There is an excellent letter from Kasey Edwards to Santa posted on the blog Role/ Reboot. Here’s how it begins:
What I want for Christmas is for people to stop objectifying my daughter.
But after I took my 4-year-old daughter Violet to visit you last week, it seems that even YOU can’t deliver on this particular request.
You may recall that we walked into your little house for the family photo and you remarked on every item of clothing Violet was wearing—including her socks.
And then you told her she was the most beautiful and best-dressed person in the shopping center.
Couldn’t you have just stopped there? Hell no! You kept going and suggested that she takes up modeling when she grows up.
I wrote a post about this topic 2 years ago, when my youngest daughter started preschool.
I know making small talk with a two year old is hard. Toddlers can be shy, are easily distracted, and might even burst into tears if you say the wrong thing. It’s not easy to break the ice. But please: if you meet a little girl on the street, in a store, on the playground, try to think of something, anything to say rather than commenting on her hair, dress, shoes, eyes etc.
My two year old just started preschool, and by the time I’ve kissed her good bye and left her in the classroom, she’s gotten about 10 compliments on her appearance. Of course, she’s adorable. All little kids are. But remember, their little brains are getting wired up. Kids love attention, to be smiled at, and to connect– these are exactly the kinds of interactions that make their brains grow. When they learn, this young, that so many responses are based on how they look, it affects them for life.
For alternative ice breakers try “Hi, you seem happy today! What’s going on? (or sad or angry)” or “Is that your kitty? (or bunny, dog) What’s her name?” Talk about the weather, seriously. Ask if they come here often. If you must say something to a little girl about how she looks, balance it out with other topics that have nothing to do with her appearance (meaning don’t talk about how she looks unless this is going to be a long interaction.)
When people tell your daughter how pretty she is, don’t repeat the compliment to her (as in “She loves this dress. It’s her favorite.”) Don’t make her say thank you. Gently deflect the topic. No matter what other people say, you’re the parent whose opinion matters most to her at this age. Do tell your daughters they are beautiful “on the inside and the outside.” It’s something that should be said by you and that she feels confident about. It’s the proportion of looks based comments, the constant repetition of them, and how they form the basis for social interaction that’s damaging.
In her letter to Santa, Edwards also gives some suggestions about how to break the ice when talking to a little girl besides focusing on her appearance, though, obviously, these are geared towards Santa.
– Where have you been today? or Where are you going today?
– How old are you?
– What do you want to be when you grow up?
– What’s your favorite book/toy/sport/animal/food/song?
– Do you know any Christmas carols?
– Check out your surroundings and remark on something such as a flowering plant, a truck, a picture on the wall, Christmas decorations, even the weather.
– Or just imagine what you would say to her if she were boy.
I love the last one. Thinking that way really helps to become aware of our sexist conditioning. I get how challenging this is. Yesterday, my two older daughters dressed my younger one, and she went out into the world looking like this.
I tried my best to get the monster-flower off her head, but had to give up because my struggle was getting counter-productive. I was giving her appearance too much attention. But I knew it was unlikely this kid would go out in the world and no one would comment on that thing, which was, by the way, a Christmas present. That’s its whole purpose, right? It’s going to feel almost rude to an adult to ignore it.
But that’s what I’m asking you to do. Ignore it. But don’t ignore her. Talk about something else. Ask her how her day is going or what she’s on her way to do or if she had a good sleep last night.
In Melissa Wardy’s great new book Redefining Girly, Rosalind Wiseman offers these suggestions:
So compliment her on something she’s specifically doing that you think is great. Ask friends for their support because you’ll be raising your girls together. To strangers, I’d say: “Thanks, but you know what is the coolest thing about her? She draws animals incredibly well!” Yes, the other person may think you’re strange for saying something so random but your daughter will hear you complimenting something she specifically does, bringing attention to a skill you admire. She’ll know that the most important people in her life value her for more than her appearance.
This is messy stuff and you don’t have to fight every single battle that comes your way. If you’re too tired to have these conversations on a particular day, don’t sweat it. You’ll always have another day. Be proud of taking this one on. I see way too many girls whose parents haven’t provided this guidance and support and truly believe their self value is based on looking like the “perfect girl.”
From the moment they are born, girl babies get attention for how they look. They are dressed like dolls and turned into objects by their own parents, a practice reinforced by our powerfully sexist culture. For too many women, how we look is the source of our identity and power or lack there of. When is it going to stop? Why not start with you? Make a different kind of small talk with the next little girl you see. It’s a small but powerful step to change the world.
Update: I’m getting lots of comments where people are saying style and fashion are about free choice and autonomy. When a little kid conforms to certain choices– poofy dresses, giant hairpieces– and receives positive attention from strangers, teachers, doctors, where is her free choice?
The gender marketing aimed at kids today is so aggressive, there isn’t really free choice anymore. For example, If you ask her, almost every little girl will tell you that pink is her favorite color, but it wasn’t always that way. Pink wasn’t even a “girl” color until the last century. Before that, it was a “boy” color, a pastel version of red which symbolized courage. Blue used to be a girl color because it was the color of the Virgin Mary, and that’s why early Disney heroines like Cinderella and Alice were shown in blue.
Below, I’m posting a video of my daughter talking about getting bullied at preschool for wearing “boy shoes.” If a 4 year old girl gets compliments and positive affirmation for wearing a flower on her head but she gets mocked, ostracized, or ignored for wearing “Star Wars” shoes, what is she going to choose? Where is her free choice?
It’s only going to come when we all stop focusing so much attention on what she looks like.
One solution I tried that worked pretty well when my daughter was two was to have my her pick out 4 favorite dresses and wear them repeatedly. She was pleased b/c she loved the dresses, but at least the preschool parents, teachers, and peers stopped commenting on the same old, same old. I blogged about that here. My daughter has done pretty well holding on to autonomy so far, but I find, every year she gets older, it becomes harder to protect her imagination.
It is now years later…and I still love this article. And unfortunately, little girls are still being objectified…
I love this. As the mother of a tween girl and a middle school teacher, I agree wholeheartedly. I think there are a lot of parents thinking the same thing – it’s awesome to see so many girls figuring out who they are, what they want, and breaking stereotypes! I also think this same struggle exists for boys and hope we pay due diligence to letting them be something other than stereotyped boys!
You asked us to imagine what we would say if the child were a boy…. Well I don’t have to imagine; I have 4 boys. And 9 times out of 10, those boys are probably wearing a shirt that gives you a clue. Santa broke through with my youngest boy last year by asking him about his star wars shirt. Easy ice breaker. But if your girl is wearing purple flowers what are you going to get? Oh how pretty. Flowers = pretty. Of course I agree girls have to deal with waaaaaay too much objectification. But they don’t look like boys, they don’t dress like boys, so how can we expect people to treat them the same way? In any case, your request is noted. I’ll knock it off. But do us a favor in return. Next time, give the person some help. Maybe say something like, “Oh BTW, she just loves dogs. Try asking her about her new puppy.”
Terrific publish, thanks. It’s great just how you give other tips for conversation starters. It’s such a uncomplicated thing to say ‘how are you currently currently?’ rather of imposing sexist cultural messages on younger girls. Moreover I saw many people engaging online to talk to strangers therefore I took initiative my starting blog on sharing genuine websites to connect with strangers online.
Thank you for this post and being an awesome mom. Luckily, my parents raised me to be a well-rounded person, but I still had to go out into the world when I was younger and be told “You should model! You’re tall and skinny!” It’s crazy the superficial world we live in nowadays. They didn’t care that I didn’t like modeling or acting, and that I liked maths and science (I am now in grad school studying chemistry..) I also got a LOT of shit the day I went to school wearing Star Wars themed shoes. I also got shot down for expressing interest in learning karate, when I said I had seen it on T.V. and that I wanted to try it myself.
While I respect girls’ choices to pursue their interests in fashion and beauty if it’s something they like, but the world needs to be accepting of girls making different choices as well. Luckily, my parents and relatives, being of Asian descent, value intellectual interests and achievements for both boys and girls, so I had the main support I needed. I just grew up in a superficial Western culture.
continuously i used to read smaller posts that also clear their
motive, and that is also happening with this post which
I am reading now.
Pingback: childless or child-free? | My Feminist Briefs
Pingback: Dear Stranger, You're Right! She Is Beautiful! | The Tailored Mama
Pingback: Friday Favorites 2.7.14 | Swoodson Says
1. The author is writing about girls. Her focus is on girls because she has a daughter. If you have sons, you can take offense that she’s not fighting your fight, or you can blog about how you would like your sons treated by strangers. (Reminds me of when I was young and was about to go to a women’s group. My male housemate was offended that there weren’t men’s groups, when all these women’s groups were starting up. The idea didn’t cross his mind that it was up to a man to start a men’s group.)
2. Why are so many of these adults offended by a parent asking for a little respect for children? We are responsible for how we treat each other, whether it be with adults or children. We are part of a society/community. Why shouldn’t we help each other? Yes, it starts with the parents-of course they are most responsible, but that doesn’t relieve other adults of our responsibility when we interact with a child. One of the problems with our country is that adults don’t take responsibility for their actions. “It’s not my problem” is a childish mantra.
I also believe what many of the commenters here are saying: that boys are more conscious of their looks these days. It wasn’t the same when I was growing up. So we need to be aware of what we are saying when we are with both girls and boys.
Pingback: Why We’re Giving Girls The Wrong Compliments
Pingback: Why We’re Giving Girls The Wrong Compliments | Lipstick & Politics
Pingback: Dear Stranger, You’re Right! She Is Beautiful! | The Tailored Mama
I have to agree with all the moms of boys here. As a teacher (elementary special ed) I see JUST as many if not MORE boys who are VERY concerned about their looks as girls, particularly once they hit 5th or 6th grade. The difference is WHAT society tells them they need to look like. If they aren’t muscular and tall but still with low body fat, they feel they aren’t attractive enough. If they don’t have the “right” brand clothing, they aren’t considered attractive. They have just as many body images now as girls do, but the old thinking that they aren’t valued for their looks makes it really hard to help them with that. Look at magazines (particularly teen magazines) and reality TV today, no one cares WHAT The Bachelor does – they care how HOT he looks, and the same goes for most reality tv guys. The girls in school don’t want to date the smart guys (whether 10 year olds should be dating is a whole different conversation) they want to date the hot, muscular guys.
That being said I do think that kids need positive complements on all aspects of themselves from all the adults who are important to them, and that includes clothing choices and other style choices. My girlfriend (yes I am a woman with a girlfriend – does not change the value of my thoughts) was always told how smart she was by everyone one around her – her parents, teachers, classmates, etc; but never that she was attractive. And now, not only does she never believe me when I tell her she is beautiful (which she very much is), but her self worth is so tied up in her intelligence that she absolutely panics when she gets less than an A – on curved aka comparative – tests at a top rated vet school – aka med school with lots of species to learn about. She was trained subconsciously that her only worth is her intelligence and being the smartest person in the area was always a given – until she got into an area where everyone was the smartest (thats how they got there). Now she feels worthless if she isn’t at the top of the group and it affects her ability to do well as well as her mood and self-esteem. Intelligence was so focused on that she feels she has nothing else to offer and if she isn’t outperforming others she is letting her whole family down. And while your toddler may not tell you that you have to think she is beautiful because you are mom yet, just wait. My girlfriend tells me that I only think she is beautiful because I’m her girlfriend and I have to. And I hear my students talking (yes I eavesdrop at the lockers, cant be too careful about knowing what they are saying to each other) about how their moms all tell them they look good to “shut us up and get us out of the bathroom in the morning” – both my girls and my boys. At some point what others say becomes more important because they know love can blind people to faults.
