How To Raise Girls Who Love Their Looks

by Latina Fatale on 09/04/2011 · 19 comments

in Body Image, Family

Happy Girl Riding on Rainbows Tricycle Free Creative Commons
A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted to his Facebook page this article on how one should talk to young girls. The gist of the article – don’t focus on their looks, focus on their intelligence, because you don’t want to give them low self esteem.

All this talk about not focusing our compliments on their looks is crap. It’s all wrapped up in our own ish and inability to appreciate ourselves. We are physical creatures. We all like things of beauty. Let’s celebrate it. Let’s teach our daughters to love themselves – their smarts, their looks, their character, everything they’ve got.

Do I think girls today have body issues because we compliment them too much on superficial things like how they dress or how they look? Nope. I think young girls are plagued by grown women’s issues because the women in their lives and their peers and the women in their lives, are obsessed in an unhealthy way about body image. If mom complains all the time about her weight and is outwardly searching for ways to feel good about herself, so will little Susie. Children learn through example.

I’m trying my darnedest to raise young ladies who celebrate the beauty and complexity of being a woman. Part of that is showing them through example how I feel confident in my own skin and how I own who I am. I want them to love, embrace and respect their bodies. I have to celebrate myself so they learn to celebrate who they are both inside and out. I’m not convinced you can cultivate a healthy sense of confidence in your body and physical self by ignoring it. On the contrary, you celebrate it.

I will not ignore their looks for the sake of making them feel smart. I do not believe brains and beauty are mutually exclusive. My girls can be both attractive and smart. Feminine and athletic. You know, all those delicious gender specific traps of being a female and their “masculine” counterparts.

So here’s my radical idea – let’s compliment girls on their looks in magical and amazing and unexpected ways. Let’s give them a little something to slip into their back pocket so when the icky days of adolescence arrive, full of pimples and hormones and gorgeous girls without pimples or bad hair days (but plenty of hormones), they can hold on tight to words that make them feel sparkly and beautiful. (note: they’ll hold in this back pocket lots of compliments, not just ones about their looks…ones about comedic timing, engaging storytelling, a knack for fixing cars, being an attentive listener…).

So how exactly does one compliment a little girl without being too surfacey? Be creative, full of imagination and connect them to something greater than themselves. Wha-what? What am I talking about? Here, some examples:

  • My oldest daughter has brown eyes and I tell her they’re the color of the earth, rich and full of life and possibility.
  • Other days I tell her they remind me of yummy chocolate which always makes her giggle. Chocolate is a source of joy for her.
  • Our youngest’s eyes are the color of where the sky meets the sea at dusk. I tell her they are just like her grandma’s & like her uncle’s.
  • When I brush their hair and pull it away from their faces, I tell them it’s as strong as a rope like (gasp) Rapunzel (I know, Cinderella Ate My Daughter…bite me) and it’s all because they nourish their bodies with the right foods.

Complimenting a little girl on the things we find beautiful on the outside does not have to be shallow.

  • Make the nature connection.
  • Make her feel honored to carry on a unique family trait.
  • Get silly. Make it fun.
  • Focus beauty on the importance of a healthy & strong body. Hooray for fruits & veggies! Hooray for exercise!

This is just a jumping off point. The sky’s the limit. Remember the best compliment you ever got? Of course you do. Because it was magic and made you soar. Remember that feeling the next time you go give a compliment to a little girl. Choose your words wisely and with intention and make her feel proud to be herself, inside and out.

About the Author: Carla Molina is a weaver of words and creative collaborator. A Jersey girl at heart with lots of love for her college stomping ground, Boston, she spends most of her time raising two bilingual little ladies and brainstorming more ways to write her heart out. She blogs about being a woman and a creative creature at All of Me Now. And plays cheerleader to the local businesses serving families in her current home state at Petit Rhody.

Related Reading:
How to Talk to Little Girls

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lourdes Acevedo September 10, 2011 at 5:53 am

YES! I love this! I have been struggling with how I will compliment my daughter on her loveliness when she’s old enough to suffer any consequences (even though my daughter only has one year) … I think your suggestions are imaginative and beautiful (no pun intended).

With all due kudos to Peggy Orenstein (Cinderella Ate My Daughter), I’ve been thinking there must be some way to compliment our daughters’ true beauty that doesn’t create a complex or place too much importance on physical attributes. You’ve just given me the perfect suggestions for how to do that. Thank you.

