Latina Fatale – How to Talk to Little Girls

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I went to a dinner party at a friend’s home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.

Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, “Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”

But I didn’t. I squelched myself. As 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.

What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.

Hold that thought for just a moment.

This week ABC news reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that fifteen to eighteen percent of girls under twelve now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America’s next top model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.

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.

That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.

“Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.

“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.

Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.

“I LOVE books,” I said. “Do you?”

Most kids do.

“YES,” she said. “And I can read them all by myself now!”

“Wow, amazing!” I said. And it is, for a five year old. You go on with your bad self, Maya.

“What’s your favorite book?” I asked.

“I’ll go get it! Can I read it to you?”

Purplicious was Maya’s pick and a new one to me, as Maya snuggled next to me on the sofa and proudly read aloud every word, about our heroine who loves pink but is tormented by a group of girls at school who only wear black. Alas, it was about girls and what they wore, and how their wardrobe choices defined their identities. But after Maya closed the final page, I steered the conversation to the deeper issues in the book: mean girls and peer pressure and not going along with the group. I told her my favorite color in the world is green, because I love nature, and she was down with that.

Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I’m stubborn.

I told her that I’d just written a book, and that I hoped she’d write one too one day. She was fairly psyched about that idea. We were both sad when Maya had to go to bed, but I told her next time to choose another book and we’d read it and talk about it. Oops. That got her too amped up to sleep, and she came down from her bedroom a few times, all jazzed up.

So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya’s perspective for at least that evening.

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. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? 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.

And let me know the response you get at http://www.Twitter.com/lisabloom.

Here’s to changing the world, one little girl at a time.

Reprinted with permission.

© 2011 Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk For Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World

Author Bio
Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, is an award-winning journalist, legal analyst, trial attorney, and the daughter of renowned women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred.

A daily fixture on American television for the last decade, Bloom is currently the CBS News legal analyst, appearing frequently on The Early Show and CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as the legal analyst for The Dr. Phil Show. Bloom appears regularly on CNN and HLN prime time shows such as Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell, The Joy Behar Show, Anderson Cooper 360, and The Situation Room. She has been featured on Oprah, Nightline, Today, Good Morning America, Rachael Ray, and many more, and she was a nightly panelist on The Insider throughout 2010. From 2001-2009, Bloom hosted her own daily, live, national show on Court TV, and she has guest-hosted Larry King Live, The Early Show, and Showbiz Tonight.

Bloom has written numerous popular and scholarly articles for the Los Angeles Times, Family Circle, the National Law Journal, CNN.com, the Daily Beast, and many more. She has also been profiled, featured, and quoted in hundreds of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Elle, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Variety.

Bloom graduated early and Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA, where she was national college debate champion, and then from the Yale Law School, where she won the moot court competition. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she runs her law firm, The Bloom Firm. TheWrap.com recently named Bloom one of the top five celebrity attorneys in Los Angeles.

http://latinafatale.com/2011/07/21/how-to-talk-to-little-girls/

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14 thoughts on “Latina Fatale – How to Talk to Little Girls

  1. I absolutely love your insights here. Refreshing! My daughter is 3 1/2 and has no idea that weight or anything like that could ever be an issue in her world. I feel like my example is her best shot. I actually just blogged about something very similar when the whole Disney’s Merida makeover uproar came out within the last few weeks. I would love your opinion. Post titled “Who’s the Parent?!”

  2. Thank you for your post! I daresay the same could apply to little boys, whom are often decked out in superhero gear. I’m not knocking superhero gear–as a tot, I wore my Wonder Woman Underoos until I just couldn’t fit in them anymore. Commenting on the strength and toughness of little boys can be just as damaging as pointing out the beauty of little girls. As a future parent, I’m happy to be discussing these topics now and will share this post with my family and friends. I hope they will ask my children what they are reading too.

  3. Your post made me recall my own experience as the mother of two very intelligent young women. As an infant and then as she grew older, my older daughter was really quite beautiful and I was often stopped by strangers commenting on “how gorgeous your baby is”. I became concerned that she would become vain. As she grew, I always reminded her that “Your looks may get your foot in the door, but it is your mind that will allow you to stay!” She is now 36 and an up and coming writer in LA.

  4. Abandoning all talk of cuteness seems an understandable reaction to an extreme situation. I think it’s going overboard a bit though. Small kids are cute and always were. And I think people noting there cuteness and getting excited about it is a pretty universal phenomenon as well. The urge you describe is quite natural and I think it’s a good urge. One thing it leads to is cuddles and simply interest in the little one. Everyone wants to hold the baby, you can even see this in monkeys.
    The phenomenon of kids turning into mini-mannequins obsessed with make-up and an eating disorder seems rather recent, on the other hand. Some of it is seems culturally specific as well (the only make-up kids seem to wear in europe is face paint). That’s why I don’t think one (‘you’re so cute!’) necessarily leads to the other (‘ah yes, my purpose in life is to be pretty’). Of course restricting your attention to a kid’s cuteness would be a bad idea. But I don’t see why brainy and cuteness talk should be mutually exclusive. My 3 year old boys(!) are damn cute and frequently told so by me and others. That doesn’t stop us from noting how clever they are or them from being obsessed with books. Opposing the two might even come with a risk – you’re planting the cartesian seed of thinking of body and mind as separate entities, complete with valuing everything ‘mind’ above those things ‘body’.

  5. So, so, so true. My 12 year old already wants to wear make up and my four year old looked at me today and said (in her cute little voice that makes her sound like she is from Boston when she says her “R”s), “Mommy, you look so adowable today”. I said, “Thank you baby”. She was quiet for a minute or so and then she said, “Do I look adowable mommy”? She is so skinny (she was a one-pound preemie) and she asked me if her butt was big the other day. This artical is spot on!

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