Open request to strangers, doctors, teachers: Don’t make small talk about my daughter’s appearance | Reel Girl

Open request to strangers, doctors, teachers: Don’t make small talk about my daughter’s appearance | Reel Girl.

DONATE to and SIGN E-Petition!
There is an excellent letter from Kasey Edwards to Santa posted on the blog Culture and Politics. Here’s how it begins:

Dear Santa,

What I want for Christmas is for people to stop objectifying my daughter.

But after I took my 4-year-old daughter Violet to visit you last week, it seems that even YOU can’t deliver on this particular request.

You may recall that we walked into your little house for the family photo and you remarked on every item of clothing Violet was wearing—including her socks.

And then you told her she was the most beautiful and best-dressed person in the shopping center.

Couldn’t you have just stopped there? Hell no! You kept going and suggested that she takes up modeling when she grows up.

I wrote a post about this topic 2 years ago, when my youngest daughter started preschool.

I know making small talk with a two year old is hard. Toddlers can be shy, are easily distracted, and might even burst into tears if you say the wrong thing. It’s not easy to break the ice. But please: if you meet a little girl on the street, in a store, on the playground, try to think of something, anything to say rather than commenting on her hair, dress, shoes, eyes etc.

My two year old just started preschool, and by the time I’ve kissed her good bye and left her in the classroom, she’s gotten about 10 compliments on her appearance. Of course, she’s adorable. All little kids are. But remember, their little brains are getting wired up. Kids love attention, to be smiled at, and to connect– these are exactly the kinds of interactions that make their brains grow. When they learn, this young, that so many responses are based on how they look, it affects them for life.

For alternative ice breakers try “Hi, you seem happy today! What’s going on? (or sad or angry)” or “Is that your kitty? (or bunny, dog) What’s her name?” Talk about the weather, seriously. Ask if they come here often. If you must say something to a little girl about how she looks, balance it out with other topics that have nothing to do with her appearance (meaning don’t talk about how she looks unless this is going to be a long interaction.)

When people tell your daughter how pretty she is, don’t repeat the compliment to her (as in “She loves this dress. It’s her favorite.”) Don’t make her say thank you. Gently deflect the topic. No matter what other people say, you’re the parent whose opinion matters most to her at this age. Do tell your daughters they are beautiful “on the inside and the outside.” It’s something that should be said by you and that she feels confident about. It’s the proportion of looks based comments, the constant repetition of them, and how they form the basis for social interaction that’s damaging.

In her letter to Santa, Edwards also gives some suggestions about how to break the ice when talking to a little girl besides focusing on her appearance, though, obviously, these are geared towards Santa.

– Where have you been today? or Where are you going today?

– How old are you?

– What do you want to be when you grow up?

– What’s your favorite book/toy/sport/animal/food/song?

– Do you know any Christmas carols?

– Check out your surroundings and remark on something such as a flowering plant, a truck, a picture on the wall, Christmas decorations, even the weather.

– Or just imagine what you would say to her if she were boy.

I love the last one. Thinking that way really helps to become aware of our sexist conditioning. I get how challenging this is. Yesterday, my two older daughters dressed my younger one, and she went out into the world looking like this.


I tried my best to get the monster-flower off her head, but had to give up because my struggle was getting counter-productive. I was giving her appearance too much attention. But I knew it was unlikely this kid would go out in the world and no one would comment on that thing, which was, by the way, a Christmas present. That’s its whole purpose, right? It’s going to feel almost rude to an adult to ignore it.

But that’s what I’m asking you to do. Ignore it. But don’t ignore her. Talk about something else. Ask her how her day is going or what she’s on her way to do or if she had a good sleep last night.

In Melissa Wardy’s great new book Redefining Girly, Rosalind Wiseman offers these suggestions:

So compliment her on something she’s specifically doing that you think is great. Ask friends for their support because you’ll be raising your girls together. To strangers, I’d say: “Thanks, but you know what is the coolest thing about her? She draws animals incredibly well!” Yes, the other person may think you’re strange for saying something so random but your daughter will hear you complimenting something she specifically does, bringing attention to a skill you admire. She’ll know that the most important people in her life value her for more than her appearance.

This is messy stuff and you don’t have to fight every single battle that comes your way. If you’re too tired to have these conversations on a particular day, don’t sweat it. You’ll always have another day. Be proud of taking this one on. I see way too many girls whose parents haven’t provided this guidance and support and truly believe their self value is based on looking like the “perfect girl.”

From the moment they are born, girl babies get attention for how they look. They are dressed like dolls and turned into objects by their own parents, a practice reinforced by our powerfully sexist culture. For too many women, how we look is the source of our identity and power or lack there of. When is it going to stop? Why not start with you? Make a different kind of small talk with the next little girl you see. It’s a small but powerful step to change the world.