And yes I do complement ALL my students, frequently. For a job well done, a new haircut they are proud of, a new shirt, dressing “professionally”, etc. I make extra sure to tell my boys how nice they look when they wear a suit, and how professional and responsible it makes them look. We tell people to dress for the job they want, but if they don’t know what makes them look responsible and mature they aren’t going to do it. (and I’ve seen a decline in muscle shirts and increase in nice clothes in my classes as they realize that they don’t have to show off their biceps to look good). And my girls get the most complements from me when they aren’t showing off too much skin (no short shorts or crop tops or bra straps showing – yes even in 3rd or 4th grade now) and again are looking “professional” and not overly sexy. And in both cases its about their choice to take pride in themselves and not show off skin just to get dates and to look responsible and respectful. These kids live in a visual world of selfies and instagram – they have smartphones in school (which have to stay in their lockers from the start bell until lunch and then from the end of recess til the first “pack up” bell at the end of the day), and social status is already about looks – modelling that it is what they have a choice over that matters is more productive than ignoring it (cause they don’t). I dont only complement professional dress but I do always stick to choices – complementing the young lady who had been talking about donating her hair on her cool new shorter layered hair cut, or asking the young man who chose to have a symbol shaved into his hair what it means. Asking the kid in a band/singer tshirt the monday after a local concert if he or she got it at the concert, and telling kids that are wearing a tv show/movie/book based t that I really like that show/movie/book too. Actually the kids have figured out my love for Star Wars and Harry Potter – both of which DO have strong female characters: hello Padme (SW) – and that I will probably talk to them about either for a good 5 minutes if they come in wearing a tshirt and will try to do it to delay work/get less (doesnt work on the getting less part at least). They know I’m paying attention to them and that I see them but they can all choose to cover more skin or wear a tshirt for something they are passionate about – chances are I’ll ask what it is if I dont recognize the design – it isnt something they cant change about themselves no matter how much they try.
I want to loose weight because I weigh 102 and I don’t want to keep eating and eating
I’m 37, so the feminist conscienceness “back then” was a little different. I got a lot of attention for my “cuteness” and was rather shy, **I now believe because of all the attention. With every appearance comment, my father would say something like: “And she’s smart.”
I agree with strategically weaving in these comments. I was unprepared to deal with attention to appearance as a teen/young adult. I took it as an insult and devalued myself because of how it had been underplayed and discouraged. I see a balance and helping **ALL CHILDREN understanding the place of appearance as ideal.
** My youngest son gets lots of attention for his looks. Since starting kinder (where a lot of the attention comes) this year, he has become more shy- he looks away, his body slumps inward, he doesn’t speak. I call it “turtle-ing” and wish that people would stop so he can come back out. In the meantime, my Dad and some life experience have informed my interactions with him and all children, boys and girls.
I couldn’t find where to post in reply generally. This post is most related to my thoughts where you speak of your father’s input meaning a lot, so here’s where I’ll say my piece:
More than anything else, it’s what we as parents (ever more than extended family) say to our kids and what we show that matters notice about our kids AND OURSELVES that matters most.
I don’t remember EVER complimenting my two gorgeous kids on their appearance other than maybe something like (to my daughter): “Wow, how many layers and different colors are you wearing today? You sure look bright!” Or, (to my son): “Are you wearing your Supeman pajamas under your clothes again today? Maybe we can put them in the laundry basket tonight, okay?” My son, by the way, looked very girl-like through his toddler years & when bundled up in winter clothes (hat, hood, etc) was often complimented as an “adorable little girl.” When his younger sister played dress-up, he did as well, & the two often swapped gender roles during dress-up play. I’m talking my fluffy wedding slip, a silk scarf, and a teal beret for my son and daddy’s work boots & jacket (manual labor type stuff) for my daughter.
The cooperative preschool we attended changed everything in so many important ways. The adults took parenting classes & volunteered in the classroom regularly. I loved it because I probably learned far more than my kids did. While they were just having fun playing and creating, we adults were having a lifetime of gender bias reprogrammed and positive parenting skills pumped into us. I was a very eager student and consider myself lucky to have stumbled on our amazing co-op preschool.
The first big takeaway from those years is that it takes effort, time, and desire to find ways to interact with our kids that encourages and enforces autonomy and identity exploration. You’ll recall my son played Superman. He also dressed up in fluffy slips, and loved to shop at yard sales from a young age which morphed into just plain loving to shop. It’s far easier for girls to explore dressing and behaving in “ungirlie” ways in our society — to a point. We lived in a small, rural town where the out-of-doors and getting dirty were a natural part of all of our lives so she was free to dresses, jeans, or both at the same time which she often did.
The second big takeaway is that our kids learn about what is important in life by what WE as parents model for them. No matter how conscious parents are to never complimenting their daughters on prettiness & froo-froo-ness, if mom spends hours primping in the mirror with hair, makeup, & clothes, and spending tons of money at the salon on cuts, bayalage, mani-pedi’s, etc., then kids will internalize the importance of specific appearance and gender performativity. Also, what mommy does all the time and what daddy does all the time (roles working inside or outside the home and pitching in so that chore household & yard work roles are not divided into what the man ALWAYS does & what the woman ALWAYS does) all influence the development of autonomous, well-rounded children.
I decided when she was born that I did not want my daughter to ever play with Barbie’s. When the first Barbie came into our home (birthday gift) when she was about 4 or 5, I realized that banning Barbie’s would not work. Instead, I let her play with Barbie and I also talked to her about why Barbie would not be able to stand up and walk across the room if Barbie represented a real human being. We went into other aspects of Barbie age appropriately over the years and the fixation with Barbie eventually wore off. Today at the ages of 24 & 27, my son and daughter are very strong in their identities and don’t seem burdened with valuing themselves (or others) based on outward appearance. My son does still love to shop though, and thank goodness he landed a great job after grad school to pay for his taste in nice clothes (no fluffy slips or teal berets that I know of, but that would be just fine, too, if that’s what made him happy). My daughter loves thrift store shopping for pretty, vintage things and also durable jeans & knee-high work boots to slog around in the muddy fields on the farm where she works doing education outreach with young children at the farms’ pea patch.
Sorry this was so long! This is a topic I feel passionate about and I’m so glad people feel compelled to do things differently than their parents might have done when they were growing up. 🙂
I really appreciated your comment. Thanks
So what I get from the comments and story is compliment cute kids on how smart they are and ugly kids on being cute. J/k. How about we just accept everyone for however they want to be/act/dress. Stop being judgemental.
I don’t think that THE ONLY thing little girls should hear is about their looks, and how pretty or cute they are. That said, I was NOT a particularly cute kid, and I grew up hearing from my peers that I was ugly. (Not from my parents — everyone’s parents thinks they’re cute!) Even waitresses thought I was a boy, and we all know little boys aren’t pretty. So, I guess my point is, maybe it’s okay to hear it sometimes. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so worried about it later on, if I thought I actually was cute.
“we all know little boys aren’t pretty. “??????
If I saw your daughter wearing those “boy shoes” I would compliment her on them because I want to let girls know it’s okay and cool to like sci-fi and Star Wars is awesome. I think I was fortunate in being and only child and having a boy as the closest and first neighbor my edge growing up. I loved Star Wars and one of the best memories with my dad is him surprising me and taking me to see “Return of the Jedi” at the theater. (The original release so that tells you how old I am.) I played with Barbies and Transformers and used to play-act comics and movies. I watched my dad build things and work on the car and helped my mom cook. I can do all those things and think all gender need to know that stuff. It’s life skills everyone needs.
I sometimes compliment kids on their appearance but I do it to both boys and girls and try to be genuine. Usually it’s on an article of clothing, especially if it’s a comic book thing. I will say there are many more women wearing sci-fi and comic stuff in college. I’m going back for a second degree and am glad to see more women in sciences and who are interested in stuff that was traditionally male. If I see a kid with a book, I will comment on that first because I do try to compliment on personality or mind rather than appearance.
and there’s the fact that this works both ways. As the mother of a boy who loves the bright colours that only show up in the girls’ section, it’s something I’m incredibly aware of. When he points out a shoe that’s purple with bright blue piping, and the clerk says “oh no, you don’t want that, it’s a girls’ shoe”, he gets justifiably frustrated.
However, I agree that girls are muich more likely to deal with the evaluation of what they look like. when I greet my students at the door in the morning, I have to make sure I’m not just commenting on what the girls look like, and instead am asking what kind of night they had, or how the soccer game went.
While some of this is true, a lot of it is very general and biased. Pink is many different things in many times and different places and it isn’t all that prominent in role model’s clothing either. More of this is focused on children’s subconscious beliefs than reinforcement by adults, if anything it’s what media you allow a child so young to view that is going to shape societal norms. Another point you went on was that boys don’t get the same, which seems more like confirmation bias than anything. I can’t recall how many times as a child an adult I was meeting would say, “Oh that’s such a strong name, oh look how handsome you are.” While I agree with the sentiment at heart I think the approach here is all wrong and in the end it’s more about how you approach talking about the famous role models they are going to be exposed to later in life, as in explaining that just because models look a certain way or dress a certain way doesn’t mean it is the only or right way. All said and done though I enjoyed the read, and your take on the matter.
Very well written and I agree.
“From the moment they are born, girl babies get attention for how they look. They are dressed like dolls and turned into objects by their own parents, a practice reinforced by our powerfully sexist culture.”
So all the baby boys dressed with Caterpillar bulldozers on their shirts and tiny tan “work boots,” or dressed in a football jersey on Sundays don’t also fall prey to this objectification? I think the subject matter here can be attributed to the opposite gender as well as just to girls. Thought-provoking piece, for sure.
Guess what! People will make assumptions about you based on your appearance. Right or wrong is a fact of life. It happens to boys, it happens to girls. You do it, I do it. Everybody does it! Clothes are an expression of oneself! We choose them based on what we want to project to others. So if a stranger comments on your child’s clothing or appearance, they are commenting on the one thing they can SEE that is a reflection of your child. Like many commenters have pointed out, it’s your job to instill that sense of worth from things other than appearances. A stranger doesn’t know that your daughter can kick a soccer ball like no other or that she can read a chapter book in a day at six years old. And these things are no more important to who she is than any other one attribute. She is a whole person who is greater than the sum of her parts. The stranger sees that she likes to wear pink and so they comment on that. I’m sure when the stranger isn’t a stranger anymore and knows how well she can kick a soccer ball, they will comment on that, or on her beautiful spirit or her sparkling personality.
