I LOVE your dre- I mean, uh, isn't this weather nice?!

I can't get this recent column by Lisa Bloom out of my head.

In the piece, Ms. Bloom asks us to question our habit (It is my habit. Is it yours, too? I fear it's our collective, societal habit.) of always complimenting little girls on what they're wearing or how they look when greeting them.

Before reading this article, I never questioned this behavior, in myself or others. I mean, I don't tell our neighbor's 6 year old she looks like a beautiful shiny princess! or tell the 9 year old down the street she looks so slim in those new pants! But I often remark on how colorful their shoes are or how fancy their dress is or how much I like their pigtails. Because I do! I love those things!

And I like to give and receive compliments as much as the next woman. Compliments are one of the biggest social cues we females use to grease the wheels of social interaction. To tell someone I like you! or I'm friendly! we resort to complimenting their clothing, shoes, physique.

Since reading this article I am shocked to notice just how hard it is for me to say something, ANYTHING else to a girl when first greeting her.

I love your dress! comes rolling off my tongue before I can stop it.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with complimenting a girl on her dress, especially if she's particularly excited about it. But when we always focus our attention on how girls look, I have to believe it feeds into a deep cultural pressure to value looks above all. And if this is the prevailing message everyone, EVEN US FEMINISTS, are sending to the little girls in our world, isn't that sad? And harmful?

I'm going to work on finding other ways to greet the little girls in my world. Will you do the same or do you think this is a load of hooey?


Anonymous said...

That was a very thought-provoking article. I do the same thing with little girls, especially my little girl. But I also tell her how strong she is, how smart she is, how proud I am of her polite manners and how hard she tries when she's learning something new.

I hope that balancing complimenting her looks with her other awesome qualities is teaching her that looks aren't the most important thing about her.

Hillary said...

I just read this. And yes. It totally made me rethink every conversation I've had with the little girls I'm around. I think I might be a bad feminist.

Swistle said...

I wonder how men greet little boys? I think it's "Hey, buddy, howsit goin'?" Which is pretty much how they greet each other, too. We need a feminine form of "buddy."

Erica said...

Um, that was me. I'm not sure why it posted as anonymous.

Cortney said...

Yep, a bunch of my FB friends linked to this article recently. Definitely thought provoking even to me, a self-proclaimed feminist (with a daughter!). I'm totally guilty of commenting on little girls' clothes, hair, etc. This article was a good reminder for me to be more aware of what I talk about to my daughter, nieces and all little girls I meet.

pamela said...

Such a great post! I do this all the time too and it kills me. What is worse is that I have nothing else to say, while to little boys I can find all kinds of questions to ask them. Part of this is that I have only boys, but the other part is that I treat girls the same way I hated to be treated. Ugh. Great article!

Nik-Nak said...

I kind of regard it as a bunch of bull. Who doesn't want to hear a complement daily? And I still do it with adults. Two examples I can think of are yesterday when I went to the bank the teller had just dyed her hair a beautiful color. I said "hey, how are you? I love your hair color by the way." And she seemed to enjoy that I noticed. I also told my insurance adjuster that her shoes were killer. (They totally were) and she was so glad someone had noticed because "she adored them and had been waiting all day for someone to comment on it". So why not boost women or children. I don't see that it hurts.

kate said...

Huh. Very interesting. I do that as well with my daughter's little friends, although I think I may do it with boys as well. I'm certainly going to pay more attention.

The only thing is, I was sort of a plain looking kid, and my dad always told me how beautiful I was, and I grew up more or less feeling that way. Not to the exclusion of everything else - being smart and well-behaved was clearly more important - and certainly not as my primary identity, but it definitely helped me to feel pretty, despite how I was perceived by my peers.

So I want to give that confidence to my daughter too. Because I'm not sure I can make her immune to thinking that how she looks matters.

twisterfish said...

