Friday, July 1, 2011

How to Talk To Little Girls

There has been a lot of buzz on the interwebs this week surrounding this Huff Post article about the way we interact with young girls, which makes an extremely valuable point:

"Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments."

Our blog tends to focus a decent amount on little girls looking pretty:  after all, we sell vintage baby clothes!  Jayme and I also love fashion and makeup and hair and shopping and all of those very superficial (maybe), girly things.  Growing up, I always felt I was the smart one and Jayme was the pretty one.  I doubt the grown-ups in my life meant to make me feel this way, but I've struggled with my self esteem and issues with my appearance since as far back as the fourth grade.  I loved to read and write, I got great grades, and I was always winning some contest or another. But Jayme did too! She's smart and artistic and creative.

I never resented her (though I was always jealous of how tiny she was--and still am at times). But I hated the feeling of being one thing (smart) or the other thing (good-looking). They're not mutually exclusive!

I have always felt confident in my intelligence, but rarely felt confident in my looks.  Even though I know I'm attractive.  Even though I know that what's sexy about someone comes from within. And that sexiness is really about loving who you are, inside and out.

All of this to say:  there are two sides of the story.  I value Aurora for all that she is because she is my daughter.  I know that's clear in the way both Q and I interact with her.  I want her to grow up feeling beautiful in every way. To have a healthy image of herself as a whole. I'm not going to withhold compliments on her physical appearance any more than I would withhold compliments about her accomplishments.  Head to toe, Aurora is the best, smartest, funniest, most beautiful and special girl I know.

In the end, I think this author's got it a little wrong.  Interacting with kids shouldn't be a show or a concerted effort to be politically correct. Conversation should come from the genuine love and concern and joy that you experience just by being around them.  Maybe you'll ask them about the picture they're coloring or maybe you'll ask them about the mismatched, multicolored ensemble they put on to go to school that morning. Chances are, they'll have something to tell you (even Aurora has a LOT to say these days!). The key is to engage authentically:  be yourself so that they can be themselves.  After all, isn't modeling (not the runway kind) one of the most powerful ways of teaching our kids how to behave and respond to others? If we respond and engage with love, we're doing good.

This is Aurora dressed up for a little Miskabelly photo shoot over the weekend.  Right now? She's wearing only a diaper with peanut butter on her face and bedhead, dancing around to Yo Gabba Gabba, and she has never been more beautiful.

What do you think about this Lisa Bloom article? We'd love to hear from you, especially other mama bloggers.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend--and thanks for reading,


Coedith said...

As the mother of four girls I appreciated the article. It serves as a reminder to look beyond appearance when first meeting a child, as it truly is the first thing people comment on when meeting a little girl-just scratch the surface a little and you will find so much more.
Having said that I do have a daughter (6 yrs old) who wants to be a model. Simply getting dressed for her is equal to another child playing dress up. Puts on make up when ever I let her, practices her runway walk, poses etc... My point is that is her personality. To act like all that is bad wouldn't be good for her self esteem. She should feel no shame in loving what she does.
So I have chosen to take time to get to know and follow my children's interest rather than my own.

Jenarcissist @ the closet narcissist said...

As I'm getting ready to have a baby girl of my own, and as someone whose blog revolves mostly around ways to build self-love, this kind of subject is something I do a lot of thinking about.

I wrote about some of it recently, though not totally from an appearance standpoint but one of trying not to make her feel like she has to be "perfect." Recapturing the Self-Love You Were Born With

I think the article author means well, and I don't think what she's trying to do is "bad." But I wholeheartedly agree with your stance on it: really, like most things in life, it's about BALANCE. I will never, ever believe it is bad to tell a little girl (or a grown one or an old one) that she is beautiful. Regardless of whether a girl is taught by her parents/peers that appearance is not #1, it is still the desire of most girls to feel beautiful. I agree it would be wrong to withhold appearance compliments altogether. I think what's most important is teaching our girls that beauty comes in all different forms; what makes your daughter beautiful and mine beautiful might be totally different things, but that's the magic of the diverse world we live in. Beauty isn't a standard shape/size/appearance. And yes, while complimenting them on their brains and talents as well. Encouragement [without the pressure of perfection] of ALL kinds is so vital for kids and adults alike. And modeling by example will teach them to be SELF-validating and confident when they see us living that way.

