A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted to his Facebook page this article on how one should talk to young girls. The gist of the article – don’t focus on their looks, focus on their intelligence, because you don’t want to give them low self esteem.
All this talk about not focusing our compliments on their looks is crap. It’s all wrapped up in our own ish and inability to appreciate ourselves. We are physical creatures. We all like things of beauty. Let’s celebrate it. Let’s teach our daughters to love themselves – their smarts, their looks, their character, everything they’ve got.
Do I think girls today have body issues because we compliment them too much on superficial things like how they dress or how they look? Nope. I think young girls are plagued by grown women’s issues because the women in their lives and their peers and the women in their lives, are obsessed in an unhealthy way about body image. If mom complains all the time about her weight and is outwardly searching for ways to feel good about herself, so will little Susie. Children learn through example.
I’m trying my darnedest to raise young ladies who celebrate the beauty and complexity of being a woman. Part of that is showing them through example how I feel confident in my own skin and how I own who I am. I want them to love, embrace and respect their bodies. I have to celebrate myself so they learn to celebrate who they are both inside and out. I’m not convinced you can cultivate a healthy sense of confidence in your body and physical self by ignoring it. On the contrary, you celebrate it.
I will not ignore their looks for the sake of making them feel smart. I do not believe brains and beauty are mutually exclusive. My girls can be both attractive and smart. Feminine and athletic. You know, all those delicious gender specific traps of being a female and their “masculine” counterparts.
So here’s my radical idea – let’s compliment girls on their looks in magical and amazing and unexpected ways. Let’s give them a little something to slip into their back pocket so when the icky days of adolescence arrive, full of pimples and hormones and gorgeous girls without pimples or bad hair days (but plenty of hormones), they can hold on tight to words that make them feel sparkly and beautiful. (note: they’ll hold in this back pocket lots of compliments, not just ones about their looks…ones about comedic timing, engaging storytelling, a knack for fixing cars, being an attentive listener…).
So how exactly does one compliment a little girl without being too surfacey? Be creative, full of imagination and connect them to something greater than themselves. Wha-what? What am I talking about? Here, some examples:
- My oldest daughter has brown eyes and I tell her they’re the color of the earth, rich and full of life and possibility.
- Other days I tell her they remind me of yummy chocolate which always makes her giggle. Chocolate is a source of joy for her.
- Our youngest’s eyes are the color of where the sky meets the sea at dusk. I tell her they are just like her grandma’s & like her uncle’s.
- When I brush their hair and pull it away from their faces, I tell them it’s as strong as a rope like (gasp) Rapunzel (I know, Cinderella Ate My Daughter…bite me) and it’s all because they nourish their bodies with the right foods.
Complimenting a little girl on the things we find beautiful on the outside does not have to be shallow.
- Make the nature connection.
- Make her feel honored to carry on a unique family trait.
- Get silly. Make it fun.
- Focus beauty on the importance of a healthy & strong body. Hooray for fruits & veggies! Hooray for exercise!
This is just a jumping off point. The sky’s the limit. Remember the best compliment you ever got? Of course you do. Because it was magic and made you soar. Remember that feeling the next time you go give a compliment to a little girl. Choose your words wisely and with intention and make her feel proud to be herself, inside and out.