I think you’d be doing your daughter a huge disservice if you pretended her appearance doesn’t matter at all. While it had nothing to do with her worth as a person, how she chooses to dress can have a huge effect on how others will see her, at least until they get to know her. But if she goes for a job interview looking like homeless person, she isn’t getting that job, regardless of how well she could perform. I know you aren’t oblivious to this fact, which is why you buy your daughter nice clothes and make sure she looks nice before going to the mall. So getting upset when some well-meaning stranger points it out is slightly hypocritical.
I agree with what you are saying for the most part, and it gives the well – meaning stranger something to think about. But be realistic. When I tell a kid I like their shirt I’m telling them I like a choice that they made, but in a less weird way. And as a parent, I’d be way more concerned with a stranger asking my child how they “slept last night.”
Thank you for your comment. I was about to pull my hair out trying to find the words you choose!
I was speechless when I read this — I’m guilty of all of the preening compliments that you mentioned, and I’ve never considered the long-term impact.
It doesn’t seem so hard to break the cycle of making thoughtless comments about a young girl’s appearance, although I imagine it will be hard to counteract this behavior when I see others do it to my future daughter.
Thanks so much for calling my attention to this — I need to learn to casually interact with girls as individuals, not as pretty little dolls whose worth should be tied up in their appearances.
Dear entire rest of the world: Please conform to my opinion on a topic so I can be self-righteous about how horrible everyone else because they aren’t thinking about my preferences 100% of the time, and so I don’t have to teach my kids how to put this stuff into perspective myself. Thanks, the author.
I don’t see this blog as self-righteous at all. What I do see is a parent trying to put “this stuff into perspective” by asking us to think about what we do that might undermine that. All of the subtle cues we, as a society, give to children have a big impact. Your argument makes no sense — you slammed the author for making parenting decisions and acting on them, and for NOT making parenting decisions and acting on them. What’s your REAL issue?
It isn’t just her opinion, Mister Man. It also happens to be mine, and that of a lot of other people.
The alternative is that we conform to *your* opinion, apparently, and who the hell are you?
“..Mr. Man…”? Isn’t that sexist? Are you attempting to say that because he has a penis his opinions have no value? Isn’t that gender stereotyping? Or shaming based on gender? Did you just illustrate your argument…or just lose all credibility in one post?
Nope, because you completely missed the point of the blog itself, with just THIS comment: Or shaming based on gender? Did you just illustrate your argument…or just lose all credibility in one post?; WOMEN are the ones who are typically shamed for their appearance because of their gender, that was the whole POINT of the blog. Of course, if it’s a guy commenting he’s not going to ‘get’ it because he doesn’t experience it! And the whole post proved that. So, maybe a little less proving OUR point and more of your own point, next time? Hmmm…?
Vash’ although having a “discussion” with somebody like you is like talking into a wind tunnel…nothing comes back but a lot of wind…
Let me point out that I have never said that sexism doesn’t exist or that women do not suffer because of a societal indoctrination that can limit them. my argument is that the way to work against that is for the Parent to frame the perceptions of how the child interprets these things not to hope that you can control what others say or do.
However, Sexism is either wrong or it is not. Yes as you said it is typically women that are the victims of sexism. But you don’t get to then use the same behavior and come off as anything other than an idiot. Your counter argument is based on my gender. Not on my individual thoughts. So you condemn sexist behavior by being sexist? You confirm my position that even the most well intentioned people make mistakes on something that is perception based. Hence the need for the PARENT to assume the task of framing the experience for the child. So they can distinguish between honest attempts at kindness that went astray and negative behavior.
Here is the definition you requested
Full Definition of SEXISM
: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women
: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
Please note that while I point out that Sexism is indeed almost entirely discrimination of women….and that this article is addressing that specifically…your comments are sexist. Dana’s idea that boys don’t preen…fit definition number 2. As does the pejorative use of “Mister Man”.
So be as angry as you want but that is why I immediately dismiss anything you have to say on the matter.
I won’t even address your assumptions and opinions on my being one parent or how I raise my children or their genders, or apparently my great wealth and advantages? As I said your opinion holds no value for me.
Best of luck
For the love of Pete! It is a kid not a hot house flower!! Their little brains aren’t even fully developed yet. Boy or girl…they will preen…feel good about themselves because an adult clearly likes them and they are getting attention…then see a bright shiny object and move on. If you don’t make a big deal of it they won’t! Do your parenting at home! Don’t make me do it when you are out in public. If you feel the conversation is damaging the delicate blossom, then when you get home explain that while the very nice person was trying to be kind, they should remember there is more to them than just beauty, pretty clothes or whatever. That is your job. Not mine, or your Doctor’s or the nice lady at the retail store. This all sounds like Your issues not the child’s.
This is clearly not just her issue. Girls being too focused on their appearance is part of the sexism that is embedded in our society. There is no way that she can change that only by what she privately tells her child at home. After all, it takes a village.
I agree, it does take a village…to teach the rules of common society. I call kids out for bad behavior in public, if I saw a kid steal, or do graffiti, be violent or aggressive, using bad language or disrespecting elders or waitresses, generally help them learn to fit into the group. I stop them from running out of a store in panic cause they can’t find their parents, don’t climb on statues or shelving units and in general keep them from harming themselves. My position in your child’s life is merely to be kind and protective and come to their aid for physical safety and well being when you are not paying attention. Which these days is appallingly frequent. You are responsible for putting life in proper perspective. Helping them learn their gifts, and build healthy self -esteem. That is what a parent does not a well meaning stranger. This article did offer some great ideas for other ways to initiate a conversation with a child. Boy or girl. However if somebody shows your child kindness and attention that should be all you REQUIRE. The rest is up to you! You are the star in the child’s life and we are background players. So step up or don’t get on the stage in the first place.
Why can’t it be both? Why can’t we put things into perspective as parents at home but also hope that strangers and acquaintances will also reinforce that our girls are valuable beyond how they look?
Exactly, Juju. Asking for society’s help is not the same as abdicating responsibility as a parent. I don’t understand why people are having a problem with this.
Juju it can be both. I actually appreciate the point the author is trying to make. I just think the idea that you ignore the kindness offered instead of framing it in a teachable moment isn’t realistic. invite people to comment on something other than the bright pink sneakers with glitter/mirrors and flashing lights…or the Disney Princesses dress with tiara.but don’t be offended when they do. That is the part of the article that drives me nuts. Your kid is wearing a headband with a giant flower…give it up….that is EXACTLY what people will comment on, because they will assume she chose it herself. I just think it is the parents job to help the child process it in a healthy way. So if that process upsets you then good luck cause you are gonna need it to get that darn thing of her head without tears, screaming and drama.
Wade, I’m glad to hear you are in agreement with the point the author is making. (I’m assuming the point you are in agreement about is that as a society, we can all help our girls learn to love more of themselves by refraining from over-complimenting their appearance.)
I disagree that she’s saying we should ignore kindness. She offered several alternatives to direct that kindness, and I hope that message wasn’t lost. I also don’t think she’s offended– I think she’s asking fellow adults who care about kids, to be thoughtful, hard as it may be, be intentional in what we teach, and avoid the obvious compliment in favor of an interaction that will be more meaningful.
Here is where I think you are right–when you said, “If you don’t make a big deal of it they won’t”–she’s asking us all not to make a big deal of the flower/dress/shiny shoes. The child has probably gotten the same compliment ten times already that day, so the only new thing it tells her (besides that it’s the most interesting thing about her that day) is that adults are predictable.
Btw, sexism requires female children to adapt their behaviour to their surroundings, not their surroundings to adapt themselves to the children. And it is a long uphill battle for many parents to teach their children precisely this in a world DESIGNED to tear them down at every other opportunity. Yet people who ascribe to the theory that parents are the ones with the sole responsibility to teach their children, never hesitate to blame the parents when they fail DESPITE everything they’ve done.
And, now, I have to wonder why you found it such a NON-Herculean task? Is it perhaps because it was only boys you raised? Or, if not, is it because you’re only one parent among many, and one who has many more advantages than most? Kthx.
When have you ever seen a boy preen? Ever?
Wait, right. You’re not a parent, are you?
I’m sorry have we met? Have you met my kids? Well adults now..
Again with the sexist gender bias from you? Zero credibility.
And, you’re only one parent, so, really, you are, again, proving nothing. Sad but typical.
Saying that one gender typically experiences more appearance shaming is not ‘sexist gender bias’, btw. It’s simply being truthful. Saying one gender DOESN’T experience more body shaming than the other IS sexist gender bias. Methinks someone does need to look up the term….
Wade, I completely agree!
I have three children. My oldest one is six and he is concerned about what he looks like. My second child is a boy, who couldn’t care less! My third is a girl, who doesn’t wear bows, or flowers in her hair. She has a little elastic band, just enough to keep it out of her eyes. She has pretty hair things, but won’t keep them in and I’ve no intention of trying to make her. If she decides she likes them, then she can wear them when she’s older. She has pretty (my version of pretty clothes) most of them are gifts, or second hand. She wears the same things over and over. She has one pair of cute shoes and that’s it. I plan on getting her some fake crocs soon. People don’t comment on how pretty she is. I think she’s beautiful and I tell her she is, just like I tell my boys how gorgeous they are. I also tell them that they’re very clever, creative, thoughtful, helpful etc…
I think the US version of attention getting prettiness is different from where I’m from. It always seems like a bow, or flower in your hair is enough to elicit compliments galore here. People at home tell her she’s beautiful all the time. I have no problem with it. She will be taught at home that she’s worth much more than just what she looks like and that her ideas and imagination are vital to her true happiness.
I wasn’t told I was pretty (not that I remember) from anyone and I learned to deal with it. I’ve known other girls, who believe it means they are ugly, because they weren’t told they were pretty. I also know girls, who just about crack when their looks aren’t quite so stunning and get depressed about it… While it shouldn’t be important, it is, otherwise why do people spend sooooooo much on hair adornments, clothes, shoes, them move on to teeth, hair dying, makeup etc… If you do any of those things, does that not mean you’re supporting sexism, thus part of the problem? If you’ve ever bought a gender specific toy, or had a clear demarcation between your boys and girls toys, clothes, hairstyles, car seats, or the colours they wear etc… Doesn’t that mean you’re supporting sexism? In that case I’m a supporter in some ways! My girl has worn some of my boys things, but I wouldn’t do the same the other way round. My boys have what I like to call proper boys haircuts, with short back and sides, while my girls is longer. They’re encouraged to play with anything they like, which has resulted in my boys having lots of traditional boys toys and a collection of lalaloopsies, while my girl has dolls, she likes to carry a ball, or train about!
I believe the two sexes are inherently different and that’s a good thing! 🙂
It’s not my job to try and control other people’s efforts of kindess and compliments. When people say kind things, I say thank you very much, that’s really kind of you! It turns the compliment back onto them, without making a big deal of it. I also
Iike to think it’s gracious 🙂
When our first child was born, people told us how cute he was all the time. People would regularly come up to us, even in the store (with both boys) to tell us how gorgeous they were and my husband loved it. However, when people from home would say how alert they were, he thought they must mean they weren’t cute. I told him I think it’s considered to be one of the highest compliments, that your child looks intelligent. After that he loved it!
