Last night I went out with a friend of mine, just to grab a drink or two and gab about life. While sitting in a darkened industrial-chic bar and exchanging thoughts about childrearing and upbringing, we haphazardly dappled in the topic of little girls - it was a few short sentences, and then it was over, we continued talking about something else. But I was still thinking about it by the time I settled into bed a few hours later. Little Girls...
I often catch myself wondering about the way I'm raising Freida, and how it sometimes feels like instead of empowering her I'm stifling her. It's not that I really notice it while I'm doing it, but every once in a while she'll say something that will completely make me cringe ("Do I look really beautiful today?") and leaves me pensively combing the way I treat her and her little girlfriends. The truth is, I do often say things about her looks - it just comes out so naturally, the same way I smother her in kisses all day, I tell her she's a little beauty. But! When I hear it out of her own mouth, it gives me a bit of a sinking feeling, and I know it's not the greatest way for a 4 year old to be talking...
It's not so much the concept of her being aware of her looks or her clothes or her hair - that I find natural, normal, and even wonderful; it's the fact that I don't want her to be misguided into possibly thinking that looks are the only thing, or the most important thing, that matters in social life. I want her to be deeply aware of the fact that her peers throughout life will value her for her character more than her wardrobe!
A few years ago I read a really wonderful article about How to Talk to Little Girls, and after a bit of web browsing I found what I was looking for. It was a piece written by Lisa Bloom for Huffington Post, and it touched upon this topic in such a simple practical way!
"Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are... It's our culture's standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn't it?"
And it's so true! Whenever I meet a little girl, the first thing out of my mouth is something about her looks! It's almost instinctual to me to compliment her on something as a way of striking up a conversation. But what I fail to realize is that striking up a conversation that begins with looks is setting up for a conversation about looks. That's not much of a conversation at all. How exciting can it really be to talk about how her mommy made her pigtails and braided them like this or that...? What a waste of an introduction to a little person who likely has so much creativity/imagination/curiosity to offer up!
"Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she's reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does."
Isn't this a fantastic fix to a common problem? I'm so excited to put this new tactic to use, and I can't wait to meet or greet a little girl and see where our conversation goes. It can be as simple as what she ate for breakfast, why she's most excited for summer, what kind of music she likes best, or even what her favorite color is (contrary to popular belief, it just might not be pink!). I know I would love the refreshment of someone meeting Freida at the park and asking her something about herself, or even complimenting her on her monkey bar skills instead of her blue eyes. And I know for certain that Freida would react marvelously to a question that actually makes her think, and values her being and opinion.
So ladies, let's get to it and fix the world problem of self-sexualization one little girl at a time! Who's with me?