high school I realized there are some very surefire ways to make boys think I was attractive. I had a lot of trouble because of that.

My point: a girl shouldn’t think beauty is her main asset, but my goodness, use some balance.

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Olivia June 13, 2013 at 3:35 am

I have a 2 year old and have struggled with knowing if its okay to call her beautiful and cute or if I should curb my natural impulses because it is VERY important to me that she doesn’t think her value is in her physical appearance. I have decided a balance is best. She is pretty, she naturally loves all things sparkles but also obsesses over animals and loves playing with matchbox cars. As destructive as it may be for her to think being pretty is the most important thing about her it would also be destructive if her mom never told her she is pretty in a world that is telling her looks are very important. She will just grow to feel she is must not be and become all the more obsessed with the looks she doesn’t have. My mom always told me I was pretty in such a casual and free way I just decided I was so it was never something I had to worry about. It wasn’t until I hit my twenties that it even occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t really as attractive as I had always thought. But by then it was kind of a funny revelation to me. Through all of this though, knowing I was pretty, my mom telling me was, and not even worrying about it, I knew my strength and the one thing that made me special was my intelligence (which also turns out was a little overblown, but again, oh well). Somehow she made it to where I knew I was pretty but it was after thought, but it was my intellect, my wit, my superior logic that I needed to compete to maintain. I love make up and clothes and hair and shopping, but my intelligence is what I am proud of. My intelligence is what I work and fight for. And that is what I want for my toddler. Not necessarily her intelligence, but whether it is her integrity or athleticism or her empathy, or her passion, I want her to find her value there, but never worry about her looks, because that is just a given.

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Monica June 13, 2013 at 3:47 am

I love the post. I only wish the ad for “Pink Princess.com Weekly Deals on Children’s Fashion” didn’t pop up in the side bar. I know the author has no control over this, but it is illustrative of the magnitude of the beauty industrial complex and its pervasiveness in culture.

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Jenny June 13, 2013 at 6:08 am

I know this post is a thousand years old and I can’t even remember how or why I found it but you’re right. Letting little girls believe that how they look is the first and foremost thing we notice about them is very dangerous. And so also dangerous is the converse for the sister of the girl who is passed over for praise in the face of the sister with long eyelashes and prettier hair. Girls are a delicate balance. To never tell them they’re pretty can damage them just as much as overtelling them.

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Sanchari June 13, 2013 at 6:10 am

Consistent and conscious efforts like this can drill right values and sensitiveness in young minds. Kudos. Am touched.

Sanchari

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Tracey June 13, 2013 at 6:57 am

Ever since my daughters were small, each day I would ask the to tell me’ their truth’, and they would recite, ” I am smart, beautiful, talented, and very, very loved”. I very carefully chose those words and their order, and the only change I would make to is to add loved first, so that they know that is true, even when they feel that the others aren’t. I think it is so important that they say these words to themselves each day to so as to positively affirm themselves, because their opinion of themselves is what should be the most significant.

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Holly Jean June 13, 2013 at 4:24 pm

As someone raised in a household following your suggested standard, I am still extremely uncomfortable with anyone discussing my looks. It has become a social problem for me, since I can accept praises of my intelligence (I am a veterinarian with an IQ around 150), my contributions, my children and their awesome good behaviour, my husband’s contributions, or just about anything else. The moment someone tries to tell me I look nice, I get flustered and have to leave the conversation. I mean physically leave the room.

The fact is, I am very attractive, and my family did their best never to recognize that fact. The message then came across that good looks were worrisome, in need of avoidance, something never to be spoken about. My sister was in graduate school (for Chemical Engineering) before she decided to do anything towards her appearance… soon after, she called me, crying and said “I always scripted you as the pretty, dumb one of us, and myself as the ugly smart one. Now I realize that I am pretty, too, and you are smart! I’m so sorry for not wanting anything to do with you!”

Now, some 12 years later, we have a reasonably good relationship, my sister can enjoy her intelligence and still enjoy looking good, and I don’t know for certain how it was that she decided I was stupid…. unless you consider that whatever message a family gives, society will still give their message. The two cannot completely conflict, or the kids will have to select one message and reject the other. She must have accepted the message (from somewhere – definitely not from our family) that you can’t be pretty and smart at the same time. Or perhaps that siblings have to fit general categories where they have life-scripts based on their strongest characteristics. Somewhere, pretty became a bad, dumb thing for her, despite my obvious talents and intelligence.

There are more than social graces to be lost in this. Nobody taught me how to recognize situations in which my looks would create jealousy or discord. Going to work, I often had to have one woman or another take me aside and explain that a coworker’s confusing behaviour stemmed from jealousy of my youth or looks. I could recognize a person upset with my productivity, or that I had just impressed a manager, but people who wanted to belittle me so they could be the best looking woman in the room made no sense to me. This was confusing and set me up for failure, or more often mockery, in some of my summer jobs during college. There were a few times it affected me in a classroom, too.

I work hard to provide a more balanced message for my own two daughters (four and 8 months)… and my only contribution I hope to make here is to promote moderation. Rejecting the reality that your looks *are* the first thing people notice, and then ignoring a valid part of who people are – how they are perceived – can send more messages than you might at first consider.

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Cam June 18, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Either I am really ugly, or the discord created by your looks has a lot more to do with your personality than your actual looks. I have never in my life been hated for the way i look nor have i ever seen anyone who has been hated for the way they look, and I live in LA, i know a TON of “pretty” people. People do not hate each other unless the hated person has given them a reason to do so. From what I see in your writing, you seem incredibly vain. That is probably what created discord, not your physical appearance. The bragging about your intelligence, the bragging about your looks as if your “beauty” was an absolute truth. Your saying that you are incredibly good looking even though in your youth, no one ever told you that…if no one told you that then how do you know it is true? You are just assuming. Plenty of unattractive people think they are good looking, and those kinds of people are easy to hate. people with a realistic view on themselves and a little modesty, are not.

Also, you have a major flaw in your thinking. Lets pretend for a second we live in bizarro world (which you seem to live in) and people really DO hate you SOLELY for your physical appearance. Why do you think this is? Is it not because they were from childhood told that looks MATTERED? If they were not told this, then they wouldn’t be jealous of someone for their looks. Therefore, that makes it even MORE important that we teach our children that physical appearance is meaningless. In this bizarro world where people hate each other SOLELY for their looks, it is even MORE important to teach our daughters that looks are not something of value, than it is in the real world.

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BillD June 13, 2013 at 6:01 pm

In the animal kingdom looks , smells prowess get mates . What percentge of women will have children now?
What percentage of those women who have children will have a normal labour and delivery?
What percentage will have a Caesarean Section ? In Upper Manhattan ? 30-40% ? In upper Amazon ? none .
Why the difference ? Has the animal changed??

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Jean Barish June 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Thanks, Lisa, for reminding us that little girls are not playthings to be admired and cooed over. It’s all about the Golden Rule. Treat young ones the way we’d like to be treated.

They’re not small adults, but they are thinking, doing, feeling human beings who want to be seen and heard for who they are, not for how they look. I love spending time with little kids…they’re funny, smart, sweet, and oh, so curious. Let’s treat them with the kindness and respect we’d like to be treated with, and they’ll grow up to be wonderful adults.

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Megan June 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Yes! Thank you for writing this. I do the same thing with little girls for the same reasons you did; plus it’s certainly far more interesting to discuss what’s in their heads than what they’re wearing. Sometimes the parents (usually the mom, sad to say) make dodging the topic of looks difficult because they will prompt you: “Julie got a new dress today–isn’t it cute?” Kudos to all who avoid the easy, socially prevalent way of talking to girls and make the effort to follow your example.

