Little girls are adorable with their cute dresses, adorable smiles and funny faces that they make. Usually while meeting a little girl, the first thing we see is how pretty she is. And if she’s not pretty (poor little thing, we think), then we usually feel like we should make her feel pretty. So we tell her how nice her dress is or how cute her shoes are.
And if this little girl is really, really pretty (lucky her, right?), then we compliment her looks with all our heart. Gorgeous hair! And these blue eyes! And what a lovely smile! You do look beautiful today! Like a princess!
It is nice to be complimented, right? And this little girl sure looks happy, being compared to Elsa. And how pleased her mother must be, to hear that her daughter is beautiful.
Except that I’m not that pleased. I’m worried. And sad.
Each time a stranger exclaims how cute my daughter is, I just feel like changing the subject. And when her daycare teacher compares her to a little princess, I just get upset.
Because I want her to love and accept herself, regardless of how she looks. I wish that she’ll get to live a life free from self objectification and body shaming.
So if people say she’s pretty, why do I worry that she might have body image issues? Why do I hope that strangers and family would stop concentrating on my daughters looks?
And why do I think that we should stop complimenting little girls’ looks?
1. Complimenting only looks, gives a message that nothing else is important
While you tell a little girl how pretty she looks today, you let her know that this is the only thing that you care about – her being pretty and nice to look at.
2. Complimenting girls’ appearance, teaches them that they get attention when they are pretty.
When most of the attention that a girl gets comes from the fact that she’s a pleasing sight to others, she starts thinking that in order for her to get the positive attention, she must stay pretty. So she starts being preoccupied by her looks.
3. Telling a little girl that she’s beautiful, puts her in a tight box of expectations
Because pretty girls shouldn’t get dirty or sweaty. Pretty girls should stay pretty. Exercising and getting red isn’t so pretty right? So a lot of preteens stops enjoying physical activity. They get preoccupied with how they look while they exercise.
4. Instead of building their self esteem with compliments, we are ruining it
While we tell boys they’re strong, smart and capable, we tell girls they are like princesses. They don’t get to hear as often as boys that they can do things, instead they hear that people like looking at them.
5. When a girl starts believing that she’s being valued mostly because of her looks, she stops believing in her intellect.
She starts thinking that she got that good grade because her teacher likes her. She might start thinking that people prefer looking at her instead of listening to her. If she’s shy, she might want to speak up less, in order to be less seen, less complimented and less in the center of unwanted attention.
6. If a girl learns that she should be pretty in order to get attention, then she’s just a step from believing that she should be sexy.
Just have a look at Barbie dolls, Disney princesses and cartoons targeted at preteens. Feminine characters are always shown as slim and very alluring. They have big lips and big eyes. Often they dress really sexy. And then, a preteen wants to be as close to the girl ideal that she sees in the media as possible. If she really believes that to get the attention she should stay pretty, then before you know it, she’ll start feeling like pretty means sexy. And that sexy equals positive attention.
7. If a girls sees that she gets attention only because of her looks, she might start to fear losing her looks.
If she believes that this is her only valuable asset, as a preteen and teen she might start obsessing about her body not being perfect enough.
8. Complimenting girls for looks and boys for performance, teaches the kids that the two sexes are unequal.
When we tell our kids that they can become whoever they want, and then we use intellect based compliments to uplift boys, and appearance based compliments to please girls, do they still believe that they really can become who they wish? Or do they learn to live by our expectations, and to see their strengths where we point them up? I’m afraid it’s the second one.
So that’s why you might hear me praising my daughter’s creativity, sense of humor and kindness and not her eyes. And instead of saying that she’s a princess, I say that she’s strong, smart, and capable of doing things on her own.
I want her to believe in herself regardless of how she’ll look like in 20 years. I want her to be kind to her body and to treat her “flaws” as her one-of-a-kind features. I hope for her to appreciate her body for what it can do, and not for how pleasing it is to others.
One more thing: I’m not against telling your daughter, niece or neighbor that she’s pretty. I’m against it being the message that she’s hearing 90 percent of the time!
So let your daughter know that you appreciate her for so much more than just her looks!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Joanna Grzeszczak’s blog, Lazy Mom’s Blog. It has been modified and republished here with permission.