What’s The Best Way To Talk To Little Girls?

I’m sure we’ve all done it. I know I have. We meet a little girl — at church, a family reunion, or some other social function — and the first thing we do is comment on how pretty she looks in that dress, or with that bow in her hair, or in those little shoes. This seems like completely normal, innocuous behavior. After all, what girl doesn’t like to hear that she’s pretty?

However, Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, argues that, while such comments might be said in good faith, they’re more problematic than we think. In a Huffington Post article titled “How to Talk to Little Girls,” Bloom writes:

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.

Instead of complimenting a little girl’s appearance, Bloom suggests asking her about her favorite books — she shares a charming anecdote about doing just that — or what she’s thinking about. Bloom writes, “There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain.”

As the doting father of a one-year-old girl — who I do think is pretty, and I tell her so regularly — I’m certainly concerned about the sort of world she is growing up in. Sadly, it’s a broken and fallen world where, Bloom notes, “nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat” and eating disorders are becoming increasingly common.

I want my little girl to grow up to be comfortable with her body, regardless of the shape it takes over time. I want her to realize that her looks and “prettiness” do not define her as a person, and that being concerned with her character, intelligence, wisdom, relationships, and faith in Christ will result in far greater dividends than focusing primarily on her looks. And I want to speak words to her — and her peers — that will help to make that a reality.

About Jason Morehead

Jason Morehead lives in the lovely state of Nebraska with his wife, three children, zero pets, and a large collection of CDs, DVDs, books, and video games. He's a fan of Arcade Fire and Arvo Pärt, Jackie Chan and Andrei Tarkovsky, "Doctor Who" and "Community," and C.S. Lewis and Haruki Murakami. He's also a web development geek, which pays the bills — and buys new music and movies. Twitter: @jasonopus. Web: http://opus.fm.

  • Zachery Oliver

    Of course, what you mean when you call your daughter “pretty” and what most of American society means by “pretty” is definitely part of the problem. We need to be careful with our words precisely because the meaning shifts from our own personal context to the outside world.

  • Martyn Jones

    I loved this. Thanks for writing, Jason.

  • wisdomhunter

    Thanks for sharing, Jason. With my little girl (now 7), I always tell her she’s beautiful–and always tell her it’s her beautiful heart that shines through that makes her beautiful. I want her to know that beauty is far more than skin deep…what’s skin deep is superficiality.

  • Susan_G1

    My days of parenting children are long over, but I remember them. I treated them all similarly. Besides telling them often how much I loved them, I looked for every opportunity to compliment them honestly: for their curiosity, for not giving up on that difficult book, for doing well in school, for how beautifully they sang a piece they worked on, for how they handled that argument, for putting a nice outfit together (and one of my sons for his truly beautiful flower arrangements)… and rarely on something they had no control over, eg. their looks, their intelligence… and never flattery. Just my philosophy. I would never compliment a girl for being pretty any more than I would compliment a boy for being handsome. That’s just lazy.