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The Curvy Socialite June 14, 2013 at 1:47 am

I applaud you for taking that direction with little Maya. You’re right so many of us from an early age are taught to put beauty before brains. And even those of us blessed with both tend to forgo our intelligence in order for others to think we’re pretty. It’s a sad truth. But it is the teachings of women like you who can teach us to see where the shift needs to be made. I’m not saying to leave fashion and beauty by the wayside (people like me would be out of a job if that happened) but I am saying that the value of education should be lauded too.

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monica6269 June 14, 2013 at 4:08 am

I hate it when I notice one detail then discount the whole article.

Hey.
Purplicious?

A 5 year old would have an awful hard time reading all the words in that book. Sure, it’s a great book to read out loud to a 4-7 year old …. but look at the title. Use of the “icious” should indicate the level of reading in this particular tale.

Yes. Your message is good.
The age of the girl and the title of the book she read “word for word” feels like fiction.

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julie June 20, 2013 at 9:22 am

Not if it was a favourite book – my two-year old recites certain books off by heart and completely word-for-word. If Purplicious was the child’s favourite book at the time then why wouldn’t she have learnt all the trickier words?

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Lila July 9, 2013 at 12:36 am

I read the Lord of the Rings at the age of 5. Plenty of my peers were reading well above age level (though not necessarily LOTR) and could have handled something like Purpalicious with relative ease, especially after a few readings, as a favourite book.

As a general comment, I have no problem with this article. It’s just a little banal. And the straw man it sets up at the beginning is tiresome – “I could have done this silly thing, but instead I was awesomely ideologically sound!” I don’t know any thoughtful person who would have even considered ‘squealing’ about how gorgeous the girl was or asking her to model her dress. If that’s your first impulse, which then requires ‘squelching’ and a self-congratulatory pat on the back, I think that’s pretty unfortunate in itself. It certainly doesn’t inspire me to read the book if this is the sort of basis the discussion proceeds from.

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Lesley Blake June 14, 2013 at 6:29 am

I am SO very happy to hear that an attorney mom turned out a happy well adjusted and successful daughter !! My gorgeous girl is 11 and I simply refuse to get involved in all the “you’re so gorgeous and dress this way” talk. I hate the way my daughter’s straightforwardness and keenness to read gets spoken about as a massive achievement. If we all related to our children as people it would be normal. I’m not so sure I want her to be an attorney too but I can think of LOTS worse things to be…. Bless you !

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Rhoda June 14, 2013 at 8:53 am

Hmm, this can work the other way round though. I was a terribly ugly child (no I was, really) but I learned to read and write at 3, before my memories even start. So I spent my whole childhood listening to people saying that other kids were cute and pretty and then they’d say to my mum “erm, and Rhoda’s very clever isn’t she?” I knew I was a horrible looking child, and nobody bothered correcting me. My life changed when I was about nine and I overheard a friend’s mum saying “oh I think Rhoda will surprise us – she’ll grow up quite good looking.” And so I did, if I say so myself. And I still love Mary Hughes so much for that overheard comment, which was such a confidence boost.

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Carolien June 15, 2013 at 11:59 am

Kids often don’t give a reply on a compliment or they say “thank you” as they have learned. They are young and still are in touch with their inner self, they know the compliment is not about them, but about you. It is not a good conversation starter (untill later when you are indoctrinated with talking cows and calfs, as we say in dutch). You want to talk to a kid? Ask them a true question. Don’t skip them when people are introduced etc. They look suprised at first, but then they will love it. :) As most adults do, allthough they tend to be shocked about personal questions a bit longer. ;) I say, change the girl in this article, into kids and people in general. :D

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Kate June 15, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Just shared this after realizing you nailed it, Lisa Bloom. Excellently said, and btw Lisa, you’ve become a role model for this middle-aged gal! Not too late to learn for any of us who grew up with the traditional way of speaking to little girls, and subsequently did the same…

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Ham June 16, 2013 at 3:23 am

As a kid I was always complimented on my sporting ability. Destroyed me! How I wish they had complimented me on my ability to converse or my interest in astronomy. How I cope now I do not know. I fully understand how complimenting a child on their clothing or how they hae taken pride in her appearance means this is all they will focus on in adulthood. Poor wee critters. STOP complimenting on this before it’s too late.

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Sarah June 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Thank you for this article. I am currently going to school to become a teacher and am working more and more these days with little girls of all ages. I so appreciate the reminder, and will let you know how my next conversation goes.

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musicman495 June 17, 2013 at 4:26 am

This post reminds me of a feminist author I once saw on television back in the 70′s who explained that one of the proofs of America’s patriarchal society and our inappropriate fixation on gender was the fact that the first thing everyone asks when a new baby is born is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Now there were many things that were wrong with American society in terms of the treatment of, and opportunities for women back then, but I dare say that asking, “Is it a boy or a girl?” when a baby was born was fairly low on any list.

At the risk of being the skunk at this “love in,” I think Ms. Bloom has made much the same mountain out of much the same molehill. The obsession with looks and dieting and cosmetic surgery in younger and younger women is real, and the obsession with things like beauty pageants and the Disney Princess consumer culture is unquestionably damaging. But to me, trying to trace these problems back to telling a child she look pretty in her new dress trivializes the matter. In fact, after talking to many adult women, I have been told over and over again that, as a father, telling my own young daughter how much I admire her looks – just as much as I admire her achievement at school and at ballet class – is critically important to her self acceptance and appropriate expectations vis a vis men. In fact, I would worry that any child – boy or girl – who had made a special effort to look nice for a special occasion and was NOT told by adults that he or she looked nice, or a child who was NEVER complimented on her looks, would wonder what was wrong with her looks, or whether she was ugly.

I do not intend to stop complimenting the children in my life, or telling them I love them just the way they are. I do not believe compliments equal an obsessive focus on appearance. I am fairly confident I know the difference.

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Mr. Bee July 12, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I think you totally missed the point here. It’s not that you shouldn’t tell a girl she is beautiful, it’s that you shouldn’t always reach for that or have it be the first thing you say. You also don’t deal with the reverse of your own argument, which is that people don’t tell little boys that they look beautiful or pretty. You’re a dude, so it’s understandable that you are caught up with physical appearances and so forth, but you might want to stop being “right” and start thinking about other points of view. Break out of your own gender stereotype and let in the possibility that you don’t have all the answers.

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Jennifer June 17, 2013 at 11:33 am

I think the article covers a great many things that aren’t being said. But the photo threw me off. The author starts off with an anecdote describing her friend’s child as “all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes.” Yet the photo is clearly of a child with blue eyes and straight hair. I know photo it is not of that particular child, and is just a photo of a little girl to represent all the little girls that the article is speaking about (and indirectly to). It would be nice to have seen a girl with curly hair and dark eyes as oppose to one with typical features.

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Cam June 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I love the message in this article, but am disturbed at the bio photo next to it. You, glammed up with a ton of makeup, a sparkly low cut top, breasts either pushed up or photoshopped to stand out, portraying the archetypal image of female beauty, the same image that young girls are fed so much that they develop low self esteem, eating disorders, an obsession with makeup products, plastic surgery, etc.

What is wrong with having a normal photo with light makeup and comfortable clothing? Especially when it is to be paired up with this kind of article. If you want to play dress up, great, do it in another context. Doing it in this context seems to invalidate the point you are trying to make.

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Simon Bossell June 18, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Why restrict it to little girls? Same goes with boys and sport and growing up to be a knob who treats women badly… Just sayin

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Kuli June 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

This is a very lovely article. I mean, I’m still going to compliment kids (girls or boys) on their cuteness and their beautiful, or cool or practical clothes. But I am totally down with talking about their interests and deeper things. I think we can do one without necessarily excluding the other. Complimenting a boy/girl on their lovely/cool/unique outfit/hair etc is okay, I think. Just keep it appropriate. There’s a reason we all look and dress differently. It keeps things interesting. We admire beauty in nature. We’re a part of nature. We should be able to see and admire the beauty in and out of everybody and view appearance in a healthy and positive way. I guess that’s harder to do than just ignoring appearance completely, but I think that’s just being in denial.