For the record, Jayme is not "the pretty sister." You are both equally pretty!!

And I also agree with Coedith's stance on not acting like her daughter's interests are bad just because they have to do with appearance. I too was obsessed with makeup from a very young age; that's just me. It's a form of self-expression, and when it's used from a healthy standpoint, there's nothin' superficial about it at all. :) Kids aren't one-size-fits-all, and neither is parenting advice. Certain things work for particular kids and not others.

Great post, in other words. :)

kmurph said...

"The key is to engage authentically: be yourself so that they can be themselves." Perfection.

lynxymama said...

i really like your take on this.

ringmaster said...

thank you for this! my daughter at the age of 4 loves to pick out her clothes and have me take photos of her! it is a way that she expresses herself. from the time she could button her clothes i let her pick out her outfits! i too sell vintage kids clothes and work as a stylist. it is something that i have always enjoyed. so to me complimenting her appearance reassures her that her individual style and creativity is a positive thing. i am teaching her how to sew and i would hope that someone would compliment her clothing that she has created to wear. she is one of the most imaginative, smart AND beautiful kids i know!

Miskabelle/Miskabelly said...

@Coedith I didn't even consider the fact that some of us grow up with a personality that embraces those things, and some girls are tomboys, and that's all okay! I love what you wrote:
"So I have chosen to take time to get to know and follow my children's interest rather than my own. "

Miskabelle/Miskabelly said...

@Jenarcissist @ the closet narcissist Your blog definitely captures the adult piece of this struggle...but I think that if we're better at engaging with kids at an early age, then hopefully, they will be different as adults too! That's my prayer for Aurora: that she is more confident and happy than I was.

Miskabelle/Miskabelly said...

@kmurph Thank you for sharing the article with me...and for being so supportive of our blogs! (hope your weekend is fabulous...we need to do coffee...I think there's a lot I need caught up on!)

Miskabelle/Miskabelly said...

@lynxymama You have a lot to look forward to with a little girl! I think having brothers might help too... :)

Miskabelle/Miskabelly said...

@ringmaster I think Aurora is going to be the same way...she loves the camera, she loves people, and she's always putting on a show/anting to be the center of attention. I would never force her to model, etc. for the blog if she didn't want to (just as I'm sure you don't!). I just want her to be happy and love life! :)

Jenarcissist @ the closet narcissist said...


Yeah, I much as I love doing our blog, it would be nice if someday there were no need for it because self-love was rampant! :) I think both our kids have a very good shot at having more confidence than we used to because we have great tools to teach them with. :) I worry about it sometimes, but I will do the best I can, knowing sometimes I will make mistakes and that's okay. Learning by example is the most powerful thing!

Jessie B.A. said...

This was an interesting article. A friend passed it along to me a few days ago. You guys might like a book I just read: "Cinderella Ate My Daughter." It's sort of similar to the article, but really focuses on our culture of consumerism and how little kids, esp. girls are targeted. I found it interesting and I don't even have kids yet!

Anyway... I think your reaction to the article is pretty spot on, except the former Women's Studies major in me has to point out: we're all a part of culture, whether we like it or not. So as much as we try to let our conversation with kids flow from an organic, "engage-authentically" place, there will inevitably be a reflection of our culture embedded within our own responses... and that culture sometimes include some myopic, limiting elements. I think it's easier for kids to be authentic because they've not yet been bombarded with the years of socialization that we, as adults, have experienced. I think it's really important to make a "concerted effort" to respond to kids in a way that encourages their authentic individualism, because I think trying to do so "naturally" is almost impossible, given how we've all been socialized. Does that make sense? I did my whole college thesis on the hidden messages of race, gender and glass in Disney films, so this is right up my alley :)

Morgan said...

Ok, I'm a little late here, but funny you posted on this because I'm in the middle of a post on body image.

You are definitely both smart AND beautiful and I couldn't agree with you more. I want Finley to grow up know that she is valued and loved for who she is, but we think she's beautiful- exactly as she is!