To be told the same thing over and over and over, can cause a child to think that’s all they are; so even if it’s positive, it can have a negative effect 🙁
I know lots of men who are not sexist and I object to the suggestion that they are. Just as I object to the suggestion that women are somehow less than men. Making assumptions about things a man does, or says, using negative stereotypes, does not help further the cause of women’s rights, or eradicating sexism 🙁
I tell my friends children they’re gorgeous all the time, whether they’re boys or girls! While there are children that are magazine pretty, if they’re not nice, they don’t get as many compliments. If they’re unpleasant, they don’t look half so cute. It’s the same for kids that may not be as strikingly cute, when you get to know them, they’re just adorable if they have a lovely personality!
I’ve come to agree with the philosophy that we should tell our children how beautiful they are, before the media has the chance to tell them otherwise! 🙂
In addition to this, there’s no cable tv, so no adverts, or Disney Chanel, then I can control what they watch, which we know has a big influence on them! However, I believe the biggest influence on how our kids feel and think about themselves is how we treat them and how they see us treating ourselves. Compliments from strangers are only a drop in the bucket 🙂
I work in a preschool with typical and special ed children. I find them all adorable and cute and can specifically recall myself often complimenting a the new shirt or sneakers, etc. of a boy. However, I do think even I probably complement the appearance of girls more frequently. So thank you for this article and its suggestions. I think we do often pay too much attention to the physical attributes of children and girls in particular. Now that I know better, I will do better!
Agreed! and well said 🙂
I think the problem with this article is that it focused on complimenting which a result of the main issue that is ‘focus on beauty especially in females’.
The solution is not, as the article suggests, to stop complimenting girls on their looks since it erases a form of recieving affirmation(something that all children crave). The solution is instead to shift the focus from solely valuing looks in females to valuing all forms of beauty in girls AND boys.
This wouldn’t even be an issue were it not for the billboards/magazines promoting the fact that you aren’t a complete female until you fill these beauty standards and once you do you don’t need anything besides your looks. THAT’S the dangerous message that needs to stop not strangers providing much needed affirmation to children. It’s also why a lot of people in the comments are having some issue with this, because the article adresses the leaves( compliments) instead of the root(beauty standards for women) of the problem.
I definitely agree with your post. I also think compliments help build a child’s self esteem. What is a little girl has something physical that she is ashamed of, a kind word can really brighten her day and help her to not focus on it. I had teeth that stuck straight out of my mouth and would never smile. My grandmother even told me not to smile in pictures so I wouldn’t ruin them. Since I lost those teeth and the new ones straightened out, everyone told me I had a pretty smile. It would’ve been nice to hear it when my teeth were crooked too.
Every child’s smile is beautiful and I’m horrified that you were spoken to like that! I don’t care how bad a child’s teeth are, I bet you were adorable, but made to feel self conscious 🙁 that has far more influence than strangers saying nice things! All kids like to hear nice things about themselves, there’s always something nice we can say, we just don’t need to gush 🙂
No, I don’t think you’re quite there. People can’t help it if they’re cute or handsome or pretty and if you wrap their self-esteem up in their looks, it’s going to be horrible for them later when (not if) they lose those looks or come to look completely different. Value them for who they are and what they do, not how they look. A compliment about looks once in a while is not going to hurt anything but if that’s all anyone ever says, that’s all the kids ever hear.
“People can’t help it if they’re cute…”, but the author suggests complimenting on how she draws or kicks a soccer ball which are also skills one is born with. And a person can work on her appearance as much as she can practice kicking a ball. I’m not sure how it’s much different to compliment either one. If I see any child wearing a shirt or article of clothing that I think is neat, I’m certainly going to tell them so. “Value them for who they are” but completely disregard their ability to make clothing choices and make themselves look good or interesting? That IS who they are. If you can pick out a feature of a person, male or female, and compliment them on that feature-whether child or adult- you could brighten their whole mood for the day or longer. It’s nice to be noticed. If they get tired of hearing appearance compliments then I’m sure they will look for other arenas in which to display talents to gain recognition. I have to agree with other commenters who note that while we should teach our children that appearance is not everything, it IS the first thing that every other human will notice about you. And it is ok to teach children to embrace what they have and package it as best as they can, or however they want but whatever they choose will have an impact on how they are seen.
That’s lovely and I completely agree! 🙂
Isn’t it also OK to use it as a teachable moment for the kid? You can’t control other people and people who think that the world should come over to their reasoning will struggle their whole lives. The thing to do is to tell your kids that it doesn’t matter what other people say or think about them. Their esteem isn’t/shouldn’t be derived from the eyes of others. Ultimately, that makes for a stronger self concept, not just wishing that people don’t ever comment on anything your child does, while still paying attention to the child.
“Seems to me that the reason we buy fancy clothing is to ensure that we get the validation we need from people other than the ones we live with.” Or “The thing to do is to tell your kids that it doesn’t matter what other people say or think about them. Their esteem isn’t/shouldn’t be derived from the eyes of others.” Two views in a nutshell. One is much much more destructive and much more profitable. And unfree!
Give me a break, if you don’t want people to comment on your kids appearance then dress them in potato sacks. Seems to me that the reason we buy fancy clothing is to ensure that we get the validation we need from people other than the ones we live with.
agreed. first world problems
My daughter was born in China, so not only was she an adorable toddler, but she was also very exotic looking in our mostly non-Asian community, so it seemed that everyone we met was commenting in her looks. My husband and I were concerned that because all she ever heard was how beautiful she was, she would focus more on what was on the outside rather than what was in the inside. So every time someone said something about her appearance, my husband and I would say to her, “But why do mommy and daddy love you so much?” And she responded (in her tiny little Minnie Mouse voice), “Because of the goodness in my heart.” That adorable toddler is now almost 19 and a kind, generous, smart young woman who dedicates her life to social justice.
My daughter is Korean and very beautiful. I know, I’m the last one to be objective, but she is truly stunning. We also live in a largely white community, so there’s the “exotic” factor. I love your advice and am trying with all my might to cast focus on other things. That can be a challenge, too, given some other Asian stereotypes. For example, she’s reading ahead by two grade levels. Whenever I call attention to this, the “smart Asian” stereotype kicks in. The response varies, but often it’s a kind of shrug, like, “Well duh she’s smart. She’s Asian!” It almost makes me want to point out she’s behind in math. . . ALMOST. 😉 So sometimes it’s easier to focus on her sweetness, but that’s a whole other issue, right? Girls are supposed to be sweet and nice. The same compliment for my 10-year old son feels like an insult to him. So there’s that. I just keep on trying to be thoughtful and find the balance. This is a great post and discussion.
my mother had similar rules, because she was of the opinion that complimenting a little girl on her appearance would make her “vain’. By the time I was a teenager I was convinced I was ugly.
Great post and interesting comments too! My personal experiences: I have 2 attractive little girls and have experienced this, although more at the preschool stage. My 6 year old is not as ‘cute’ as she was and doesn’t adorn herself much so the comments have reduced.
My 4 year old is still super cute and gets lots of comments. She is shy and actually dislikes comments on her appearance from strangers and generally being spoken about. She also went through a phase of wearing a gold tiara as a headband (she liked how it looked and it was comfortable). Of course, people commented on it and asked her questions about it. She would complain about this. I tried to explain that if she didn’t wear it this wouldn’t be a problem but this didn’t work. Fair enough too, why should she change her appearance to avoid comments! Finally the tiara broke, thank goodness!
I was cute as a preschooler and then unusual and unattractive as an older child and teenager. I did have distinctive hair and adults loved it and commented on it. I hated that, for various reasons. Later, it would have been nice to get more compliments from my peers but I don’t think compliments from adults would have compensated for the lack of those. I now have a generally favourable view of my appearance, which I have grown into!
My general views:
1. Boys are much less commented on because their clothes are more nondescript and they rarely have long beautiful adorned hair. The simple act of keeping their hair short makes them less “decorative”. Also, while women do feel like commenting on beautiful boys (I know I do), men do not. This is a major difference.
2. I do not make comments on the appearances of adults I hardly know or ones I know well. Why on earth is this appropriate with children? I think it is an example of how we treat children like pets or accessories.
3. Girls who are plain would not mind the lack of compliments so much if society in general didn’t set such store in girls’ appearances, focus so much on the pretty girls and therefore draw attention to how plain they are by comparison.
4. I do think it is worth us all making the effort to change this conversation, every little bit helps.
Thanks for allowing me to make such a long comment!
“Also, while women do feel like commenting on beautiful boys (I know I do), men do not. This is a major difference.”
I actually think this is a great point that hasn’t come up before.
You’re so right! I do compliment adults though… 🙂 they probably all think I’m a nutter! Lol
“Or just imagine what you would say to her if she were boy.”
Lol this one is my favorate!
OMG you can do that?! My mind is exploded! What a world we live in! Alert the media! I’ll call all the news papers! Newsflash: Apparently it’s now physically possible to say the same stuff to girls as you already say to boys!! Isn’t that amazing?!
have you read David Sedaris’s hilarious essay about working as a Macy’s Christmas elf? He specifically describes one Santa who always told girls they were “the most beautiful girl in the world…With boys, this Santa plays on their brains: each one is the smartest boy in the world.” No one around them seems to really notice the difference.
Lots of people do treat boys and girls extremely differently, starting in babyhood.
I have not seen this essay. Thanks so much for telling me about it. I’ll look it up.
As an independent-minded woman, I’m surprised to say I hadn’t really thought of this before. I basically grew up as a boy – mistaken for a boy constantly until 7th grade, hung out with boys, competed with boys athletically … and no surprise, I never had people telling me how “pretty” or “cute” I was, since it just didn’t apply. (It would have been nice to hear it once and a while before I turned 25 or so…) It IS true that it’s usually the fall-back icebreaker for grown-ups to comment on a girl.
However I’ve got to say I have a very cute and handsome 8-year-old son, and his looks do get commented on … but NEVER his clothes, which would not be true for a girl.
I think being complimented on when you look nice is perfectly appropriate, but as a culture we should be much more cognizant of this kind of thing. Thanks for the thought-provocation.
I’m so in this with you! I’m the lady behind One Dress Protest (not that I expect you to know what that is — http://www.onedressprotest.com ) And now I’m the mama of a 16 mo old little girl. It’s soooooooooo hard to not comment on her cuteness and beauty ourselves, how can I expect others to not? But we of course try and hope that others can engage her on things beyond her appearance. I’m in this with you guys, we can help change this! One community at a time!
I LOVE THIS! I did not know about you. Sharing…
This was fascinating to me. I hardly have any clothes that fit and I rarely think about what to wear, it’s whatever’s clean lol do people really put in lots of effort to deciding what to wear, as in stressful time? It sounds nightmarish… I love the idea of the same dress everyday!!! 🙂 I love dresses 🙂
I understand your point totally, but shouldn’t you have this discussion with your older daughters “who dressed her first?”