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danelle June 21, 2013 at 4:18 am

absolutely amazing! having a 15 month old little girl….this hit home. Perfectly said!

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Phyllis July 4, 2013 at 5:32 am

I am a very average looking women who was blessed with a boy and a girl. I never emphasized appearance, didn’t actually think about it too much. I was too busy working in a field I loved and trying to complete my education as a chemist both before and during the years I raised children. When the children were young I would read to them every night together and they would choose the book. We had scores of children’s books, but they always wanted “the fish book”, a college text on chordate morphology (and it had very few pictures). My daughter turned into a very beautiful woman with an enviable figure that developed quite early; but as a teen, she constantly lamented the fact that it was not a “teenager” figure so she would never have a date, get married, have children and so on. I reassured her constantly that she looked fine and would do fine. She is also very bright and in time she learned that she being beautiful was not enough, and at 35 she is in college and raising 2 kids and working. She tells me she is already telling her kids (both boys) to get thier education early, and she would be doing the same if she had girls.

I think that some personalities just focus more on the appearance thing even if nobody around them is emphasizing appearance. If you have one of those children, when they start really worrying about it, you have to emphasize that however they look is good enough, and encourage them in other enrichment activities.

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OddNina July 4, 2013 at 5:35 am

Thank you so much for sharing this extraordinary point of view. I read a few comments and had to chuckle. I love how people still refer to the “you are a pretty cute little girlygirl!” as necessary and I also think being told that you are pretty is important, but not because it is for the kid itself, but for her needs to fit in society. Its hard to be different and not to hear “Oh you are so pretty” is hard on anyones self esteem but the point you made is far more important! The looks are the easiest to control, how intelligent you are is not. Beautiful smart Women are rare but very important. If it comes to the looks some of us are not as blessed to be able to see individual beauty as it is. They compare everything to the model standards that the media keeps holding in front of everyones face.
If the intelligent kind of humans would start to equal out the intelligence vs beauty thing the world would slowly start to get better. Intelligent people discuss Ideas, dumb ones discuss people.

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Amy July 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm

The first thing that I noticed after reading this fantastic article is that there is a photo of a woman with her cleavage out, wearing an almost sultry expression, with her arms in a “power” pose to the immediate right of the article. Huh. I thought I knew what your overall message was after reading the article but the photo has left me confused.

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Leanne C July 4, 2013 at 1:36 pm

What a wonderful post! Thank you for this :)

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Job July 5, 2013 at 1:34 pm

You know what angers me!? 3-6 year old have body image problems because they DO have issues with being over weight! 1 in 3 North American girls are fat! Stop feeding your kids lazy-mom food like Krapdinner, Mc Donald’s, and then plunking them down with snacks and tv all day!! Get active with your kids, feed the wholesome foods and then see what happens to body image statistics!

I agree that the beauty industry is ridiculous. I agree that the wrong emphasis is placed on children at too young of an age… But my goodness people, give them a fighting chance!!

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Ida July 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Gah! Love it!!!

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Diana Wright July 5, 2013 at 5:47 pm

The author is right, in theory.

But it would have been so wonderful if either of my parents had ever told me I was pretty. I am extremely pretty when I look at myself in the old photographs, and other people told me so, but my parent — never.

The constant emphasis on “higher values” can be awfully wounding.

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Joel July 6, 2013 at 12:42 am

I agree with the direction of the article, but telling someone they look pretty is hardly the reason for people’s over-infatuation with it. I’d say its when people tell you how you should look that develops the problems, not when you tell someone they actually ARE pretty….

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Karen Crisalli Winter July 6, 2013 at 8:59 am

I have mixed feelings about this. In my middle school, there was a group of guys who thought it would be amusing to walk around and ask all the girls “Do you think you’re pretty?”. I was the only one in the whole school who said “yes.” For this expression of self-confidence, I was severely criticized by both the boys AND the girls. Because, apparently, I had broken the social rule that all girls must believe themselves to be ugly. Go figure. I had no idea that social rule existed. And once “enlightened”, had absolutely no interest in following that social rule. Irrational and destructive social rules have never had much appeal to me.

So yes, I tell my daughter she is pretty. I tell her she is beautiful when she is dressed up and I tell her she is beautiful when she is covered in mud. Her beauty is something that is part of her, not her clothing. And yes, I admire my son’s appearance as well. Because he is also a cute kid, and because boys develop body dysmorphia too.

But I also talk about other things too.

“What are you reading?” is a great opening….if you are talking to a kid who is a good reader and proud of their skills.

But please be aware that kids who struggle with reading often carry a great deal of shame about the subject. This innocent comment can be pretty hurtful, because it presumes that the child has a good relationship with the printed word. A sensitive poor reader can easily interpret such an innocent comment as “All ‘real’ people can read, so you must be able to read. Oh? You can’t? I guess I was wrong about you being important. You’re just dumb and not really worth my time.”

If you don’t know the child well, ask more open-ended questions.

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Marie Alsbergas July 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Yes, that few minutes of reading may make a huge difference to her. Let me tell you about Angela, whom I only met once. 30-some years ago, I went with my then boyfriend to visit his brother’s girlfriend’s family. (Did you follow all that?) Angela was a tiny, silent 2 year old girl. Her father had died before she was born, and her mother had just reconnected with her own HS sweetheart, my bf’s brother. I brought her a tiny book, a pocket sized edition of “Angela’s Airplane” by Robert Munsch. After reading it to her, she stayed in my lap until bedtime. She never spoke, but with gestures asked me to read the story over and over again. Fast forward 25 years, across break ups, marriages, divorces, children to reconnect with the brothers. Angela is a navy test pilot now. What you read to a child CAN make a difference in their lives.

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Aladine Vargas July 6, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Short winded response:
Why can you not do both? Be ecstatic over her cuteness and then engage her intellectually? Why is it one or the other?

_______________________________________________

Long winded response :)
I like the intention of the article — but I have no faith in it’s ideal.

So now showing a little girl an explosive, sincere, genuine moment of joy and affection ignited in our hearts because she simply radiates cuteness or beauty — is destroying her self image and future potential?

So are we now to suppress our first impressions and therefore lie? Are we to promote our second impression to seem to be our first? So our relationship is built on suppression, lies, deceits, flattery and is cultivated from an intellectually dishonest position? Sad. so sad.

To put such a light under a basket so the community – but more importantly the little girl herself doesn’t see it — is simply wrong. Especially when it’s motivated by some strange feminist ideal or out of fear.

Should we ONLY appreciate the ‘looks’ of a person — especially girls? Of course not.

Yet are we merely cerebral creatures? Or are we both physical and mental beings? Both our physically and mental person serve it’s own unique function and have there own unique influence. So why not appreciate the whole person? Appreciate them with both demonstrations of passion and intellectual curiosity?

To gush over a cute child is not a social construct but one designed by nature. It’s called Pedomorphism aka the science of cuteness.

Regarding the girls growing up with eating disorders and self image problems. I’ve read a studying showing the effects on a girl’s self-image will often manifest in eating disorders when fathers are not present and / or when the girls don’t have a consist meal time with their family.

The lack of an affectionate father and regular family meal times together contributes far more to the destruction of a girl’s self-image and future potential then society declaring her beautiful

I always say to Sophia and now to my son Solomon — in a loud and passionate voice — SOPHIA!!! WHY WHY — are you so beautiful and so gorgeous? and so smart and so wise? Why are you so amazing??? — she will almost always answer one of two ways:

— Because, I am, Daddy.
— Because, you love me.

Fathers and friends love these little girls — love them fully. Put away silly grown up isms and skisms and just love the whole little being.

