What to Say to Little Girls Instead of “You Look so Pretty”
My 8-year-old daughter had an amazing soccer tournament this weekend. She played an active game, made smart strategic passes and some great shots in front of the goal. She also scored seven times, helping her team win the final and take home the trophy.
Then someone (who will remain unnamed), while I was talking about how well she plays, intervened: “And you know what? While you were playing, a group of boys stopped, pointed at you and asked, ” Who is this girl?” She’s so cute . “
Not only was it a lie (it was a girls’ tournament, the only boys were a few bored little brothers glued to gadgets), it implied that she should be more worried when boys think she is cute while playing than the game itself. … … Of course, no harm was expected; it was this man’s version of the compliment. But why, pray tell, should my strong, fast, ferocious daughter who just kicked her ass in a row of games be thrilled that she’s so cute? (Also: she’s eight .)
The idea that a girl’s attention should be diverted from these achievements in order to enjoy being watched by boys is clearly outdated and absurd. The only saving grace in this interaction was that my daughter, fortunately, had no idea what the person was talking about, or why she should care. It at least made me realize that this type of beauty-based praise-baiting isn’t on her radar. At least for now.
But it reminded me that the way we traditionally talk to young girls and the toxic messages in that conversation are annoying at best and self-defeating at worst. The traditional emphasis on the appearance of girls when they are young can lead to their appearance becoming a decisive factor in their self-esteem in adulthood. The National Organization of Women reports that by age 13, more than half of American girls are unhappy with their bodies (up from 78% by age 17). Likewise, the Children’s Society’s 2016 Good Childhood Report found that more than one third of girls aged 10-15 in the UK are unhappy with their appearance.
The tricky part, the kids are really cute. It’s hard not to compliment kids for their looks when they’re all brushed (especially when their hair is adorned with bows, snapping their feet at Mary Jane, or when you genuinely love their shiny nail polish). We are not saying never praise these things, but we need to avoid focusing on cuteness at the expense of the other qualities of the child (intelligence, energy, attentiveness or curiosity, and many others).
It’s not about shaming anyone for using these rushing phrases; as a society we have been taught to talk with girls and women. (If I can go to a book club without mentioning anyone’s haircut, clothing, makeup, wallet, or earrings in the first five minutes, then amaze me.) The point is to offer alternatives to classic imagery that spin so easily. we talk to little girls.
Next time, instead of repeating, “ You look so cute,” “I love your dress,” “What kind of princess are you,” “Look at your pretty nails, ” and the awful “ How many guys do you have? . Try one or more of these options to connect with the little girls in your life.
What can you say instead of commenting on the appearance of a little girl
It’s so nice to see you! (Period.)
What are you reading now?
What did you like the most about this book?
When I was your age, my favorite book was ____.
What’s your favorite TV show / movie?
How is piano / ballet / karate progressing?
What is your favorite thing to do right now?
Do you have a favorite board game?
What sports do you like to do?
What did you do today?
Sounds like you’re really good at ____.
What good have you done today?
I would love to see your favorite toy. Can you show me?
Do you play computer games? What is your favorite?
You look so happy today! What are you thinking about?
What do you like most about school?
If you find yourself trying not to compliment something about how they look, try shifting your focus away from value judgments like cute, handsome, or cute, and make descriptive, neutral statements instead. Things like:
Wow, you have so much purple on you! Is this your favorite color?
These shoes are cool. Do they light up?
Did you choose this outfit yourself?
This sweater looks so cozy.
I love glitter. Can I borrow your shirt somehow?
As a child, I had the same shoes / dress / hairpins.
I bet these shoes help you run really fast, right?
Hopefully, by loosening enough the focus on looks and redirecting them to their inner qualities and interests, we can teach girls how they look – this is their most visible and important trait.