Are you kidding me with this? It’s the rest of the worlds fault that your daughter(s) are attractive and dress nicely? I understand that our society places a huge emphasis on clothing and appearance but it’s your job as a parent to teach your children about it and how to handle it approriately. Your request for others to just do it for you is unfortunately ill worded and comes across as whinny just like those parents who complain that it’s the teacher’s fault for not giving their child a good grade.
Yes maybe it is a little pushy to ask adults NEVER to compliment a girl but the problem is why do they compliment a girl but not a boy? When was the last time an adult came up to a boy and said ‘Wow that’s a pretty T-shirt, you look really cute in those pants’? The issue is not complimenting itself but gendered complimenting. Also on the rare occasion a boy is complimented the wording changes, cute becomes handsome, pretty becomes cool. This gendered complimenting is detrimental for boys as well; just like it pressure girls to focus on their appearance it also pressures boys to gain attention through other means. It’s ridiculous to assume boys don’t notice the lack of attention or desire it, all children do.
Compliment with purpose: “You look like you’re about to get your Ph.D. That’s exactly what people wear when they get their doctorate. Good for you!”
if you do not want people to comment about material things maybe you should not take her to the material mecca called the mall.
I get your point. My daughter gets constant attention, because, as a caucasian girl, she has big blue eyes,long eyelashes, and VERY ethnic looking light brown curly hair. She’s beautiful. But, when she comes to me for the umpteenth time putting on a different outfit, saying ‘mom…do I look cute (or beautiful, or pretty, or whatever adjective you would like to insert here),’ I say, yes sweetie, you always look beautiful, no matter what you have on. I grew up in a family who always says something about your appearance. I’m 32, and come to think of it, my brother has never complimented me on anything other than my appearance. Other people in my family have, but either you get complimented, or if no one says anything about how you look, then you think to yourself that you must be looking pretty crappy. I hate that, especially if I’ve put on some weight, or if I’m just not feeling up for putting a lot of effort into my appearance. I feel my family should love me for me, not for how pretty I look. My ‘favorite’ (note sarcasm), is when someone says ‘you look tired, everything ok?’ and I look at them and say ‘Yes, everything is fine, and no, I’m not tired at all.’ Saying someone ‘looks tired’ is code for ‘you look like shit.’
I am with you on “You look tired.” THANKS A LOT, right? Usually I just came out of the ladies room trying to make myself look ok after something hard I was going through in life, thought I got myself together, but I must have been wrong! To me it definitely means I look like crap.
THis is great! I read something similar a few years ago and really took it to heart — Another ice breaker for conversation with children that I have found really good is “what have you been thinking about lately/today/since i saw you?” Kids 3, 4, 5, 6 or so seem to really like it that someone realizes they have thoughts and not just — well — dresses or toys — I have had some great conversations with my friends’ kids and my cousins’ and kids at birthday parties — wherever — They will tell things they are concerned about — learning math or something — also things they dream of — it’s been fun……I love seeing their face light up when they get to talk about something important to them….
Best response…asking about their thoughts is a great way to validate them as individuals. I learned video games my kids were interested in so we could talk about their interests. However I believe the key is balance. Ignoring their looks or asking others to is just as damaging. I don’t believe compliments are bad. Stay involved. Deflect if you must, or don’t take them out in public if it is that big a deal to you. You are not going to help your child fit into the world by protecting them from people addressing their looks. Teach them how to accept the compliments graciously and turn the conversations to interests will show people their inner beauty. You only have influence on them for a finite number of years before they enter school and outside influences start adding to who they will become. Make sure they have groups of friends to talk to in your neighborhood, church, camping, clubs, local park and school so they are not reliant on one place for acceptance. Stay involved to teach them how to respond. You are not going to change the outside world view, but you can change how your daughter or son interact with it by teaching them an appropriate response to move beyond outward appearances.
I love this suggestion! Thank you!
I am the 2nd child of 4 (3 girls), my parents never ever commented on our appearance, they would tell us we were smart, or artistic, or hard working, but never called us pretty. I was never bothered by this, but my younger sister was scarred by it. I think she felt that because our parents never told her she was pretty, there was something wrong with her. She’s still upset by it now, has brought it up on a few occasions and at 40, is just now recovering a healthy self esteem. I agree that too much focus is on people’s appearance, but making it a taboo isn’t helping either.
I see you’ve been making improvements on your femmephobia. Am glad that you didn’t try to force your youngest daughter out of that flower hairband.The example you cited about pink and blue is fine, but that should just tell you that no stereotypically “girly” thing is inherently bad (nor good), since it once was a “boyish” colour and not considered bad back then.
Yes, it’s important that all children, regardless of their biological sex or gender identity, should be able to freely express themselves without any social constraints, but if a girl likes pink and that just coincides with what girls are expected to like right now, it isn’t bad in itself. Forget about attacking the choices themselves, the real issue is how society conditions children to accept them without doubt, as if they are inborn traits.
Everybody has the right to like whatever they want, except when they try to project their preferences on others do they infringe on other’s right to free choice. I know you’re trying to convince your daughters to not conform to gender stereotypes, but you shouldn’t be pushing them in the opposite direction of what society wants them to be either. That way, your methods are no better than gender stereotyping itself,because you are already applying a certain standard to girlhood yourself. Instead, you should be presenting everything as neutral, and allowing your daughters to choose for themselves. Even if their choice is stereotypically “girly”, you can try to reason with them, asking why they like it, and if other choices are possible. Just don’t put their “girly” choice in a negative light.
Anyways, even if the reason most girls like pink (I assure you, this pink-liking phase probably won’t last, at least not for all girls, because by the time they become teenagers, they may start to actively oppose “girly” things to be rebellious or “cool” (if “manly” = “cool”), and they will most likely start shitting on “girly” things. Which still isn’t an improvement. I know this because half of my female classmates hate pink now and start shitting on other girls who still like pink) is because of gender stereotypes, just let them like whatever they want if you can’t convince them to stop. Because gender stereotyping will be alive and thriving, at least for our lifetimes, since it’s so deeply ingrained in human culture to be removed. So just support their choices if it doesn’t harm them. Tell them what the right mentality should be (i.e. the real issue at hand is the act and purpose of gender stereotyping), but let them be anything they want. If they like it so much, the fact remains that they like it. Even if it is not a conscious choice. they like it. So there’s nothing wrong with liking it, whatever it is. Unless they were shamed into accepting a choice, as with the Star Wars incident, you should generally be supportive. Because I’m thinking how if I had a parent who tries to make me conform to their own ideas of how I should dress, what I should play with, what I can like, etc, I’ll be pretty scared, and maybe even frustrated with them. My parents do the same to me as what you’re doing, except what they’re deciding are mostly unrelated to my gender stereotypes, just that they’re deciding what sort of future I should have (what job suits me, what sort of school I should be attending, that I should get married when I’m an adult, etc. That’s probably because I’m not white and they don’t have the privilege of messing around with my gender expression. And I’m still 13, for fuck’s sake).
Also, regarding the incident with the Star Wars shoes: I don’t think liking Star Wars is a good idea for anyone, female, male or otherwise. Star Wars appropriated many non-white cultures and religions to use for their character designs (e.g. Leia’s hairstyle is probably appropriated from Hopi culture) and conceptualization (the Jedi Knights are based on Buddhist philosophies), with a whitewashed, cisgendered, heterosexual male-defaulted cast (which prevents minority groups from being represented) and perpetuation of harmful gender stereotypes and the sexualisation of Princess Leia (when she becomes enslaved by Jabba and is forced into a metal bikini). Those should be enough a reason to hate Star Wars. And the reason why boys would bully her is the same as how bronies harass female MLP fans: they want to dominate and possess the franchise all by themselves and erase all female presence in the fandom. As for girls who bully her, it’s because they internalized gender stereotypes, which is pretty useful for maintaining patriarchy if some women also support it.
I have to agree about Star Wars.These movies are an obsolete Hollywood white elephant .I always disliked how they completely ripped off Asian culture (martial arts/philosophy) to create the Jedis but they didn’t even bother to include an Asian Jedi (or a female one).The filmmakers didn’t give a rat’s ass about girls (or Asians.) .Sucks big time.While the Star Wars films are still good as ‘entertainment’ (but only if you don’t use your brain at all) i believe they don’t have anything good to offer to a girl today.
Wow, 13 year old! I am not worried about you! You have amazing critical thinking skills and are doing a fine job with yourself!
I’m going to have to disagree with your dismissal of the entire Star Wars franchise. While the movies aren’t perfect, the extended universe (books, shows, games) are much more feminist friendly with a diverse range of female characters. The characters are also less white washed (though due to the nature of the entertainment there is still some whitewashing). To dismiss the entire franchise because of a few bad movies is short sighted.
i feel that the positive acknowledgement of every individual’s outter appearance is ok, no matter the age, as long as it’s meant with an individual to individual application “that jacket says cute but professional while the boots say i can still kick some ass.” is an example of how i complimented a person in a food joint today. if a parent can’t maintain their ability to keep their child grounded in self awareness of the limitations of other’s opinions then they shouldn’t go out. sorry everybody but a path is choose as a unique gift of free will. if you hide yourself from influences you deem unhealthy then sooner or later that protective, bubble dome will burst. btw have you ever really approached a stranger, of any age, and asked “oh your gorgeous..oh yea what do you want to be when you grow up…do you come here a lot?” i think a confrontation would be understandable, especially, involving children. that said, i agree that their is an abundance of social programming to gear outside appearance from even the youngest age but why does everything have to be balanced in one conversation?
brilliantly said. Gender programming certainly exists, however the kindness of a stranger isn’t the battle you should be fighting
I think we should just talk to children like we would any other person. We just need not talk down to them after all they’re just little people. I also think paying a compliment to anyone is not wrong. We are so worried about offending people instead of just telling the truth.
So what happens if your daughter decides to reject whatever agenda you are trying to force upon her
“I tried my best to get the monster-flower off her head, but had to give up because my struggle was getting counter-productive.”
So what happens if your daughter decides to reject whatever agenda you have that you are trying to force upon her? What if she makes the decision that she likes being “girly” (heaven forbid) and wants to wear a monster flower in her hair?
I let her wear it as I wrote in my post.
But…you criticized it. You didn’t WANT her to wear it. And there is nothing seemingly wrong with her wanting to wear a flower headband.
I just responded to this, but I will again. This is complicated for that reason, I don’t want to “force” an agenda on my daughter which is why she is not, as someone else suggested, in Marie Curie T-shirts every day. I want her to be able to choose, but also, am very aware much of what she”chooses” ist Choosing.