Love their looks as well as their thoughts and love their thoughts as well as their looks.

Let us not hold back anything! Let us express our love and appreciation for the children under our influence — with our facial expressions, our body language and our honest and genuine curiosity into who they are both physically and mentally.

Let our little girls grow up to be intelligent, self-aware, independent thinking women with minds as bright as the sun and who’s physical stature is as radiate and as beautiful as the lilies of the field.

Let her be whole — and let us love her for it.

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John Lee July 7, 2013 at 4:19 am

A friend on Facebook sent me this link. As I read this, I found myself smiling and nodding my head the whole time. Thank you for writing this. Consider me subscribed.

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Faria Madhumita July 7, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Amazing! I have a 5-year old niece and these are exactly the same thoughts that come to my mind when I am with her. She is obsessed with fairy tales, princesses and girly games like dress-up games. Lately she started to tell people her name is Pinky. Hehe. Thanks for the idea about the green color. From now on, I will tell her my favourite color is green. I simply loved your writing. Perfectly Neat!

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Lily S July 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I have/everyone has been telling my little cousin how beautiful she is since she was a baby, and 10 years later she’s obsessed with makeup and her looks. I’m much more careful with my niece, and I try to emphasize how smart/clever she is.

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Mary July 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for this great article. I have a 12 year old daughter who is very quickly becoming a woman. Recently I notice that all ages of men look at her which is rather disturbing. She seems clueless so far but I wonder how long that will last. Also I had a friend ask me in front of her, “what are you going to do when a modeling agency approaches you about her? Because you know they will. She’s so beautiful.” That was awkward. She was complementing her but it just felt wrong. I have just completed a documentary film about mother/artists called “Lost In Living.” You might find it interesting. The website: http://www.maandpafilms.com/lostinliving. Thanks!

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Rufus McBoofus July 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm

I have but one surefire icebreaker question that I ask all kids – boys and girls – when I first meet them: “Do you like Spongebob?”

Never fails to start a conversation one way or another…

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W. Donnelly July 8, 2013 at 6:59 pm

This is excellent. I don’t have kids of my own, but nieces and nephews and I am always horrified at the ways we motivate and appreciate them differently. My usual approach is activity-based; I like encouraging my nieces when they play soccer or softball or whatever, because (just like reading or puzzles) it’s an opportunity to praise their effort and achievement. Also I like to reinforce the idea that maintaining a healthy body & active lifestyle isn’t just for the sake of looks.

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Christina July 8, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I love this article! I have two girls, ages 3 and 1. I call them many things, but mostly it’s either Pretty Girl or Smart Girl. My three year old is a goofball so she laughs every time I tell her she’s a smart little kid, but she does the same when I say she’s pretty. I have asked her, “Would you rather be pretty or smart?” and never failing, she says no to both. When I ask “Who is my pretty/smart girl?” She says “I am” or “Sister is”
I am trying to give them role models that are healthy, smart, and good people. I also try to not let them know that I am unhappy with my weight (not because of the number, but because of how unhealthy I feel)

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GualalaBarbara July 9, 2013 at 12:09 am

Grandmas are for telling their granddaughters that looks don’t last for anyone. Smart Grandmas tell them to enjoy looking good while they are young but train that brain…. that will last you a life time. Don’t depend on a man to economically get you through life… if they do, great, but you have to be prepared to be a single (or a single mom) all those years past high school graduation.
… and keep talking to them for as long as you can…. don’t you wish your Grandma would have told you the truth.

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ansb July 9, 2013 at 1:26 pm

I would tell a little boy he looks handsome and well-dressed the same way I would tell a girl she looks pretty and well-dressed. What is the big deal? I think it is equally important to praise knowledge, brains, and intellectual curiosity as it is to praise personal appearance in both boys and girls. Each are important skills for life and for self-esteem, and neither needs to be viewed in the extreme.

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Eric July 9, 2013 at 5:16 pm

As a father of a girl, I think about this a lot, and it fills me with conflict. I’ve read this article a couple of times as it’s made the rounds through my social media (people like it!).

On the one hand, I personally prefer to be valued for my contributions, my intellect, and my skills. But on the other, sometimes I want to feel pretty too. I think about my haircut, my clothes, and whether the sunglasses I bought are flattering on my face. I’m self-conscious about my extra fat and back hair, so sometimes I don’t take my shirt off at the beach (and sometimes a donut is just more satisfying than looking good at the beach). But I don’t think that’s particularly UN-healthy in small doses, and there is a clear tension and balance in life between all of those concerns (health, appearance, enjoyment, etc). The fact of society is that we *are* judged by our looks, and ultimately I want my daughter to learn 3 lessons: 1. Be conscious of your looks, because it does inform people’s opinion of you (see #3); 2. Take joy in being considered beautiful (someone will think you’re beautiful if you let them); 3. How you look is one of many expressions of who you are, not a definition of who you are (that vector should flow from you to others, not from others to you).

To that end, when I want to complement her on her appearance, I think I’ll choose to complement her choices, not her state. “Your outfit is really pretty” or “I like how you did your hair today” rather than “You’re pretty”. The underlying principle there will be to let her choose how to present herself.

That being said, I’m way more interested in talking about something other than hair and clothes. So at least at home, she should be having a lot more conversations about books and worms (if that’s what she’s into) than anything else.

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marian July 10, 2013 at 1:21 am

I don’t think it is wrong to tell a girl she is pretty or a boy he is handsome. My dad always told the world how beautiful his daughters were. However he also told me I had common sense and supported me when I went to college. My mom taught me a love for books, and many other things that brought me joy.
Most of all though I was given a foundation of who God was and I believe the most important thing we can do for our children and grandchildren is tell them that they are made in the image and likeness of our creator and that he has created them for a purpose that far outweighs anything they could even imagine on their own. I think everyone including girls need to know the purpose of why they are here. God created us to honor and serve and love Him with all of our hearts and He created us so we could reach our fullest potential whether we are a girl or a boy. I think the reason young girls are becoming so obsessed with appearance is because that is the culture they are growing up in. God has been kicked out of the classroom and out of a lot of the homes … and been replaced with media …that displays girls and women as overly sexualized images of what they are supposed to be.

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Karen July 10, 2013 at 3:06 am

Thank you for printing this as I am a true believer. I learned this technique with girls – and boys – about how “who” they are is way more important than what they look like. I took it a step farther when my daughter started dressing herself at four years old that I allowed her to pick outfits to her desire as long as it was weather appropriate (not too many layers for a hot day/thin frilly dress for a winters day). She could add as many things as she could – and I had to laugh at the reactions from other parents when my daughter at 5 and 6 showed up in a plaid skirt, striped top, polka-dotted leggings, a red/white/blue crocheted shawl and red rubber boots. Never has this person I raised had an issue with how she looks in clothing. Now – at 17 she looks almost like every other teen but she always has something that is her own, from a crazy scarf to a wild pair of earrings. Whenever I see little ones who obviously dress themselves I congratulate the parent for letting them!

On a side note – I did a body image workshop with my Girl Scout troop when they were in 6/7th grade and gave them imagery of what society/celebrities want them to look like and what real women look like. The most heartening statement came from one sweetheart who said, when pointing out a photo of happy women from a “plus size” catalog, but this is what real women look like – what’s wrong with the world?

Thank you again for posting this – I am 200+% in agreement!
Karen – Olympia, WA

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Margaret Perry July 10, 2013 at 3:52 am

Latina, I loved this article. I am always trying to say the right things to the girls and young women I babysit and tutor, but it’s a tough one. This is one question/problem that is often posed to me, as a feminist writer: “Shouldn’t we be telling girls how pretty they are MORE OFTEN to boost their self esteem?” How would you respond to that? I tell my girls I love them and they are beautiful, but we steer clear of too much “girly talk” about clothes and makeup and making out. Because it is important to them, right now, to be seen as beautiful, is it wrong for me to tell them I do think they are beautiful, but in many many ways, including physical beauty? I would really value your thoughts.