—–Margot Magowan, Reel Girl

ANOTHER WAY YOU CAN HELP GIRLS! You know how important it is to gat an EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT (ERA) into the U.S. Constitution. is working hard to get a state ERA into Oregon’s Constitution (22 states have ERA’s written into their constitutions; Oregon does not and there is nowhere in Oregon’s Constitution, just as there is nowhere in the US Constitution, that explicitly guarantees equal rights to women). In order to even get the Oregon ERA initiative onto the November 2014 ballot, must gather 116,284 valid signatures on petitions. Winning this battle in Oregon is an important step towards getting an Equal Rights Amendment into all state constitutions and into the US Constitution. PLEASE HELP! Even if you are not an Oregon resident you can help by DONATING. If you are registered to vote in Oregon, please also SIGN THE E-PETITION (and mail it in!). THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
Oregon offers an income tax credit to residents who contribute to qualifying state, federal or local political campaigns. The total credit is limited to $100 on a joint return or $50 on a single or separate return. Please see for details. Contributions or gifts to this campaign are not tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

—–Nancy Campbell Mead, Board Member

39 thoughts on “Open request to strangers, doctors, teachers: Don’t make small talk about my daughter’s appearance | Reel Girl

  1. Thanks for this post, it was quite an interesting and thought provoking read. A bit of a trip down memory lane perhaps for some of us to realise how we may have ended up who we are today and where our hang ups may have come from. I read this yesterday actually after a Facebook friend shared it and was left thinking about it still today. Coincidentally, I’ve come across a number of bloggers since who have posted about incidents where they have overheard themselves being talked about and how it has affected them, the insult or the boost to their ego. I don’t know that discouraging people from ‘objectifying’ little girls will make much difference to the harsh reality that is society, but I applaud you for putting it out there. I guess like anything if it reaches one person and changes their behaviour, then your message was worth it. Personally, I wish that my mother had just helped me to be stronger in dealing with the societal reality that we develop and live within. I wish that she had been stronger in this way and had been that role model to myself and my siblings. But, I suppose families are a culture in themselves inside the culture that is the society that we live in. Her mother was no different, she did nothing to instil confidence in her own daughters. So, while we all have things that we are sure we will do differently for our own children, I’m glad that I’ve waited long enough to learn this lesson before starting a family of my own. I don’t know that I will discourage objectification, I think I will just teach my children to feel and react differently about it so that they develop confidence from within by learning who they are as their ego is developing, rather than let them be shattered by the opinions of others and have to unlearn the reliance on what people think and say about them to shape their self esteem. Again, thanks for the post. Clearly it has got me thinking!

  2. I think it is not only possible but acceptable to positively acknowledge a person’s appearance – whether it be a young boy, girl or grown adult – AND to acknowledge his/her other strengths. A person should feel confident in who they are on the inside and the outside, and they can in fact go hand in hand without one negating the other. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s appearance, as long as it is not a person’s defining characteristic.

  3. This is by far one of the MOST ridiculous things I have read in years! The examples given were generally adults who children are usually afraid of like Doctors and Santa. What is Santa supposed to say to break the ice, “read any good books lately?” This is a mom who sounds a bit unstable. Who complains about compliments to the point of bragging!? Fast forward 20 years and her daughter will be one of those girls complaining in a nightclub bathroom, “why are all these guys hitting on me…I mean, I’m sooo tired of them telling me I’m beautiful!” Honestly, if the pic is of her actual daughter I would have to say that most of the compliments are embellished to make them feel good. So in the end learn to take a freaking compliment. Your kid’s not a model! People want to say something nice about others. Just say thanks and go about your day!

  4. Nothing to do with gender here. My son is gets a lot of attention for being funny and he has a personality that demands attention . He is 5 . I worry that he is being taught that this is how you socialise , ….. By being funny . I’m a conscious parent and I wish everyone could be conscious when interacting with children … He could learn to be loved for just being !!!! But it’s not a perfect world … So far he is not a class clown , I hope it stays that way .

    • There is a big difference between being complimented for being funny, or for his personality, and being complimented for being pretty. That’s the whole point of the article – that we should praise kids for what they do rather than how they look! It sounds like your son is getting great messages that will give him a lot of confidence – very different from being told “I like your hair” or something similar.