I so agree with Nik-Nak. I also believe the problem is much bigger than complimenting a child here and there. What about the film and music and clothing influences that shape our little girls? Those need to be changed, parents need to be careful what they expose their children to -- not worry about saying "hey, your dress is so cute and love the pigtails". By the way, my boys (I have boys and a girl) get complimented all the time for how cute they are -- should I worry about them and not tell them they have gorgeous eyes and that blue shirt is so adorable on them? No way! I believe the physical compliments are good, as are the ones about them being clever, smart, unique, thoughtful, helpful, witty, imaginative, creative, etc. It's all about balance and being careful what we expose our children to. Oh, and not spending money on a boob job when they're 17.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Thank you all for your thoughts on this, I'm finding each of your comments food for further thought.

kate- I agree, I think it's important to compliment our girls and tell them they are beautiful. However, I think the point isn't so much about how we respond when our daughter or neighbor swirls in a new dress and says "look at my new dress!" - of course we can/should say "LOVELY!" - but how do we GREET little girls in our day to day lives, when they're not twirling and showing off their favorite new shoes? What is the first thing we say to try to connect? That is what I find so striking: I am struggling to say ANYTHING but a compliment about what they're wearing.

I'm starting to wonder if my daughter's year long obsession with fancy dresses is based on the fact that when she wears one in public, someone inevitably compliments her on it. What message has she gotten from this? When you look dressy, people notice you? That's okay with me. The best, most interesting thing you have to offer is how you look? That's not so okay with me. How do we know which message she is getting?

And I rarely compliment boys on what they're wearing- I think I assume they aren't interested talking about clothes so I should move on to something else. Perhaps this is just me?

Nik-Nak and twisterfish- Thank you for not agreeing with me! Seriously!

I agree that there are certainly worse influences out there and part of our job as parents is to filter the worst of it out. I also agree that we need to focus on balancing out compliments on their beauty with compliments on everything of substance we value.

I like to think I give compliments freely- especially to women friends - and I love to get them as well, when someone notices that you took an extra effort to look nice, it feels good.

But I think I've even started to wonder about this. Why am I always complimenting the way my female friends look? Can't I find something else to talk to them about? To compliment them on?

Ann Wyse said...

I have boys. But my oldest has remarkable blue eyes that are hard to miss, with his dark hair and dark eyebrows. He gets an average of three compliments a day.

Last year year, in preschool, they did self portraits several times throughout the year. Every single time, he refused to draw his eyes.

His preschool teacher brought this to my attention, and come to find out:

He hates the compliments.
Hates them.

I've spent a lot of time reflecting on compliments since then. I also read some article in the Huffington Post about how girls are always complimented and congratulated on characteristics (you're so smart!), while boys are more likely to be praised for actions (you worked so hard!).

With these two thoughts in mind, I generally try to go the route of commenting on actions for both boys and girls. Wow! you ride that bike fast!" or "hey, you look like you've been doing a lot of shopping today." Honestly, I'm not very good at it, and sometimes these things sound even sillier in real life as they look typed out. But I do find that these types of comments tend to initiate conversations - which is, I suppose, a good way to let anyone know that you are paying attention.

grammalouie said...

Your points are all well-taken and certainly food for thought. Thinking about all this makes me think about my childhood when one's appearance was NEVER mentioned ever - not by family, not by friends, no one at all mentioned looks or clothes. I grew up in the tail end of the "children should be seen and not heard" era where good behavior was required and, beyond that, not much else. At least in my house.
Frankly, I would have benefited from a compliment or two here and there.
There's currently so much emphasis on appearance in our society that maybe parents just need to strike a good balance between noticing commenting and not noticing. That job (parenting) just seems to get harder and harder. Not that it was ever easy.

Bronwen said...

Load of hooey? Are you kidding? I've been working on this one for a while, and I'm determined to get better at it quickly, before it starts making a difference to my own girl. I think Marmee in Little Women put it best when she said she didn't want her daughters to think that their role in life was to be "merely decorative."

BTW, you do compliment your female friends on other things.

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