It is surprising how may women take umbrage at your premise. It’s all good to me. Any of us arriving at some semblance of maturity without a real sense of personal individual worth are disadvantaged somehow. Though it’s difficult to tell sometimes because it is embedded in the currency of success. You are a worthwhile man/woman if you drive this car, own this house, wear these clothes. Lots of blind spots. I think it is worse for girls because it is looks heavy. And to the ones who think it’s an overstated case: it can lead to some of the awful things that plague our civilization, like rape, abuse, ridiculous levels of vanity and maybe more venal than all, women competing with women. This reminds me that I watched Blue Jasmin the other night. A study in how toxic the life superficial is.
great point, thanks for your comment
Hey, you know — I understand where you are coming from on this, but I think you have to realize that PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE WHO THEY ARE. And you wishing that the whole world would act differently towards your daughter is not really helping her adjust to life in the real world, is it? Just as much as you are trying to take your own feelings on objectification and project them unto your daughter, and shield her for it… However admirable that may be idealistically, in reality I can see it possibly having the opposite effect when she grows up. Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen or even likely, but it is still within the realm of possibilities.
Anyway, my point being — you can teach, and to a certain extent, control the interactions your daughter has with other people, but you can’t control how other people act or what they say. AND YOU SHOULDN’T ASSUME YOU HAVE THAT RIGHT.
While I do agree with some of your points, it is the tone and the way you go about it that rubs me the wrong way. You’re saying that people are wrong to tell your child that she is adorable and/or pretty EVER. I disagree with that premise.
i agree i cant control people, though most of the time, people are just trying to be nice, so this info might be helpful
Hi. I must disagree with you. Growing up chubby with glasses and crooked teeth, I would have loved to hear more compliments from strangers. I tell my daughter she is cute and pretty (because she is) and I would hate for her to grow up thinking she is ugly and unloveable. Yes I felt smart and creative and competent but I felt ugly and that was reinforced by my peers. As much as you want it to be about self confidence for other things, physical appearances do affect everyone’s perception of each other. And that is the way the world works. I wish it were different but not commenting on physical appearances is not going to change much. I would never wish upon my daughter feeling like an outcast because of appearance or any other reason. That is why I am ok with compliments. Of course that is not the only important thing and I make sure she is growing up well rounded and aware of her other positive attributes.
what’s wrong with being chubby or crooked teeth? my god, thats the problem. too much emphasis on all this.compliments are great, just not all the time, from everyone about what girls look like
You’re thinking like an adult, not like the chubby kid with crooked teeth. We all need affirmation and assurance, and telling a girl she has a “great personality” is not going to scratch that particular itch. Women are wired to discover and reflect back to the world, in a way entirely different than men do, the transcendent virtues of goodness, beauty, and truth–it’s part of who we are. We need to teach our daughters to find that beauty everywhere … starting within themselves. So, celebrate the big, girly flower. Your daughter is simply reflecting her idea of beauty, which is the first step in transforming her corner of the world.
There is one thing that is not beauty related and is a great conversation starter.
Esp a mechanical watch.Such a watch is a marvel of engineering (and a nice way to get a girl interested in engineering and generally cool mechanical stuff).
I’m a watch collector and most of the time you’ll find me in the watchuseek.com watch forum under the name Mecano.Reel Girl is the only place in the net (other than watchuseek ) that I read every day and post regularly simply b/c I love Margot’s work.
is a good friend and a fellow watch collector,when he got these Chaikas (collectible Russian Ladies watches) for his nieces I remember I specifically told him to NOT use pink watch straps (it went something like “use any color you want but NOT pink”) and as you see he agreed.
There are in fact several cool women (watchmakers and vendors) in this hobby and I almost always buy my watches from them-I like supporting women owned businesses.
great topic, thanks mecano
Great discussion. I always found children to be very powerful, interesting. I wonder if adults throw out their bon mots to protect themselves. The compliments seem to be defensive, controlling. We are conditioned to fend off power. Perhaps call it pretty or cute, to “objectify” to make ourselves comfortable, we do it to other adults all the time. Especially in the ludicrous patronizing guise of Santa! In other words, I guess, it is damaging to the adult also. I am not sure that being valued only for what you do is the answer, perhaps better, but has it’s own limitations. “I do therefore I am.” Great ideas though.
great comment and thanks
I mix up typically male and female clothes and thus so does my 4 year old daughter. She has her own sense of style, no poofy dresses are usually allowed (then I would have no issue if she wanted to wear a Disney princess outfit day in and day out). I kind of like it when she is wearing something not typically girly and gets a compliment – society is changing slowly. Then again I am from London area and having your own sense of style is praised and (almost) anything goes. She wears boys things and never has she been builied over it.
The most thing she gets complimented on is her lovely untouched natural long hair. It is human nature to comment on someone’s apperarence, especially if they have a feature that is eyecatching – we are visual creatures. I went to a laughter yoga and therapy session and we were taught that giving and receiving compliments increases those all important happy hormones. If you are a complete stranger – appearance is the only thing you have to go on until you get to know the person – it really is an icebreaker and builds a connection. Personally I think it would be quite odd to jump straight in with a question. It doesn’t always need to be beauty related. You could notice they have a lovely piece of jewellery and compliment on that.
I would be worried about telling my daughter to deflect compliments – I would rather she politely said thank you. I wouldn’t want people to think she is a rude, arrogant little so and so.
I really agree with you and feel the same way. I’ll go further and say that I love fashion and fabrics and I like seeing my kid embrace that for herself. It’s an area of play if you control it.
I see that the author let’s her daughter express herself. That’s awesome. Until I know your kid’s name, or know if your kid is nice to my kid . . . I am very likely to say something superficial. And I am sorry if it peeves, but I am kind but I am not a saint. I am not going to carve out that effort to retrain my brain so I can ensure that your kid isn’t scared by my inadvertantly harmful and small compliment.
I probably should. But, I think the onus to fix this issue is on you.
I agree. Why not use the comments and behaviour of others as an opportunity to educate your child?
I’ll never forget the scene in “Little Women”, where Marmee is brushing Jo’s hair and telling her something along the lines of, “I don’t mind if you want to dress up and feel beautiful, but I don’t want you to believe that’s all you’re worth. I want you to value your kindness, passion and courage.” That scene was a powerful one for me and has always resonated with me, to the point where it will shape the way I want to bring up my children.
I make comments like, “Ooh, I like your dress!” Or “That’s a pretty cool shirt!” If I discuss clothing further it’s often because that particular child derives a sense of pleasure and creativity from what they wear – the colours, or the style, etc. with strangers, subtle comments can often be a good icebreaker, but I concede that it’s ideal to move away from appearance-oriented topics fairly quickly.
This is a really interesting topic, which is why I commented. I think differently to the author, but I am not enraged as others seem to be. We all have different ideals and we must respect that.
I know for a fact I would comment on a little boys appearance as much as I would a little girl. I met a new friends little boy recently – he has big brown eyes, blonde hair and olive skin and I couldn’t stop telling him how handsome he was and how much I wanted to scoop him up and squeeze him. He kept laughing and running away from me…. it turned into a fun game.
As long as we are not commenting negatively on someone’s appearance. I am teaching my child to be kind and respectful to everyone she meets. That is what my message is to her. Whether she is wearing a pair of starwars shoes, or a big frilly skirt – I couldn’t give a hoot as long as she is happy. What we wear as women, shouldn’t effect how men treat us. If a short skirt causes a man to sexual assault someone, that is THEIR problem – not ours. They are to blame.
We as parents need to teach our children – nobody else. When a little boy tells my daughter she can’t play with him because she is a girl – I blame the parent! Not the fact that she is wearing a pink, flowery dress. Mothers and fathers need to be teaching their sons from day one. Of course we have generations of sexual discrimination and this will take time. It is happening though – look at how things were 50 years ago!
I am a teacher at a preschool and I sometimes will say to my student who maybe having separation issues “that’s a cool bracelet your wearing, can you show so and so (another friend in the class) or “wow your wearing purple today and so is your friend so and so.” And I will occasionally compliment a child on those new shoes that they are so proud of because I want them to know that I did notice as they are standing there tapping their little foot. Or I will compliment that little girl or boy who worked so hard to dress their self this morning even though not one thing matches. I will say “you did an awesome job picking out your outfit this morning.” I try really hard to build their confidence…. I don’t just compliment them on clothing or articles I compliment them for drawing (even though I may have no idea what it is, I get them to tell me about it) or I compliment them on being a good friend, to let them know that I did just see them share that toy. My list could go on and on, on things that I compliment them on. I have said I love the dress your wearing for picture day or I love the sweater (to a boy) your wearing for picture day, it’s going to be such a great picture!. I don’t say these things because of a sexiest condition I say these things because I want them to know that I do notice and I do care. I diffantly balance it out through out the day with giving them encouragment and compliments on other things they are doing. But when they show up at my classroom door and spin around and are like “hey check out my new yellow dress with my purple tights and pink boots” I’m sorry I have to let them know that I love it!!! I don’t want them to feel like I don’t care…. When they are trying so hard to show me. I’m not saying that every time my students come into my classroom that the first thing I do is say ” oh you look so beautiful like a princess or oh you look so handsome like a little prince” I do say sometimes “how was your weekend?” Or “did you see all that rain this morning on the way to school?” Or just a simple “I’m so glad your at school today, your friends have been setting up the play-doh.” But every now and then I will tell them they look beautiful or oh my those are so handsome cowboy boots…. I know that everyone parents differently and being children don’t come with instructions that’s okay, I myself have an 8 year old little girl and a 7 year old little boy. I do feel that when we are out in public my daughter (who dresses and picks out her own clothes sense age 3, and has a very strong opinion ) and my son both get equal amounts of compliments on their clothing, it’s not just girls. I have heard the ” those blue eyes are going to break some hearts” about my son and I particularly don’t care very much for that comment….. I do understand where you are coming from. I don’t want pressure put on my child to be the best dressed or the thinnest, I just simply want them to enjoy life and everyone enjoys a compliment here or there even if it is about your pink frilly dress.
Well and good I’m all for women’s rights. But do you put pictures of your kids up for comment on social media either? Do you allow school picture even? Where does it stop? Sometimes kids crave positive reinforcement about their appearance. How do your kids feel about that? Do they get to hear enough that they are adorable, or do you shoot it down every time? Will they then reject every man’s (or woman’s) attempt to tell them they are beautiful when they are in a relationship? Which is worse? Just be gracious and say thank you even if you don’t make your kids say so. Not everyone is as enlightened as you. But no one gives a compliment in mean spirit.
Putting up a pic of my kids on my Facebook page is a different situation. The comments are to me, not my kid. Also, when you put up a picture, it’s visual, obviously. People are going to respond visually. I do love it when I get comments like, “She seems so happy!” Or “Wow, her energy!” better that “cute dress” but I understand its a medium and a community where people are going to respond to how she looks.
My daughter is 8 yo and quirky. She wears glasses and she stutters sometimes. She doesn’t wear “girly” stuff. She is not told by strangers she is beautiful, even though she is. I tell her all the time, and she, in fact, does tell me that moms have to say that. She says she knows people think she’s ugly, but she tries not to think about it because she knows being smart is more important. It kills me because that’s not feminism.
I’m finding your responses in the comments frustrating, because you are dismissing people who are telling you that not every girl experiences what you see. I want people to tell my daughter she is beautiful, because I think the definition of beauty needs to be expanded. Pretending that it just doesn’t exist means my daughter is denied any ownership of beauty. Feminism is nuanced enough that we can tell all girls (and boys) they are strong and creative and smart and, yes, beautiful.