  5. I must agree that it goes for both sexes. I will say that all children should be told not how beautiful, cute, or handsome they are it should include how beautiful they are in other ways too. It is not up to anyone else out there in the world to make our children feel that way it is us as parents. We should not get upset that someone compliments our child on being attractive or how they are dressed because you never know when that one comment how sexist or whatever you might think it is may be just what the child needs to hear. We have to remember our children are people as well. They have feelings, their own minds and emotions and so many kids go without hearing positive reinforcement of any kind from their own home. If we as parents take the time to nurture our children in healthy ways the comments about their attractiveness or dress will not matter. Self esteem comes from us as parents not those strangers out in the world. So tell them they are beautiful, smart, cute, blessed, handsome and whatever positive word we can find and remember if we start picking apart what someone else means as a compliment then our children will grow up to do the same. How often do the actions of a child mirror what they learn at home?? Quite often. If they hear that it is wrong to compliment or be complimented about dress or appearance then they are never going to be quite closed minded people when they grow up. Never worry about what strangers say or do worry about what you say or do in your own home and how you raise your children. The world needs more compassion, love, honesty, and less hate.

  6. Thank you for writing this piece and paying careful attention to what is said to your daughter. I started reading and couldn’t stop. I am a professional photographer and a long time ago I decided that my photos would focus on peoples qualities and not their looks. I want people to feel valued and strong, brilliant and silly, to know it is so fine to be just who they are. I often talk to strangers, kids and adults alike…I hope from those momentary conversations just like in my photo sessions, they feel seen because I noticed something about them. Thank you.

  7. I hear what you are saying & agree that the world is way too focused on the outer appearance, but here is my 2 cents, for whatever it is worth. Your child is growing up in this world, she will inevitably be exposed to the superficial media induced images that will tell her she is less than perfect. It’s not the truth obviously but it is a world truth. It is up to us as PARENTS (not the world) to teach our children that they are so much more than their fleshly vessel. It is NOT the job of anyone else. I don’t mind if people tell my children that they are beautiful or look great, because many also compliment them on their manners & behavior. There will be a barrage of influence in their lives when they are older to tell them the contrary. As parents we build their self esteems by pointing out their strengths & talents. Compliments on their looks from others just tops it up in my opinion. I teach my children to be humble & yes, to say thank you for compliments. There will come a time when media & social pressures will send our children a very different message.

  8. I get that we should all focus less on everyone’s appearance, and especially kids. And I get that the lesson you’re trying to teach your daughter is that there are so many more important characteristics Han her appearance that matter. But I want my daughter and my son to hear they’re beautiful. Not just when they’re dressed up, but especially when they’re wearing a crazy outfit with a monster bow, or they’re dirty from helping me in the garden, or they’re sweaty from playing hard. Because they day is coming when society will tell them that they are too short, or too slow, or shouldn’t need glasses, or whatever, and I want them to have heard so many times that they are beautiful regardless that they will hopefully be inoculated against the world around them.

  9. I see that many people here are having trouble parsing why it might be wrong to compliment a girl’s appearance, and I want you all to understand because *it is important*. I don’t speak for the author, but I do speak as a feminist.

    When you tell someone that they are physically attractive, you are praising them for a decorative feature, for being pleasant to look at, for passively existing for your delighted viewing. When you tell someone that they are physically attractive and never praise them for anything else, you are telling them that all they are is decorative, that their worth and welcome is entirely bound in being beautiful, and that they exist for your enjoyment as the viewer–what then, when they no longer please your eye? It is an inherently objectifying act, it damages agency and durable self-worth. It can also create some serious identity problems when appearances change, with puberty, with age, with living, and especially when appearances do not conform to cultural standards of beauty.

    I understand that it doesn’t *feel* wrong to tell someone that they’re attractive (overwhelmingly or exclusively), that we want to be nice to children, and to our fellow humans, and that this feels nice, because we like hearing that we ourselves are lovely. But we want to hear that so desperately in part because of how our own self-worth was informed by our upbringing. We are fighting a cultural problem, and our culture reenforces to us that compliments based on appearance are right and good and best, especially for girls. It feels counter-intuitive to suggest complimenting other qualities *because* our culture tells us that appearance has more worth, particularly for women and girls. That’s the problem, and Santa, or the doctor, or the teacher, is only the latest mouthpiece, a thread in the the greater cloth of image-obsessiveness and misogyny, and because this cloth envelops us all, it can be immensely difficult to unpack all the structural biases that inform our behaviors and beliefs. Please think hard about why it bothers you so much to hear that it might be best to talk to a young girl about almost anything other than how she looks, and consider all the ways in which gaze and beauty have been used to keep women passive, to keep them occupied, to keep them in their place.