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Sharon July 10, 2013 at 6:06 am

Now it’s time for the second part, namely how to talk to little boys. I’d love to see an adult start out with something other than, “What sport do you do, Buddy?”

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Ryan July 11, 2013 at 6:42 pm

You realize that 15-18% is an incredibly small amount when you consider the diversity of our country. This number suggests that the girls wearing makeup so young is the exception rather than the norm. As for weight, our nation is getting more and more unhealthy, and obesity is on the rise at a faster rate than eating disorders. Of course I agree that women have much more to offer than beauty, but it’s not bad to take pride in your appearance, regardless of sex. If you see a young girl, let her know she is beautiful on the inside as well as out.

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Alberto July 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Thank you so much for this!!

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Elizabeth July 12, 2013 at 4:22 am

When I worked in a preschool – and somehow, didn’t expect this in Montessori – I observed that EVERY morning greeting to a girl involved a compliment to their hair or clothes. Really. And what DO we say to boys instead? I agree, that it shouldn’t be part of a first comment. Looks (or what someone splurged on for them to “look good”!) shouldn’t become the core of their identity.

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Chelle July 12, 2013 at 4:36 am

When I was about 7 or 8, I started to gain a little weight. My teacher called my parents and talked to them about it. My parents told me that I was fat and needed a diet. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I just saw me, not some fat kid.
I tell my daughter all the time that she’s beautiful. We all do. She’s also a sweet and helpful kid, very bright and curious. And we tell her that also.
It isn’t just how you say it. It’s WHAT you say.

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Alvie McKree July 12, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Great thoughts. Adults talking to young girls about something other than looks is refreshing. But it’s a little arrogant to assume you changed her perspective though isn’t it? First of all did you actually ascertain what her perspective was? Perhaps she had a healthy perspective to start with, perhaps the perspective you changed was your own.

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Katie July 12, 2013 at 11:01 pm

As a mother of 3 girls (12,10, and 10) I LOVE this article. I always tell my children they are beautiful and how proud I am of them. We celebrate things they accomplish by themselves and even more if they stood out and thought differently. We have been dealing with kids calling them fat (they are far from it) and stupid for 3 years now and it drives me crazy. When I hear about it then I tell them over and over again how beautiful and great they are and emphasis that everyone has different body types but they are all beautiful. The older they get the harder it gets because of people at school (sadly, adults included). I wish that the type of thinking in the article would be taught at schools.

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Danielle Gardner July 13, 2013 at 12:56 am

I do agree with you that we should not solely focus on little girl’s beauty however, I tell my daughters everyday how beautiful they are. I know my parents did for me and I feel that gave me an abundance of confidence to be told I am pretty. What person doesn’t need that confidence booster along with other types of confidence boosters, intelligence, etc.

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Rich July 13, 2013 at 2:18 am

Congrats for talking to a child like a human being with feelings.

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Brian Gryth July 13, 2013 at 2:48 am

So great message and though provoking post. Interesting photo choice? Why use a cute little girl by a tree? What about a little girl reading a book? Or in a science lab coat? If you are trying to change the perception and images of women, then why are playing to the stereotype.

Also the attractive Latina flexing her muscle. She is beautiful and will obviously draw people in. But why dress her in the camisole and so sexily.

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Cathie July 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm

My daughter was an exceptionally beautiful child (still is) and was complimented continuously. We taught her to say “Thank you but I am smart too!”
From the age of two that was her reply. Now she is doing her PHD in math (simple explanation) at a an Ivy League university.

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The Other Side July 14, 2013 at 1:34 am

Well, I have a slightly different take on things. Growing up, I was always complimented on my intelligence and not on my looks. I grew up thinking that I was very intelligent, but not very attractive. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized that in fact, I am attractive on many levels. I don’t believe in empty compliments, but I do believe that we can compliment little girls and little boys on many things. Most importantly, we can compliment them on how they treat others… on kindness!!

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joe July 14, 2013 at 2:15 am

men dont compliament them enough; it’s just polite, even if it’s obligatory they appreciate everything you say; just the corgiality of making our willful interactions pleasant is a gestural basis you wont find often in society; the insincerity is besides the point; if someone complimented you they endeavour to comfort the situation, which is compliament enough even if it’s clearly a mere formality; their insecurity is just another manifestation of the same vulgarity you find everywhere; which is a global ambilavence rooted in the ego; and a laziness;

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Jenny July 14, 2013 at 10:45 pm

I agree with Holly, “the redhead.” Little girls and women always want and need to feel pretty. I feel like the problem stems in not giving out compliments but in the media today, the paparazzi, that writes cruel things about beautiful women. I see the food issues, and pyschological problems and insecurities coming from being criticized and judged, not for being complimented. ALL women , for the most part, crave being acknowledged on how they look. We are girls. we love fashion, and makeup. And a chubby little girl in her pretty dress deserves as well as a small girl….to be told “How pretty you are!” it’s in our DNA. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of, or downplayed, but how fun to love being the best “Self” we can be. Perhaps, if little girls always heard how beautiful they looked by their parents and important guardians in their life they wouldn’t have to try and get that unfulfilled void acknowledged outside of home in a not so healthy way. My daughter always got told she looked pretty when she had put forth the effort to….but she also in a balanced way was encouraged in other ways too–there is a balance. That’s the key. So, that ‘one’ part didn’t get overly played up. That’s one legitimate facet of a woman/girl. But it’s unbalanced if we deny ourselves and other women/girls their rights to be pretty and to feel pretty also. I was a pretty little girl who also was an excellent reader, and I was also a martial artist, and a softball player. But I loved pretty dresses and loved when my grandmother told me how pretty I was in my Easter dress. The media today writes about the young celebrities and how fat they are. How awful they look…and then you see those same young women getting way too thin. What if the media gave out compliments such as how beautiful and talented they really are?! Why not say to the little girl in her ruffled dress and bow that you know she was so proud of…”Wow, you look so pretty in your dress, AND hey…what’s your favorite book?”

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Rachel Blackett July 15, 2013 at 1:30 am

I have to say I am one who is guilty of this. And it is something I will have to try hard to change. Especially because it is something that hits home for me personally. When younger I was always told how pretty/gorgeous I was, how skinny I was etc, but was never told how SMART I was or how far I could go in life. As I got older my Looks became an obsession. My self esteem was pretty low (And still is) And as my looks and weight became an issue I started to get depressed, and because it was something I relied on, I fell hard.

Appearance is such a huge thing in the world, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could change it just by doing something simple as not mentioning it?

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Rachel Blackett July 15, 2013 at 1:50 am

Oh and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be telling our kids (Or even other peoples kids) that they aren’t gorgeous either. But there needs to be a balance. I try with my own kids to have a balance (Even though they are only 2.5 and 1 lol) Unfortunately both are a little behind other kids in some areas as they are anemic so it can be a bit hard, and my son is also behind physically too… BUT I am always telling my daughter how clever she is when she can tell us something new in a book, or how amazing it is that she can catch a ball or kick it straight, how wonderful it is that she can hit a nail into the wall when helping her daddy out with building the shed. But I don’t automatically ask OTHER kids about things in their lives, and the first thing I tend to comment on is how gorgeous they are and then thats it.