I do not think there is anything wrong with taking pride in how we look. The opposite is pants hanging halfway down one’s butt, purple hair and face piercings. Though one piercing may look nice, many are not doing it to look nice but for shock value. There is nothing wrong with telling somebody they look nice, but let’s not harp on appearance because beauty is only skin deep.
I think you’ll find that most people with purple hair and face piercings don’t do it for the “shock value”; they do it because they like the way it looks and it makes them feel beautiful. Hair dyed unusual colors and facial piercings are often considered beautiful in other cultures, so please don’t impose your own ideas of beauty one everyone.
WOW!! How righteous of you to tell someone when they have one too many piercings….individuality has no limits.
While I enjoyed your post, I also see this happening with boys. I’m a mama to a set of triplet boys, and have noticed that their clothing, appearance, and physique get noticed all the time over their skills. I’m always hearing “cute outfit, I love your fire truck shirt”, “wow, you’ve got a chubby tummy–you’re going to be a BIG boy”, and my very favorite: “you’re such a big strong boy, you shouldn’t need to cry or pout”. I will never get over the “brown hair AND blue eye….you’ll be breaking hearts in no time!” As you can see, these comments know no gender. For boys, they get it both ways; they’re cute and snuggly when it’s okay, but supposed to be big and brave because they are large, or wearing a super hero t-shirt. Heaven forbid I put my boys in something slightly feminine, because then my little ones are “gay” or I’m turning them into “queers”.
I feel that boys get a tougher set of standards in this area. If you react on a girl’s appearance, you’re not empowering, or you’re filing her full of ideas she must live up to, or you’re being perverted/weird, etc… Do we stop to think about how these same ideas apply to little boys? When we react on outside appearances alone, we aren’t helping anyone. For me, this isn’t a gender issue–it’s a societal/media problem. We all have molds/ideas/facades we’re supposed to fit into, and these are planted into our brain very early in life. My boys are facing the same issues as your girls; I just get to hear it in different ways.
Hi Triplet mama,
I’m getting lots of comments like yours and I appreciate moms of boys sharing their experience. As I keep writing, in my experience, I don’t see boys get the kind of constant attention girls do from teachers, parents, doctors. Would Santa go on and on about your every article of your son’s clothing and tell him he should grow up to be a model? The comments girls get go on and on.
Besides my own experience, I also have a hard time believing boys get as much attention for how they look because most of their clothes are not designed to solicit comments about how they appear. Did you see the video I posted about my daughter’s shoes? Boy shoes get comments about the Star Wars movie or the Light Sabers on them, not that they are “pretty.”
Third point” Boys are not taught by media, TV, movies, ads, and toys/ games that they are valued, even exist, for how pretty they are. Girls are taught this everywhere they look, so when strangers, doctors, teachers focus on how they look, they ar adding to an already strong and powerful cultural message.
Agree with this: “When we react on outside appearances alone, we aren’t helping anyone.” But again, boys/ men are valued for what they do/ think; girls/ women for how they look/ appear.
You are being extremely narrow minded to dare tell this mother she is wrong. I am sorry for one Santa going on to your daughter and frustrating you in such a way. However, a Santa could easily go on to a boy in the same way, asking if he’ll grow up to be a professional athlete. I’ve seen it. I agree with another reader’s post, that you aren’t acknowledging comments you are receiving. Accept that you may be wrong and do not simply write all these parents off as wrong. While you have many good points, they apply EQUALLY to boys and girls. If a mother is writing in on her opinion and what’s happened to her, what makes your opinion more valid than her experiences? I appreciate all the research and effort that’s gone into this, but you’re missing the point by trying to steadfastly defend your opinion instead of letting a friendly dialogue begin through which many children can be helped, girls and boys.
that was another mother’s letter to santa
boys absolutely suffer from gender stereotyping, AGREE. they are not primarily valued for their appearance
Actually, as a boy mom, boys get it from a hundred different angles, too. “Don’t cry, be a man, why are you wearing pink?” so to assume that boys are not taught by media is incredibly narrow-minded. Boys ARE taught by media and shaped by society. The cultural messages they receive may not be the same as girls, but they are there. It’s a shame you can’t see that.
Be a man, don’t wear pink, don’t show your feelings sucks for boys/ men. Absolutely. Yes, boys are taughte, shape and limited by the media. Gender roles limit everyone. They are not shaped into being valued primarily for what they look like. I believe its all related and when women are more valued for what they do and think and are allowed to be strong, men will allowed to feel. Stereotypes keep everyone down.
I was thinking the same thing……I have 2 sons, both always get compliments on their looks. And, i also say something to little boys when I think they’re cute, or if I like their outfit, or their hair. It’s not just limited to girls.
Oh really??? Boys don’t see superheroes, and athletes, and want to be just like them? They don’t wish to be the guy that all the ladies want? Do you even have a son? Have you not seen a boy checking his reflection, and flexing his muscles, in the mirror??
This is one of the most ridiculous wastes of time I’ve ever read. I have 3 girls ages 7, 11 and 16. I’ve witnessed what you describe on a daily basis. It didn’t (and doesn’t) bother me in the least. You know what does? Gangs, sex, drugs, bad language, ridicule for loving God, bullying and the list goes on and on. Are we really spending this much time on compliments given to toddlers about clothing you put them in?
Wow. Just wow.
Hi Will H
What about eating disorders, sexual abuse, rape? Drug use/ addiction is exacerbated by low self-esteem as is violence against women (3 women are murdered by intimate partners in the U.S. every day) all which happens more easily to girls when too much of their identity is focused on their appearance. Read more here http://pigtailpalsblog.com/2013/12/when-do-we-allow-our-girls-to-partake-in-commercialized-sexualization/#.UsI_9PZQ2Xg
Pingback: Open request to strangers, doctors, teachers: Don’t make small talk about my daughter’s appearance | Reel Girl | Central Oregon Coast NOW
I’ve struggled with this issue myself – my 3 1/2 year-old daughter mostly chooses to dress in flashy, sparkly outfits because it gets her attention from strangers. She has a baby sister, and since the baby was born, my oldest daughter’s outfits got more outlandish, until I finally made the connection that she was trying to draw attention away from the baby and back to her.
At first, I was thinking from a feminist perspective – why are they so focused on her clothes and her appearance? Is this right? Would you please stop asking her if she’s a princess?!
BUT on the other hand, I was torn – here is one area of her life where she has complete control. She has always had opinions about her clothes, and I let her wear whatever she wants (with the obvious exception of some modifications for cold weather, etc). So I truly believe that she feels people are complimenting her style choices, her self expression. So when people come up to her and compliment her about her appearance, I think about what it is that I truly love about her, and what her appearance says about this. She is gregarious, she loves dance and lives her life as if she is in a musical. So, if she’s wearing a flashy, sequin covered tutu, she’s wearing it because she’s pretending she’s a prima ballerina, because this is her dream. And I tell people that.
People aren’t going to stop responding to the adorableness of small children, but as a parent you can reframe this response to draw attention to what you love about your daughter. She wants to wear a giant flashy flower in her hair? I’m betting it’s because she thinks it is beautiful and she hopes other people will think it’s beautiful as well. If she gets attention for it, so what? Tell people you love how she sees the beauty in the world and always wants to share it with others. Tell people you love that she is creative and has her own sense of style. These are not bad things, and it is not bad that people notice them.
Do I wish people would come up and ask her about her passions straight off? Of course, but it’s not hard to steer the conversation in that direction. And once I started doing that, she has started doing that as well. So, in the end, I hope that when people compliment her appearance, she’ll thank them kindly and move the conversation towards what really matters to her, which at it’s core, I think is meeting people and making friends.
I get that style and fashion choice is, in some ways, about autonomy and free expression. That is why, when someone below commented– dress your daughter in pants and Marie Curie T-shirt– doesn’t work. If I did that, in some ways, the principle is the same– I would still be dressing up a little doll. However, I can get her the Marie Curie T shirt, get excited about Marie Curie and the shirt, tell my daughter all about Marie Curie and get excited when I see her in the shirt. I don’t have a Marie Curie shirt, but I do have shirts with female pilots, fighterfighters, and doctors from Pigtail Pals (a great company!). My daughter responds to this because, as your comment states, it all comes down to attention. Kids don’t have free choice. Today, most little girls will tell you that their favorite color is pink. Pink used to be a boy color, the pastel version of red. Blue was a girl color, the color of the Virgin Mary, and that’s why early Disney characters– Cinderella and Alice, were shown in blue. There is no free choice. Kids are mocked and made fun of by peers in preschool for wearing “boy shoes” if their clothes are anywhere outside of gender norms, and i’m not even talking about a boy in a dress, I’m talking about, literally, wearing Stride Rite shoes from the “boy” side of the store.
I did come up with a solution that worked as far as autonomy/ gender marketing/ attention when my daughter was 2, I blogged about it here http://reelgirl.com/2012/03/solution-for-three-year-olds-dress-obsession-that-makes-everyone-happy/
I just added an update to the post inspired by your comment and others. Here is the video of my daughter talking about being teased, also posted above http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pLm83CU4FY
In some ways, I see your point – it’s unfortunate that the mass-marketing of big corporations such as Disney so fully inform our children’s gender-identity. This especially bothers me with regards to toys, I’m an architect and a writer and I would flip out if my daughter refused to go down the Lego aisle because it was “for boys.”
But in others, I’m still not with you. I think at this age, children are building their identity with regards to gender, taste and everything else. In many ways, they showcase their identity outwardly using the most obvious options – I am a girl, so I wear pink, because that is one of the culturally identified “girly” colors. I like Star Wars, so I wear shoes with star wars characters on them. I love to dance, so I wear a leotard to the grocery store.
It is up to us as parents to help them interpret these basic ideas into real expressions of identity and self that they can be confident about. I really don’t think that changing the way strangers approach them has that much bearing – they are learning basic lessons about the structure of society. If they dress flashy, people will view them one way, if they dress in a sedate manner, people will view them another. And it’s not all to do with pink and sparkles and princesses – where I live, the kids wear Patagonia and earth tones and Bogs. My daughter in her sequin ballet flats and tutus is the weird one. It’s about fitting in or standing out, and a child’s choice about where they want to be on the social spectrum.
I think it’s important for children to understand what it means to be different, and I don’t think it’s terrible or anything new for a child to understand that there may be a positive or negative reaction to how they dress.
PS – as for the “pink used to be for boys” thing… All that proves is that historically, like today, there were colors that were culturally identified to a gender. Color trends change over time, but the core idea: that certain colors are worn by certain genders remains the same.
does your daughter see movies, watch tv, play games, go into stores or see kids cereal boxes? its all sowing pink sparkly girls if girl exist at all.
color hasn’t always been gendered, babies used to wear white because it could be boiled.
I think its nice someone outside her family/friends tried to make her feel good. I think you are over reacting. My child enjoys any compliment. Can’t you be happy someone thought to give her a compliment instead of wanting a different one? No need to reply, I fully understood your letter, I just do not agree.
I get the intention is good. That’s why I wrote the blog. People are trying to be nice.
