Little girls are cute. There is no getting around it. The way they bounce around in tutus, the way they love all things sparkly, and their cherubic little faces. It’s enough to make you ovulate.
Upon seeing my three precious girls, whether for the first or the billionth time, many people have the same involuntary reaction that I have. Warm feelings for these darling creatures come gushing out in sincere compliments like, “Oh, what pretty little girls!” or “I love your fancy dress!” or “What cute princesses you have here!”
There is nothing innately wrong with these kind expressions.
What is the long-term consequence of greeting girls this way? The very first thing anyone says to them, and perhaps the only thing said with a lot of enthusiasm, is based on how they look.
Yes, they are cute. And we do want them to feel beautiful. But do we want that to be the first and loudest message they hear?
I grew up mostly watching PBS, well before social media put comparisons and “likes” all over my tender psyche, yet by the time I was 10 years old I already had major body image issues. I bloomed early and I was raised to believe that much of my value is dependent on my looks.
Media is a much greater influence on kids now. There is programming that is empowering and fun for little girls, but you have to carefully weed through a lot of shows that have one-dimensional, stereotypical female characters, or highly stylized females whose main interests are fashion and popularity.
Between well-intentioned people, and the most appealing media, little girls are being fed the idea that what matters most is how they look and what they wear. The objectification is subtle and rarely malicious, but it permeates a little girl’s life. And I’m as guilty as anyone of perpetuating it.
So, for myself and anyone willing to help me change this culture even a little bit, here are a few tips for general use:
Use Alternative Greetings
When you greet a girl and your impulse is to say something about how she looks, try to let the first things out of your mouth be something about their character and personality or just a greeting of affection.
There are a million fun ways to do this:
- “There’s my
- “I love your
- “Nice to meet you! What a
cutiehappy girl you are!”
If you really want to comment on their clothes or appearance, try and twist it into something more than “cute.”
- “Do you like unicorns? What do unicorns like to do?”
- “Hey! I like dinosaurs, too. Which kind is your favorite?”
- “Those shoes look like they’re good for speed/dancing/puddle-jumping. Do you like to run/twirl/play in the rain?”
Ask Deeper Questions
Ask less superficial questions about them. “What is your favorite book?” If their interests are something that are easy to objectify (princesses or mermaids, for example), then steer the conversation into something less superficial: “Did you know princesses have to be very good leaders?” “Mermaids are known for their singing. Do you like to sing?”
Model Positive Body Image
When around girls, model positive body image. Never criticize or express jealousy about another woman’s body around them—especially your own. If the subject comes up, talk about taking care of our bodies and being grateful for what our bodies can do. We can go beyond the idea that everyone is beautiful by teaching that we are more than what we look like, that we are valuable for who we are.
Vary Your Social Media Comments
Young women are hungry for validation. All of the “likes” and “You’re so pretty!” comments on a selfie are nice, but what if they were replaced with more descriptive comments? “You are so lovable!” “What a warm smile!” “What an awesome gal; always doing kind things!” “You worked so hard this year. Congratulations!”
Choose Empowering Gifts
When giving gifts, pick out empowering, educational or creative presents: Books that are fun and have a moral value, journals, art and craft supplies, sensory toys, STEM toys, outdoor toys, or realistic looking dolls.
Choose Your Compliments Carefully
Catch yourself in the act of objectification on females. We all do it. Our intentions aren’t bad; we are simply trained to do it. By being aware of how much we focus on looks, we can begin to retrain our brains, and over time, our culture.
Comments like, “You look so skinny!” may be intended as compliments, but they imply that something was less desirable about them before, and the reason for someone’s weight loss may not be a sign of health but rather anxiety, depression, cancer, or another serious health issue. There are some great resources for helping re-frame your own thinking about body image that are worth following, such as Beauty Redefined.
This is all just scratching the surface of the issue and by now you may be feeling guilty, like me. It’s okay. If you have read this far, chances are you have a good heart and sincere love for the girls and women in your life, and that outweighs so much. I still don’t think it’s wrong to give a thoughtful compliment on looks, I just think we should try a little harder to make sure that the loudest messages we give to girls (and women) have nothing to do with their appearance.
QUESTION: How do you typically greet and talk to little girls? Do you find yourself commenting on their looks?
CHALLENGE: The next time you greet or interact with the little girls in your life, make a point of talking about something other than their looks. See if you can make this a conscious habit.
This article originally appeared on Christy Spencer’s personal blog, The Dispencery: Sermons to Myself
Edited for Power of Moms by Sharon Brown and Nollie Haws.
Image provided by the author.