I have to agree with a comment up futher, we need to talk to kids as we would adult. We often compliment adults on what they are wearing sometimes, but not everytime we see them, and then we continue on to ask how their work is doing, or what have they been doing lately, and it gives them time to brag about something other than how “Pretty” or “Handsome” they are. Kids need the same sort of thing

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Jessica Davies July 15, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Thank you so much for this article! I have an almost 4-year old who is obsessed with shoes and clothes, and is always complimented on her appearance. People have encouraged me to get her into modeling because they think she would love it, and I am terrified that her entire identity is becoming wrapped up in how she looks. I cringe taking her to the store just to have people always tell her how cute she is, or have them tell me how cute my child is in earshot. I always want to respond back with “and she’s smart, too.” but have been afraid of people’s reactions. Hopefully many people will read this and begin to look past ribbons and sparkles and help these little girls see their real value. I might just be a little more brave now and respond with, “and she’s really smart,” now, for her sake!

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Jim July 16, 2013 at 7:59 am

A wonderful, simple plan for instilling confidence in a way that emphasizes important academic qualities and encourages further exploration of same I think there are some engrained behaviors that are intrinsic to gender, but that the cultural aspect of their learning often leads to a majority of the differences we observe in our young adults. By creating young girls who have self esteem that is not directly proportional to how they feel they look, we can overcome many of the negative interactions with boys and other similar women that leada to abuse of women on many levels. Academic, economic, sexual, and even in sports. I can only hope my 3 year old daughter is the beneficiary of the results of such practices.

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Plenipotentiary July 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm

My 3 year-old went to his first soccer practice a few weeks ago. All the kids had their blue and black or white soccer balls with them. It took all of three minutes for a little girl to walk up to my son and proclaim: “hey! why is your ball pink?! That’s for girls!” to which I responded: “nah, pink is for everyone. It’s a beautiful color, isn’t it?” To which both she and my son agreed. Guess which kid had the least amount of trouble finding his ball on the field during drills?

It’s a constant struggle, fighting gender types. I too will do what I can. Not despite being a man, but because of it. Thanks for this post. Keep fighting the good fight.

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Mariana July 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm

There is nothing wrong with telling a girl how great she looks or how lovely or cute her dress is. Maybe, if more girls heard that, they would have more confidence in themselves. Maybe, the more you hear it, the more you believe it. We’ll be tested our whole life on how smart we are, or if we can keep up with men! Why can’t you talk to a girl about taking care of herself, her beauty, and her brains? Why does it need to be one or the other? The reason why “smart” women want to be beautiful is because someone talked them about the importance of being smart but forgot to instill confidence in them about their looks. Help their confidence at an early age and maybe they won’t have eating disorders. We can teach girls to read and think as well as excersize and take care of themselves!

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Bekkah July 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm

My daughter is 3 and I tell he and every little boy or girl, how gorgeous they look but I dont dwell on the conversation. Boosting their confidence in themselves now, will help them later on. You also need to give them a since of individuality. That its ok to be different from everyone. No one is the same. My daughter knows that everyone has a different sense of style,likes etc. She also knows that everyone looks different and she should be everyone’s friend no matter what. Ive always let her make her own choices also. She knows what she wants and she will let you know! She is also very smart because I work with her. When we are in public, she is very polite to everyone. You keep it rounded. Dont just show her parts of the world. You show her the WHOLE world. GOOD OR BAD. You dont sugar coat things, You just talk to them in way they will understand without baby talk.You whoop their butts when they are in the wrong and EXPLAIN to them why they were disciplined. We need to make our kids strong individuals. This world is getting crazy and scary.

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Christine July 16, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I appreciate the author’s point that we should teach girls that their value is not based on appearance. I feel however that she missed the mark by trading in the desire to find approval in appearance for finding approval through ideas and accomplishments. We should actually teach our daughters that our love and approval are not conditional on anything, then they will have the confidence to truly live a meaningful life. Thoughts, ideas and accomplishments are certainly great things to motivate girls toward,but they don’t define anyone’s value just as appearance does not define value.

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The Baroness July 17, 2013 at 4:01 am

As a parent I think it’s important to acknowledge their overall beauty period. “Hey gorgeous, so, what you working on? Wow, your LEGO/drawing/singing/math is excellent you keep up the great work”. Children need validation in every respect, when you focus on one at the expense of another I think that is what creates imbalance. I’ve met many older women at college age who because they were NOT told they were beautiful think they’re ONLY brains and no beauty. Beauty and support of every facet of your children and the children of your community is what promotes positive self-image of themselves in every capacity.

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Christina July 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm

I appreciated your article and wholeheartedly agree. Here is where I struggle and why I intentionally point out ALL traits I see in the young girls (and young boys) I work with as a school counselor…no one, not even my parents, said that I was pretty. My mother always said “pretty is as pretty does” and then she never complimented me…so I felt I never did anything right either. I didn’t feel exceptionally smart or talented, just good at doing the laundry. Now as an adult woman I struggle with self esteem, facial and body image. I truly believe if just one significant person in my life had told me I was beautiful I wouldn’t seek it in unhealthy ways. I tell students they are dressed nicely for school, I get excited when I hear them reading, I point out how glad I am to see them because they make me smile and I do all of this to fat, skinny, homely, beautiful, intelligent, special ed and struggling students. I believe EACH child is beautiful and they need to know it… not the beauty that the world holds but the beauty that they each hold. We can always find ONE good thing about a kid and make sure to tell them out loud, so others hear it! I also believe modeling appropriate work attire, coming to work with my hair done and ready to hit the ground running are good examples to students. There are days I wear no makeup and no jewelry…kids see me as less put together these days. I just tell them that I wanted to look more simple today but I’m still here to work for them…they accept that. The messages that we give children are so powerful and we are powerful force for good when we empower them to see the beauty inside of themselves and not look for approval from the world. I wish someone had done that for me!

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Elizabeth July 17, 2013 at 4:35 pm

“tormented by a group of girls at school who only wear black”

I know that you, the writer of this article, did not write the book. So, not your fault. But in addition to this book being, unfortunately, about attire and appearance, it is reinforcing an unhelpful idea that is deeply ingrained in Western story-telling: that the color black = bad.

This is a problem, especially if you are a child with dark eyes / hair / skin. And it is a problem societally, as we are seeing right now with the Martin case.

Just sharing my thoughts. :-)

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Sara July 17, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Please let my little girls stay little! They know nothing about being “skinny” or “fat” or what the difference is. We’ve taught them that we are all different and unique. People come in all different sizes and colors and that is what makes us special. Do they like to dress up and be princesses? They sure do, and I’m going to let them for as long as they like. Let’s not forget where little girls learn these bad habits. It’s from their parents. If a mom is constantly talking (out loud) about how “fat” she is, pretty soon her daughter is going to start talking and thinking that way, too. My soon-to-be 5 year old loves to watch me put on make-up. I love to put a little blush on her from time to time. It makes her feel special. My husband and I exercise and eat right. We want those values to be a part of both our daughters’ lives. Being healthy, confident and respectful of their bodies. We have to find that balance where it’s just a part of our lifestyle to be healthy. Not obsessive about it. I think it’s fine to tell a little girl that she’s beautiful. I also agree that we must teach our children the importance of learning, reading, and sports/activities (just to name a few). It’s all about what we instill in our children.

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Shirley Culbertson July 17, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I don’t necessarily agree with you. I was very shy as a little girl, never heard that I looked pretty and never felt pretty. As an adult, not as a teenager, I still felt like I wasn’t pretty and everyone else was, so I dressed a little provocative, wore heavy makeup, stayed thin and was finally noticed. I was told several times that I looked like Connie Stevens. I was not happy, because I new it was all false. My parents had never made me feel like I was special and when I was in grade school, a male teacher let me know I was really plain. We had to take our baby pictures to school for some reason, and he said to me “you were a cute baby, what happened to you?” I am elderly now, and it no longer makes a difference to me,but as a young person, I felt awful.

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katep July 17, 2013 at 6:38 pm

I appreciate the intentionality behind the author’s actions, however she is basically substituting one socially accepted quality (beauty) with another (intelligence).