Of course your child enjoys a compliment. Every kid does. The problem is that girls learn to try to get that good feeling and get attention from how they look.
lol no, you’re trying to have my daughter turn into some butch lesbo SJW. she needs a man to take care of her, and guess what – that means learning how to cook, fuck, and look good most of the time! your world view is simply unrealistic here.
I’m approving this comment to show how idiotic you are.
haha – this is the best response to a ridiculously stupid comment ever. While I’m not sure I entirely agree with your article you and I are a lot closer than this commenter and I! l’m hoping Laura is just being sarcastic
(feeds my good world view to assume that).
Sure, I agree a parent doesn’t want to turn their adorable daughter into a vain, egotistical brat but it’s not fun to be on the other foot either! I never once heard that I was pretty or looked nice while growing up! So of course I was quite eager to hear those words from boys later on! Be careful to strive for balance. Make your little girl feel loved, help her see she’s beautiful inside and out. Even as a child clothing should be tasteful and not attention getting. Little girls should be able to learn confidence and self esteem without people fawning over them because of fancy clothes and extravagant hair. Her clothing and looks are not what’s important, it’s whats inside and the confidence she exudes that really matters. But somebody’s going to have to help her out early on. Tell her she’s pretty. Tell her she did a super, great job. Most of all tell her you love her and she’s special! Just don’t fawn over her and ruin her!
Agreed, but that’s not up to teachers, doctors, dentists, santas, strangers to tell my kid her dress is pretty. Her teachers can tell her how smart she is, her doctor how healthy and strong, santa can ask her about what she likes to do, strangers how her day is going etc.
I get comments on how cute my boys are all the time. It seems the same as with my girls. Although I did get stopped with my first girl constantly with people telling me what an adorable baby she was regardless of how I dressed her. I told people thank you and moved on. I will have to ask her if she remembers any of it. It would be interesting to find out if it has impacted her. she is now 11.
I don’t see parents/ teachers/ doctors/ strangers comment on boys clothing as a given. Sometimes I see it, but for girls its the norm, not just a comment but a whole conversation that, like teh Santa letter implies, goes on and on.
I am curious what your daughter would say. I think it can take a while to get how its impacted you– so much of it feels like love and attention in a good way for a long time.
Great post and reminders Margot; it takes a hefty dose of cultural consciousness and media mindfulness to ditch the defaults of ambient appearance chatter…it’s so pervasive it’s almost rote in the perpetuation. Wince-worthy moments at the pediatrician were always the worst hearing tripe like, ‘you’re growing up so fast; do you have a boyfriend already?’ or the substitute teacher not knowing names who actually voiced aloud, “you, the model looking one in the back” to call on a student…gah.
Thanks for the RT on my post about putting personal bias on ice to enjoy Frozen: http://www.shapingyouth.org/disneys-frozen-critical-thinking-skills-to-ice-out-personal-bias/ I’m doing a follow up about ‘icebreakers’ (using media to springboard into enlightening convos w/kids) and will DEFINITELY link to this as an example of what NOT to say with small talk…thx so much for your work…Onward!
Doctor and dentists are often the worst! So awful. Looking forward to your post.
dress her in black pants and a shirt that says “Science Makes the world better”.
or are these strangers dressing her child, too?
Hi Pravin Shah Jr,
Its a more complicated issue than that. Putting my kid in those clothes daily doesn’t give her any autonomy, it’s pushing something on her, and in my experience, the kid reacts negatively. I do get excited about cool T-shirts and jeans and my kid sees that and usually gets excited too. But not always, and then there’s the issue, as with yesterday, when my daughters dressed my other daughter. I did come up with this solution that worked really well when my daughter started preschool http://reelgirl.com/2012/03/solution-for-three-year-olds-dress-obsession-that-makes-everyone-happy/
rofl. dress them up as cute as possible… then complain because people think she is cute.
put her in denim and a shirt that says “Madame Curie is my heroine” if you want a different reaction. I am baffled by this goofy mother who gets the reaction she strives for, then takes it out on others
Hi Pravin Shah Jr,
I just answered this. Here in is the problem and why this situation we’re in is so messed up and so hard to find our way out of. She is not my little doll to dress up, in any outfit be that Marie Curie Ts every day. At the same time, she is so aggressively marketed to, she has no “free choice,” so letting her “pick” doesnt necessarily work either. Here is a solution that worked well. http://reelgirl.com/2012/03/solution-for-three-year-olds-dress-obsession-that-makes-everyone-happy/
I think it’s instructive to deflect the pretty compliments with more appropriate ones. I know people don’t know how to talk to kids, but they will often follow your lead.
Agree they will follow the lead. People are just trying to be nice, not trying to hurt your kid. Mostly, in my experience, they’re grateful for direction. It does piss me off teachers and doctors don’t know better.
Reading this article made me realize how often I catch myself and my coworkers in 15 minute long conversations about the cuteness/cute outfit of their kids (both boys and girls). What is it that makes even the smartest of people walk into this trap of superficial talk with kids?
Yes, the smartest. It’s awful. I think it’s considered a safe, comfortable topic for adults and kids which is the last thing it is.
I understand where you are coming from, but I was raised this way and have seen the other side. I grew up feeling incredibly competent – and ugly as a mud fence. It was only well after I was married, after years of my husband appreciating my beauty that I understood that I was a beautiful woman. My mother meant well, but I took her silence on my appearance as her not being able to think of anything nice to say. If I had understood that I was really quite lovely, I don’t think I’d have been as vulnerable to jerks as a teenager. So, I’d say, yes, compliment the talents and character you see in your daughter, but don’t forget to tell her she is lovely! I try to praise everything that’s good in my daughters and sons.
It is important for PARENTS to tell their kids they are beautiful, not when they are in sparkles but grinning after winning a soccer game or in their pajamas reading a book when they get kissed good night. That is why I wrote this in the post: That’s why I wrote this in the post: “Do tell your daughters they are beautiful “on the inside and the outside.” It’s something that should be said by you and that she feels confident about. It’s the proportion of looks based comments, the constant repetition of them, and how they form the basis for social interaction that’s damaging.”
Ooh, totally. I have found myself commenting on my seven yr old powerful shoulders, or her very long legs which can run super fast! I assure you, being told how pretty I was got me into just as much trouble as Suzanne never being told. Suzanne, you’re beautiful! And I’m smart and powerful! Balance, for sure.
Great post, thank you. Refreshing and insightful. It’s great the way you give other ideas for conversation starters. It’s such a simple thing to say ‘how are you today?’ instead of imposing sexist cultural messages on young girls. This stuff starts so young, but with advice like yours, it will make a difference.
Thanks for your comment. I really believe, if adults can stop, it will make a difference.
I think part of what’s difficult is small talk in and of itself. It’s meant to either start a conversation or just fill the space with meaningless pleasantries. So you don’t want to say something very deep. Which is why you say something superficial about appearance. Unfortunately, it reinforces the societal importance of appearance, particularly for girls, but it’s instinctive.
I am technically an adult at this point and yet even when I want to strike up a conversation with someone I will usually compliment something about their appearance because it’s an easy way to start a conversation when you don’t know much about someone. It would be nice if everyone carried around books or interesting “show and tell” items but you usually only have what they’re wearing to work off of. And if you’re meeting someone for the first time you don’t know if they’re smart or talented or hardworking.
I rarely see adults make small talk with little boys about how they look.
Hmn. I’m not a parent (or a teacher or anything that would require me to interact with children on a regular basis) so I guess it would interesting to see what adults say when they make small talk with little boys and then ask whether those same topics can apply to girls as well. And if those same conversations could apply, then why don’t they?
Boys get comments,too. I think it’s important to compliment all kids’ appearances, to be honest. Just because your daughter receives them all the time, doesn’t mean that the shy and somewhat awkward kid in the corner gets showered with compliments all the time. I try to tell all kids that I like something about the way they look, usually their shoes or a cool shirt, and tie that into a conversation. Some kids do NOT hear they are attractive, and a stranger’s comment may actually mean MORE than their own parents’ opinions because, as most kids will say, “You’re my parent: you HAVE to think that!”
Hmmm That has not been my experience as an observer. The comments to girls often come from what they wear and today, almost all of them have something pink, poofy, or sparkly that gets attention, even if it’s a plastic barrette. Boys clothing is not designed to solicit that kind of attention/ reaction. I totally understand giving all kids attention, I don’t think so much of it should come for girls for what they look like. Are you talking about little kids? I’ve never heard any kid say something like “you have to think that” about a clothing compliment.
As an observer. Not as a mother of boys. If it were possible, I would gladly loan you my two boys so you could see that they two get compliments about their clothes and looks from strangers in public. Often. It’s incredibly frustrating that you’re continually discounting that boys go through this, too. Why can’t this be a way to address ALL CHILDREN?
Of course it can be all children and as a commenter pointed out– a superficial society is bad for everyone. However, males are not primarily valued in this world for what they look like while females are.
Thank you, Charpenette…I am also the mother of two boys and we get comments on their appearance all the time.
Whenever someone talks about how good looking my oldest is, especially (because he’s at an age that he absorbs this stuff), I also mention that he has a great personality, that he’s a good dancer, that he’s an awesome big brother.
It’s true. There’s a lot of commentary out there about how we treat girls and boys get left completely out of the equation. I worry about this when it comes to conversations about body image — and *particularly* education.
I’ve been a girl…I get it! But what about the messaging we give our boys about body image? I mean, hello, have you seen today’s superhero costumes??? Even more damaging, we invalidate the emotional experience and complexity of boys by leaving them out of discussions like these.
Moms of girls, I hear you…but how about YOU “imagine what you would say to her if she was a boy.”
Yup. And if you absolutely have to mention appearance, why not focus on the creative aspect: What a great mix of colors! Did you tie that yourself? Are horses your favorite animal?
I also hate the tendency to tell girls, “What a PRETTY name!”. Honestly, is that the best you can come up with?
Ah, god, the pretty name thing.
My full name is Crystal, but I’ve gone by Crys (“Chris”) for the last six years or so. I try to avoid telling people my full name, but sometimes they ask…and I ALWAYS get the whole “but that’s such a pretty name!” “Oh, that’s a really pretty name!” “Oh, what a beautiful name!” And other such tripe.
I say, “Well, I feel like Crys fits me better,” and they say, “Oh, I don’t know about that!” They clearly think they’re complimenting me. Meanwhile, I’m grinding my teeth and wishing I could be anywhere else. “Pretty” isn’t my goal, and I don’t want or need the pushy “compliments.” And what the hell’s wrong with “Crys,” anyway? I guess it’s not “pretty” enough for my pretty, pretty princess self, eh? lol. Hmm, I guess this has been annoying me more than I’d realized. ^_^
One guy (not a boyfriend, just a friend) got frustrated and snarly with me over it, because after he learned my full name he tried to insist on calling me by it, even though I repeatedly told him, “My name is CRYS.” Gah. “But Crystal’s such a pretty name!”
Yeah, okay. Let’s call YOU Crystal, bro. >.>
Ha! I love this comment Crys, thank you