There was a link on my Facebook news feed last weekend from a blog called All Abroad Baby. It was titled “How should we talk to our little girls” and it celebrated a story from The Huffington Post – also shared on my Facebook news feed – by author Lisa Bloom, titled “How to talk to little girls”
I’m a bit over being guilted about my parenting. Last week I was lectured on how to feed my kids. Now I’m being lectured on how to talk to them.
The gist of the articles was that society places too much emphasis on girls’ appearance and that we should celebrate their brains instead. All very well-meaning and I’m just as disturbed by child beauty pageants as the next reasonable human being, but …
I can’t help thinking the writers need to take a good, long reality check.
For example, Bloom bemoans 25 percent of young American women preferring to win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.
Try as I might to muster moral outrage about this statistic, it just annoys me. It presumes everyone should aspire to win the Nobel Peace Prize, despite few women (or men) being capable of it and 25 per cent of respondents probably being unsure what it was exactly when Bloom asked them.
So I’m not surprised they chose winning a modelling competition.
To illustrate her point, Bloom uses the example of meeting a little girl and not discussing her appearance, but having an intelligent conversation with her about books and “deeper issues” – this is a five-year-old we’re talking about – like peer pressure instead. The little girl was surprised and thrilled by Bloom’s line of questioning, as she happened to be an early and prolific reader.
“Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture?” asks Bloom. “No. But I did change Maya’s perspective for at least that evening.”
I wonder how Maya’s parents feel about that. I’d be a little insulted if I were them, because it presumes Maya has never been asked such things before. That she’s only praised for her cuteness.
I’m also wondering how the conversation would have gone if Bloom had chosen a child who wasn’t quite so precocious. The poor pet might have found Bloom’s conversational forays a little intimidating and preferred to discuss her favourite color or doll or, heaven forbid, outfit.
Me? I’m all for free discussion. Whatever twiddles their knobs. My eldest daughter loves talking about books, the youngest hates it. She’d much rather discuss shoes and soft toys. As for a meaningful discussion about peer pressure? Huh?
I’m also for complimenting girls (and boys) generally. Their appearance, their intelligence, their sporting prowess, their kindness. I’m not choosy.
I don’t buy just praising their brain, not their appearance. Because that’s not a one-size-fits all solution.
I think it’s about confidence, believing in yourself, inside and out.
I had terrible self-esteem issues as a child and someone telling me I was smart wasn’t the answer. I already knew I wasn’t dumb from report cards, exam results and breaking into the teacher’s storeroom in year 6 to get my IQ test results.
But a few compliments on my appearance wouldn’t have gone astray.
I spent my younger life thinking I was a loser in the looks department. Recently, I looked back at old photo albums and was genuinely surprised to discover I wasn’t manky. Not a knock-out, but not ugly. I had no idea.
Lack of confidence in my appearance meant I was pathetically grateful if a boy, any boy, showed interest in me. It fed my paralysing shyness in social situations. It held me back professionally because I (bizarrely) chose to work in an industry that valued presentation as much as talent.
Yes, yes, that speaks to bigger problems in society than my self-esteem. But I don’t think solving those problems is as simple as telling girls they are smart.
The way I’ve chosen to prepare my daughters for the world is to say they look lovely in their new dress or cool in their new skull T-shirt, to compliment them on their beautiful eyes, to praise them for doing well with an assignment, to cheer when they come 17th in their cross-country race, to tell them I’m proud when they are kind to others.
I want them to know that I love them for who they are and they should too.
No, their looks are not their most important asset. But being comfortable in their own skin matters.
PS Husband disagrees: “There is a great deification of beauty in our society and I’m kind of OK with anything that goes against that.”
How about you? What do you think? I’ve taken a deep breath, donned my thick skin (it’s slowly developing), hit me with it.