What about character, what about values, what about interests, friendships? I’m not saying what she did was wrong, however as humans, we tend to cling to the areas where we feel most powerful.

If a woman is beautiful, she will likely do all she can to be seen as such because it gives her power (as is described by the author) however, the same can be said about intelligence, wealth, etc. these things are not good or bad on their own, but we need to be careful. Over valuing any of these will give a person a skewed sense of where their worth comes from (i.e. I am only valuable when I am pretty, intelligent…insert other adjectives here).

You can tell by the author’s tone when she speaks about reading, that she gets her value from that and is projecting that onto the child. To me, that isn’t any better than commenting on her beauty.

Personally, I believe that we should greet little girls with warmth and love. Ask them how their day is going, what they like to do. Paying them a compliment isn’t detrimental as long as your interactions with them are not ALWAYS based on that topic. I also believe we should give the most praise for demonstrations of good character, with particular attention to selfless acts and strengths.

just my two cents.

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Ekra July 17, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Interesting article.
i really enjoy the moment when my 6 years old brother talk to me like this :)

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big dykey momma July 18, 2013 at 3:06 am

I am pretty butch, to say the least. My daughter is the queen of foofie. We just sort of exist around the other’s drag. My mom, almost a Mrs. Cleaver, broke me up when my daughter was about 5 and totally into the Disney princesses. My daughter found a picture of my mom when my mom was about 20. The kid said, “Wow, grandma, you used to be beautiful.” With no pause my mom said, “But I am always smart. Brains are better than beauty – brains last.”

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Joey July 18, 2013 at 4:22 am

Amazing article. After both my parents remarried and I moved in with an uncle, I was suddenly inundated as a college grad with a baby half sister, two 6 year old step-sisters and a 3 year old girl cousin; this, after growing up with two brothers in an environment my mom referred to as “testosterone drenched”. Remembering Mall Madness (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MX2hxmfx_Q) as among the harbingers of gender identity for my girlfriends as a kid, I put some serious thought into interacting with this influx of little ladies. My uncle had the foresight to make the rule that we’d praise how smart my cousin was, but never to dwell on her looks (despite the fact that she’s a strikingly beautiful child). We passed that on to my sisters, and 3 years later we’ve got a family full of little girls who love dinosaurs, bugs and math. They’re genuinely all adorable girls, but we wrestle with them, play sports and play out in the yard like I would have with my brothers. Those old enough to get it know that they value “smarts” (and they’ll tell you), and they’re great, confident, well adjusted kids. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of the piece, and sincerely hope this is a conversation that continues to build.

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KS July 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I think the author has a great idea, but is over-thinking it a little bit. There is nothing wrong with, when meeting a child, complimenting something physical about them because at that moment, that is all you know about them…what you can see. However, I do think it is very important to not just stop there. Get to know them on an intellectual level too. We are a visual society, so to say “Wow, what a cute dress you have on” isn’t a bad thing. But, follow up with an interest in what the child enjoys (books, hobbies, etc). There is nothing wrong with a balance of both.

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Annita Davison July 18, 2013 at 3:16 pm

A fresh idea/new approach. It has merit and I like it.

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Tracy Page July 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm

My first thought when reading this is that my dyslexic child would have broken into tears if had asked her when she was 5 if she loved reading…. now at 12 she reads at a high school level, reads constantly and loves the written word…. but that would have devastated her then. So it’s set me on the path of how would I relate to a child in a different manner with the same intent. Great food for thought!

I am reminded of Maria Shriver talking about how Sargent would tell her every night that she could be anything she wanted to be. We tell that to our girls constantly. A child that truly believes that is truly empowered.

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Mike July 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Thank you for teaching me how to speak to my daughter, to be born on this coming Monday!

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Jude Boudreaux July 19, 2013 at 2:17 am

I LOVED this! My daughter is almost 3, and everywhere we go, people call her a princess. That’s fine, but it’s not the way it needs to be. She’s bright, and curious, and active, and should be recognized for those qualities too!

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thadine July 19, 2013 at 2:30 am

The problem is that appearance is the first thing that most people notice about girls, which is why it’s the first (and often only) thing they comment on. Change your beliefs and your behaviour will follow, not the other way around. If appearance was not the first thing that came to your mind, it wouldn’t be the first thing that you wanted to comment on. It has always annoyed me how people put such emphasis on appearance for girls. How many times do people objectify boys in this way?

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poisedon July 19, 2013 at 4:31 am

u kill future hot chicks

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Sarah July 19, 2013 at 7:10 am

I don’t see why we can’t do both.

Compliment and also have intelligent discussions. No harm
doing both!

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leisa July 19, 2013 at 11:25 am

just read your article & i have been doing this (unintentionally) for years…as i am sooooo big on children (any age) knowing how to communicate & not giving direct questions for yes/no answers but for them to keep up a conversation & knowing that there are different opinions on topics that are neither wrong or right. thankyou

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sue July 19, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Seriously? Get over it!!!! I was told I was cute and adorable all through my childhood and teen years. I never had self esteem issues or an eating disorder. We are a bunch of paranoid people!!! This is just ridiculous!!!!

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William July 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm

During my time as a stay home parents for both my daughters – two years apart – I had to inform my in laws about exactly this due to their insistence on focusing upon their looks-clothes and how “cute” and beautiful they are. Of course they did not mean the harm they were causing and although they were confused and dumbfounded by telling them they have to stop these compliments. Most men understand that societies expectation upon women – their bodies, hair, clothes, and the rest is far greater then men. Men can be overweight and dress poorly and get by. I had this conversation with the in-laws about eight years ago. The in-laws looked at my wife with anger thinking she would over ride what I was saying and she said I was right and they needed to stop all the attention to their looks and appearance.

Just recently this week there was something motivated me to tell them about that conversation I had with the in-laws. Both girls just sat there and listened. When I was done I asked them why I told the grand parents to stop telling them how beautiful they are and asked them what I was more concerned about – there response was that I was more concerned about what is on the inside and then asked “what is daddy most concerned about “Our brains.”

That made me smile.

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Pina July 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm

EXCELLENT!
Thanks for the Reminder.
We do get drawn into the glam world.
I will be mindful next time I speak with a young girl and even a young boy!
Everyone gets affected or shall I say, infected by media.

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Missy DeBigger July 22, 2013 at 8:12 pm

It’s very good to highlight and promote well-rounded girls (of all ages), but much of this thread is devoted to attempts to deny natural order. As humans, we are attracted to and are hardwired to value and appreciate physical beauty. And it’s absolutely normal that males and females of the human species are different in the degree and manner of appreciation, as well as the response to physical beauty. It’s not societal pressure, it’s the result of evolution.

I know it’s not popular for us women to say, but nature has predetermined that our appearance is very important to males, more so than their appearance is important to us (the hotter we are the more crazy they’ll put up with). And, let’s face it girls, we are attracted to hot guys too.

Perhaps much of the dissatisfaction and unhappiness—and I know this isn’t popular either, but it’s right—comes from the fact that we are pressured by society to abandon that for which we are genetically programmed: nurturing, mothering, supporting, and raising families.

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stephanie July 23, 2013 at 4:53 pm

While i agree with what was said about finding other topics to discuss rather than looks is a hood idea. I also think that people need to remind their daughters that real beauty is on the inside. Girls need to be told they are beautiful the way they are no matter what. But learn to balance such compliments, so they understand beauty isnt everything. I tell my daughter everyday she is beautiful, because she is.

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Carol July 25, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I agree with the majority of what is said in the article, in so much as beauty is objectified in a negative way and children (of both sexes) are suffering. My concern is that we go so far into praising their minds specifically that we then create room for other issues such as academic elitism and other forms of low self esteem; we all have strengths and perhaps rather than just look at picking up on a child’s looks and avoiding this, we need to concentrate on creating positive relationships and rounded role models, whether you engage on what they’re wearing, what they’re doing, what they like to eat, the pets they have (as the lady in this article inadvertently did with reading)…. it’s not just beauty, or just mental ability, or just strength, or just kindness, or just politeness, or just any of the other things we judge people on, it’s how we relate those things to ourselves and our kids and let them know that they are amazing and worthwhile full stop. A child at that age tends to copy their parents and peers….

