~ How to Talk to Little Girls ~

by LATINA FATALE on 07/21/2011


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.


A BIG shout out to – http://latinafatale.com/2011/07/21/how-to-talk-to-little-girls/

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


4 thoughts on “~ How to Talk to Little Girls ~

  1. This is great. It’s really great, and of course, it’s true. I wonder if there isn’t a middle ground though? Little girls are sweet and cute and they love to hear it. I tell little boys that their haircut rocks, or their tee is cool, so I reckon if you keep it on that level rather than putting to much value on their appearance, it’s still ok.
    I endeavour to let my kid know his best quality is his kindness or his compassion…..which are things Im trying to nurture.
    I think it’s also important that they hear us talk about ourselves in positive terms. I’m fat, or I’m silly from another mouth also sticks in little brains.

    Great post, Cupcake. Really great.

    • Thanks for dropping by! 🙂 Appreciate your comment.

      The other day, I was speaking to a child therapist and she raised some pertinent questions like “when we compliment kids on their looks, What are we reinforcing in them? What do they feel valued for?

      I think it’s common for people to break the ice that way with your kid. We haven’t been taught otherwise and I guess that’s how folks spoke to us when we were kids. Infact, in the past, I have been guilty of complimenting my daughter on how she looks and how she is looking pretty in a certain dress. Now, I just focus more on virtues and qualities and every now and then appreciate her choice of clothes and the fact that she looks neat and nice.

    • I agree with this comment. I’d like to think there is middle ground. And seriously, if girls are wearing make up at 10 years old, that’s not about the girls, it’s about the parenting. My mother would never have allowed that when I was young except maybe for dress-ups on occasion and only as a treat. My mum was never very appearance oriented though. She always looked nice don’t get me wrong but in a natural way. I also think it’s unhealthy if we ignore looks completely. Pretty is a word and we can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t teach kids anything. Kids will sort out between themselves who is the pretty one at school with no help from anyone else even if we don’t talk to them about it. They have eyes and opinions. I think it is better if we are teaching kids that pretty doesn’t mean nice and that what we are all striving for is to be nice good people and looks has nothing to do with that.

  2. I agree that there has to be a balance. I think my parents did that perfectly but I still had self-esteem issues and no one really helped me overcome them thinking that i will be able to work through them with time.I just want my daughter to know and feel that she doesn’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards or perception of beauty. Earlier, I think I did try to impose on her what I thought looked pretty on her but now I let her be, as long as she is appropriately dressed for her age. She makes her own choices and I subtly guide her if needed. I know I can’t protect her from feeling unsure. There is always someone more prettier, talented and smarter than you and comparisons are bound to happen. As a parent I feel I just need to be there for her and be observant of what she is going through and help her work through these feelings of self-doubt.

    The other day a girl in the park said to Kiddo that she is looking fat and her teeth are too big. Interestingly, kiddo asked me, “mama what should I make of it”. I have something interesting to share on interaction with her but I will put that in a post. 🙂

    Btw, I can relate with what you said about your mother not being “appearance oriented”. No matter how much I prodded my mum for a compliment all I would get was “ya you look pretty” and finished it with a peck on the cheek. Decades have passed and she is still the same. Infact, now she is like, “ya i think this looks good on you”. That’s it. 😀

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