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VR September 11, 2011 at 12:37 pm

What I saw with the original article isn’t that we *shouldn’t* compliment little girls about their looks, but that it shouldn’t be the *first* thing you comment on when you meet one. The issue not so much being that the girls get those compliments (because they should, for the very reasons you outlined) but that they are the very first interaction they usually get from people they are just meeting, and that does send a dangerous message that firstly, and most importantly, people will value you for your appearance.
Your article and the one you are responding to are both accurate, and not mutually exclusive. As I see it, you two are talking about two quite separate issues. You are talking about little girls who you have a close and constant relationship with; little girls that you are raising. That is a very different issue from the other article, which was discussing meeting and conversing with the little girls you meet and the subtle messages you send in these interactions (ie/ not the little girls you are raising, but whose interactions with you may still shape them, if only through socialization).
… wow… sorry for the novel… I have a lot of feelings :P

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Lee November 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I agree with VR about the two articles being totally different. The one to which Molina refers seems to focus on how to address girls when you are not the caretaker; Molina’s writing comes from the viewpoint of the person who raises the girls. I also enjoyed the other article much more than Molina’s because it was written more intelligently … more journalistically. I’m a journalist by trade, so bloggers annoy me right off the bat. Blogging is like writing journlistic columns, except you can swear and you don’t have to check your facts. Writers who have to use “blah blah blah” and bold sections of their ramblings are just stressing that their point is weaker. Molina lost my sincere interest at “is crap.” There were many more options that would have been more intelligent. Overall, I think a healthy mix of the ideas in the two writings would be ideal. We have to start sending the message to girls that the whole being is important, not just what’s on the outside.

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Ines November 11, 2011 at 11:49 am

Sometimes a kid’s mom needs some credit for getting her child’s hair brushed, since it took an extra half hour of chasing her around the house and made everybody late. Sometimes I think those compliments on children’s appearances are more for the parents than anything else. All kids are cute, pretty much. But mom bought the dress, or selected the shoes, or hog tied her kid to get those ribbons in her hair.

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Angeles Reyes March 6, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hola! Thank you for this post! I have a little girl too and it’s tricky to empower girls, because it takes to empower all the older women around us too! I also loved your blog, I’m an Argentine living in London and I have opened a facebook page: Alegriagain to introduce English speakers to news (and activism), ideas and arts generated by non-English speakers. I’d love you to have a look at it and share something if you think it fits this description. I also have my own blog, only in Spanish, with my journalism and literature work, in case you read Spanish: //angelesreyes.org Thank you!

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Latina Fatale March 21, 2012 at 1:47 am

Thanks for sharing! Yes, you have a great point about we also need to start with the women around us. We will definitely check out your blog!

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leslie Masson June 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I always tell my daughter she is beautiful I also tell her she is clever and I have taught her that a compliments should be aknowledged with a smile and a firm thank you.

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Elizabeth Belden Handler June 6, 2013 at 12:24 am

I have raised four girls, all very different from each other. I agree, their confidence stems from your own, and the confidence of the other women in their lives. My mother was tall, thin and elegant. I am a plump, earth mother type. Both of us were happy with who we were (I still am), and how we look.

My girls grew up seeing women who were strong and happy, and are now strong, happy adults themselves. Interestingly, all four of them are managers in their chosen fields. One is head clerk in an emergency room, one is the customer service manager at a local grocery store, one manages a cafe, and the youngest is an office manager at an Ivy League school.

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Maryh June 8, 2013 at 3:29 am

Great job on raising confident girls who can find a way and a place to use their minds!

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HB June 8, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Both articles are very interesting and I do think a combination of ideas here are the right tact. However, no mention is made of the role of the “Father figure” in either article and I do believe for little girls he makes a very important contribution to the developing sense of self, especially from about 5 on when she is moving out of the orbit of the Mother and is looking for approval and validation from the outside world – teachers, peers etc.

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Varis June 11, 2013 at 8:02 am

Not sure how I got here, but this article is such a breath of fresh air!
A very well written and perceptive article, beckoning us to accept gender and people as they are, rather than trying to engineer the next utopia.

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Thomas Vander Stichele June 12, 2013 at 11:25 am

I’m confused because the article you link to here is also reprinted on this very same blog:

http://latinafatale.com/2011/07/21/how-to-talk-to-little-girls/

Can you give some background on what this means ? Do you have multiple editors, where one of you liked the original story enough to reprint, but someone else hated it ?

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Julie June 12, 2013 at 1:38 pm

When my daughter, now almost 8 years old, was a baby and toddler, I used to rock her and sing to her. One of the songs I sang just kind of popped out spontaneously. Yes, it started out by saying how sweet she was, but didn’t stop there. Here’s the words.

You are my sweet baby (little) girl.
The sweetest baby (little) girl in my world.
And I will love you all of my days
Until the sun fades away.

Other verses substituted smart, lovely, strong, precious, brave, kind, and any other adjective I could think of.

I, too, want my daughter to know she is valued for everything that makes her unique – both brains and beauty. She is smart. She is beautiful. I am so proud to see her growing into a person who is strong, kind, and beautiful both inside and out.

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musicman495 June 17, 2013 at 4:32 am

One word response: Amen

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mommyofboys July 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Most of us know that nobody is beautiful if they are ugly on the inside.

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Sarah March 4, 2014 at 11:23 pm

AGREE! Funny, I said the same thing about body image being learned from other adult women on your friend’s blog before I read this. Having a daughter was great for me because it forced me to stop punishing myself in the body image area. I do not berate myself in front of my daughter, I do not talk about my body image. She is beautiful and I tell her so. Not enough people told me I was beautiful, all I got was how smart I was. I make sure to tell her both.

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