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Carol July 25, 2013 at 2:38 pm

…following my last comment and having read some of the others made, I am concerned also that we seem to be turning little girls into little boys in an attempt to make them more ‘equal’. I’m sorry if I’m getting the wrong end of the stick but it would be good to let children develop fairly naturally rather than suggesting that being rough and tumble is in every girl – or boy’s – best interest and that playing with make-up is entirely negative. Each child is different and should be allowed to be so :D (as it turns out I liked both – dressed up like Mum and rolled around in the playing fields mucking about with my brother – and unfortunately for my Mum’s clothes sometimes I did both together :/ !)

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Nathalie July 25, 2013 at 4:02 pm

I had a similar experience last Saturday, helping a friend at her fundraising event in front of a local grocery store. A 9 year old long hair, freckled girl was greeting customers while holding a bucket to collect donations. We were collecting funds for a cause rather complicated to explain concisely but i was very impressed at how this young girl was doing it! I told her, I complimented her on it and in front of her mom and other adults, her energy went straight up. Before leaving I offered her a gift and told her it is because she did such a great job I thought she deserved a reward. I gave her a copy of my book titled “Why Am I perfect?”. thank you for this post!

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Dana July 25, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Speaking as a woman who works in the bridal industry, its impossible not to comment on a girls looks no matter what age she is. I deal with too many women who come in and want to know what would look appropriate on their body. I always say the same thing and it may be trite but its true. Pick something that you will love not something you think you should wear. Too many bigger women think that they can’t wear a mermaid dress because they aren’t ” model skinny”. As a bigger girl myself, I’d rather see curves in that dress. While I agree with the author that we shouldn’t always focus on a girls looks, we also shouldn’t make like its not an important part of self esteem also. We need to teach our children, boys too, proper perspective between looks and brains.

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Jo Clayton July 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I have to disagree with you on this one I’m afraid. I work with and adore children and I’ve studied child development. I tell all children they are beautiful – regardless of their looks, behaviour, intelligence etc. As adults we are programmed to find little children physically appealing – so we survive as a species and don’t kill off our vulnerable little ones – so your first instinct to tell this little girl she was gorgeous was the right one. For me it’s then about expanding on the idea of ‘beautiful’ – a mind can be as beautiful as a face – and an empathetic and kind child is beautiful even with an eczema scarred face or a cleft palate or downs syndrome. Just as a ‘perfect’ looking child can act in a distinctly ugly way. It is our materialist society that has pigeon holed ‘beautiful’ as something that is to do with beauty products, or thinness, or a certain hair type or skin colour. All little girls (and boys) need to know that they’re beautiful – and that beauty is primarily something that comes from who they truly are – (book lovers – yippee! or not) and, as the majority of 5 year olds are (just) still at the phase where they are at ease with themselves we need to let them know that they look beautiful and are beautiful just as they are – before the advertisers and marketing companies start brainwashing them. We also need to encourage them in whatever they’re interested in, talk to them, listen to them and love them, but please, don’t hold back on telling them they’re beautiful – because they are.

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Peter July 25, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Do you just pull statistics out of your head?

I have a Phd in Sociology and Women in Modern Culture. I have to be honest. You talk crap. Shame on you.

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Janie July 26, 2013 at 2:36 am

This also applies to little boys. Our 9 year old grandson is adorable, of course, and everyone he meets tells him so. They gush about his eyes, his hair, his smile and no one ever asks him about his likes or what he does. He is brainwashed to think that all he needs to do is become a model and he doesn’t need to try in school or think of another career that he’s interested in. He is kind of wiry and not concerned about weight, yet anyway, but he is very concerned about staying clean and not getting scars that will ruin his appearance. People need to be more sensitive about programing children.

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Candy February 22, 2014 at 7:54 am

I agree with this article, and I wish our culture (not only American culture) was not so rooted on appearances and beauty. Though I stopped caring about my appearances for being too lazy to keep up with the make up and hair up-dos, I still feel that I would rather be more beautiful than smart, and I believe this mentality is the product of my upbringing with pretty dolls, and magazines/shows/movies with great emphasis on beautiful heroines.

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Rafa Lombardino February 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm

That is really awesome! I wish more people thought about it that way. Sometimes we’re so used to saying things that are expected of us, that we don’t realize we’re just perpetuating a cultural standard that is not healthy.

I realized that the other day when I was going through my Facebook feed and my daughter saw a picture of a woman I follow for workout tips. “Look at her arms!” my five-year-old said. “When I grow up, I wanna have arms like that!”

This woman in particular is always making fun of people who say she looks “manly” with those nice, strong, defined arms. She dresses up in cute outfits and defies trolls to call her unfeminine, because all you can see is a beautiful woman, who is a mother and wife, and also strong and fit, comfortable in her own skin and a healthy role model to other women out there.

My daughter saw it and admired her for it. She flexed her little biceps with all her strength to see how big her arms were, and I do hope she’ll grow up with that mentality, that she can be strong and powerful inside and out.

While my daughter is not the best of eaters and we have to be on her constantly to finish her meals?even though she loves healthy food and goes for broccoli, spinach, rice, potatoes, and carrots before chicken nuggets, for example?I want to make sure she never gets caught up on the dieting thing and grows up with healthy eating habits. When I’m pushing for her to finish dinner, for example, I ask her to show me her muscles and, after she flexes her biceps, I tell her that she has to eat another couple of bites to make those muscles bigger ;-)

I hope she grows up to be athletic, to enjoy herself in whatever physical activities she decides to pursue on her spare time (so far she loves gymnastics, dancing, and swimming) and that she has a great self-image and confidence. I know I didn’t growing up, so I’m trying to catch up now that I’m in my 30s to become a good role model to my children as well.

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katty February 25, 2014 at 9:37 pm

I agree, the normal icebreaker of telling them how cute they are is cliché and most girls no matter the age don’t really know what to do with the compliment! The last time I was in that situation, the girls actually broke the ice with me, I’m not sure how it happened, but at a family party in Mexico, I felt a tug on my sleeve “We’re making a fire! Do you want to come and see it?” (In Spanish of course). So I went, and luckily I do actually know how to make a real fire, so I sent them off looking for dry leaves and teaching them how to identify branches and twigs that would burn well. Obviously we didn’t make a real fire, but they became my best friends for the rest of the afternoon!

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Sarah March 4, 2014 at 3:23 pm

One important point missed here is how much the girls who are worried about their looks have a mother or other women in their lives who talk about their looks incessantly? Or watch TV shows about looks. I question what else is going on with these girls to talk about dieting at such young ages. I have a 5 yo girlie. I try very hard not to talk about my looks anymore. I don’t make comments around her that I’m fat. I talk about exercising to help me feel better NOT look better. I don’t wear makeup ALL the time. She has started asking when I put makeup on what I’m doing and I tell her that we’re going out and I want to look especially nice for it. I tell her while snuggling at bedtime that she is beautiful, not every day, but not when she is necessarily in the cutest moment either, just a genuine you are beautiful to me because you are mine and I love you type of comment. I don’t want people to step back from complimenting girls on their looks because I had the opposite problem growing up and even over 40, still deal with thinking I’m not pretty enough. My girlie has beautiful curly red hair and she gets compliments on it all the time, mostly from older women, I can’t stop that. I just tell them “thank you, we love it” and move on. My daughter does not have obsessive issues about her looks.

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fatima March 24, 2014 at 2:00 am

Amazing thank you

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