How to Talk to Little Girls

loufedoraIn this article over at the Huffington Post, author Lisa Bloom points out that complimenting a little girl on her looks or dress or shoes or hair is “our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker.” Bloom argues that this teaches a girl that the first thing you notice is her appearance and therefor that her looks are the most important thing. We are supposed to try a new approach with the girls we meet: ask, what book are you reading? What sports do you play? What do you think about global warming?

I’m not sure what to think. Putting aside the fact that the writer is slightly annoying in a self-congratulatory way (Look at how I crouched down and asked my friend’s daughter about books with a twinkle in my eye and taught her a valuable lesson about her self worth!), it is an interesting proposition. In theory, I agree that our culture puts way too much emphasis on beauty, youth, and general hotness. But for some reason I’m finding myself trying really hard to sidestep this. I want to argue with Lisa Bloom and I don’t know why.

For starters, it’s a physical fact that we do notice someone’s looks first. The first thing you see, is what you see. Right? Perhaps, with girls, we just feel more free to say what we think. Little girls are adorable or funky or gorgeously tomboyish and I think most of us just let it fly. Not so with the boys. I can’t tell you how many times I see one of Saint James’ friends looking especially cute, but I squash the urge to say anything because I don’t want the kid to melt in embarrassment. Hell, there’s one in my backyard right now. He looks like a dark version of Saint James  - handsome as all get out – they would make an unbeatable duo out in the bars in a few years. But will I tell him this? No. All bets are off with the girls, though. Red cowboy boots, feathers in the hair, tutus and Chucks, jean skirts, knobby knees, curly blond chlorine hair – I mean there has to be a limit to the cuteness I’m expected to see and ignore!

Second of all, just because a physical or sartorial complement is the first thing you might say, it’s not the only thing you’ll say – it’s not the most important thing you’ll say. A greeting is a greeting – it’s an icebreaker, a bridge to more talking. Maybe I’m the superficial one, but I think we do this with grown women too. Giving or getting a complement is disarming and a way to get closer to someone. It’s not as craven as it sounds – it’s social short-hand, taking you quickly through safe terrain, until you can settle in for a deeper conversation. And it’s not always complements – if someone looks stressed or sad, well, you aren’t going to notice her cute boots, you’re going to ask how she’s doing. Aren’t we just passing on a bit of social currency to our girls, albeit inadvertently?

Toddlers-and-Tiaras_1941Lately I’ve talked to girls about fencing, Harry Potter, babysitting, and middle school. I’m sure we talked about clothes and hair too, but I can’t remember. Maybe I can be blasé about this because my oldest girl seems impervious to the trappings of conventionally girlie things. Oddly though, Supergirl has taken a recent liking to watching Toddlers and Tiaras. I’ve put the kibosh on it, not because I fear she’ll get sucked into the pageant culture, but because I think she’s too young to be feeling superior to and disgusted by fellow Americans on TV. And maybe I’m naive, but even if Devil Baby continues on her present trajectory of a dramatic girlie girl, I cannot imagine a situation where she’s going to end up wanting a boob job at age 20. Child may like sparkly things but child is fierce.

I’m not arguing that there isn’t an issue with girls’ self-esteem and a disproportionate value placed on the exterior package by our culture. I just think pinning even a little bit of the blame on the four or five words that come after hello is convenient, simplistic and misplaced. Bloom does admit that her idea won’t “change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture.” Of course it won’t. At this point, I get the sinking feeling nothing will. So we need to focus on the girls and make sure their lives are filled with books, art, sports, current events, deep friendships, healthy food and cooking and yes, consistent conversations that are challenging, complex and colorful. Also, if they take you there, a reasonable dose of fashion and pop culture mixed with a little irony, caution, humor or whatever else we’re feeling about it, isn’t going to hurt. Call me vapid, but if I see my neighbor girl with her Tiger Beat magazine, I will sit shoulder to shoulder with her and flip through with gusto.

OMG! Did you hear Justin Bieber got pulled over in Miami because the cop thought he looked too young to be driving? LOL!

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3 Responses to “How to Talk to Little Girls”

  • The Diamond in the Window Says:

    I am with you on the annoyance regarding self-congratulatory “Here’s how we build our self-worth” tone, but at the same time, a friend of mine pointed out a few years ago that this is true: we talk to girls about what they’re wearing, and boys about what they’re doing (or the ever-popular, “what you got there?”). And you can ask a girl, particularly one you don’t know, “What you got there?” but we are so deeply in the groove of “What a pretty dress!” that it’s actually difficult to change it in yourself. And that makes me think it bears examination, and maybe attempts to try another way.
    And if you want to read a book with the smug tone re: how you raise girls, try Packaging Girlhood. The information is compelling, but the tone will make you tear your hair out.

  • peevish mama Says:

    Oh, Diamond, yes! it definitely bears examination and I do actually agree with her. Not sure why I had to play devil’s advocate aside from, you know, peevishness. I keep thinking about this and it’s absolutely true that we do this with little girls. I wonder if it drops off as they get older. Does it seem so to you? God, I hope so.

  • Joseph Says:

    romanticize@aptitudes.clothbound” rel=”nofollow”>.…


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