  10. You’re article at first was really captivating and then it started to read as one huge vent.
    1-A minimum wage paid old guy dressed as santa was in a GOOD mood and complimented your daughter…too many times…
    2-As a parent isn’t it your responsibility to raise yours kids the best you can and not expect and tell everyone else how they NEED to treat your daughter?
    3-A little rough, but so was your article, “life is not fair.” Really, it isn’t. It isn’t anyone’s job to ask you daughter what her favorite class is or what Disney movie she likes because honestly, no one cares. Just you. Your friend with kids and perhaps your parents. I don’t care. But I love well behaved kids who are sweet and if I were to compliment your daughter, it would be genuine.
    4-Helping girls? I am a woman and I get what you mean–women are treated differently blah blah blah and guess what? So are boys! And…they are not always treated well. Because life isn’t fair and there are differences between men and women–which is why you have multiple kids and it appears blogging is your other job in addition to being a mother. (If you are a professor at Harvard Law school, please correct me)–Otherwise, don’t insinuate there is something wrong with models and other “girly” professions because you are doing a very “girly” and traditional one yourself. And guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that.
    5-Your daughter could be ugly and get no compliments, this is petty.
    6-The biggest issue with your article is that you want people to change for you and you are on your soap box wanting people to change for all the other over-complimented young girls out there. There are much bigger things going on in this world.
    7-Old man dressed up as Santa. That’s all I’m saying…he may live alone with no wife at all and you’re complaining that after all the kids sitting on his lap he said too many kind things to your daughter. I saw a Santa suit in my dry cleaners and they told me they have to get dry cleaned regularly because little kids PEE on santa because they get nervous/excited. This santa was NICE and was probably peed on all day long. My God…a little perspective here!

  11. Good text except this often goes for some boys as well. We still live in a male dominant World so girls usually get this more than boys but I do like your text and the message you are trying to say and for the record: I don’t think it’s irrational, foolish or bitter in any way. 🙂 Actually I think you should watch this (how media failed women in the year 2013):

  12. Great article! Thought you all may be interested in alternatives to the old-school image-based compliments. If so, read on:

    “A true compliment – be it about our body or our being – feels good. Period. It’s clean. Not attached to what someone wants or needs from us. A true compliment is a comment, which speaks to or at least includes who a person is as opposed to what they look like or how “hot” they are. A person’s physical qualities such as hair, facial structure, and height and body type are not acquired through any effort or talent. People are just born looking the way they do. To praise someone for something that they in effect had no part in creating is in and of itself, false. If we often feel uncomfortable receiving this form of praise, it may be because we sense the falseness inherent in it and we know we are being praised for something which we had no part in. If all a young woman hears is what great eyes or hair they have…they begin to hear: “Your eyes/hair are your only good feature.”

    Girls are craving reflections of their inner qualities and strengths. We can help them see that there are two mirrors. One reflects the surface, one reflects the essence. As we begin to practise reflecting her essence we are cultivating that same practise inside of her. Ultimately, the goal is to nurture a girl’s ability to see herself, from the inside-out. A person who sees and values who they are will be more likely to develop their strengths and qualities and fulfill their potential as a person regardless of gender or physical appearance.

    Here are some ideas:

    “I like the way you do your hair.”
    “Your sense of style is so original. I really like your “look”.
    “I like you so much.”
    “You’re a good friend.”
    “I respect your clear, strong boundaries.”
    “You have such a confident way of speaking.”
    “I noticed you speak up when your friends were making racist comments. I was awed by your
    courage and integrity.”
    “I’ve noticed you seem comfortable with a lot of silence. It’s peaceful being around you.”
    “I love the way you laugh.”
    “You are a delightfully funny person.”
    “Your whole face comes alive when you talk.”
    “I’m interested in getting your opinion. You always have such a unique point of view.”
    “You’re so clever with your hands.”
    “You are such a compassionate and caring person. ”
    “I appreciate your honesty.”
    “You have so many great talents.”
    “Watching you run today, I felt so inspired by your determination.”
    “How great that you can be in such good spirits even though your team lost today.”
    “You sure know how to enjoy winning! Your excitement and pride in how well you did is awesome!”
    “I admire your fierceness when you play basketball.”
    “I admire your loyalty to your friends.”
    “When you smile, your happiness really shines through.”
    “I trust you.”
    “Your choices show integrity.”
    “I love how playful you are.”
    “You have a powerful singing voice.”
    “You have so much character. I love how expressive your face is.”
    “Your eyes are so expressive.”
    “I love how you smile with your whole heart!”
    “It’s great how you chose something both fashionable and practical.”
    “One of the things that I like about you is how genuine you are.”
    “I am impressed with how hard you are willing to work.”
    “I admire the way you stood up for yourself.”
    “Your strong spirit is awesome.”

    “If we want to nurture the core-self of our daughters, we will stop telling them how beautiful they
    look. We will begin telling them how beautiful they are.” – Anita Roberts”

  13. My daughter is 30 years old and when she was a little girl, I remember emphasizing that very fact as well. It is going to take another 30 years before the world ‘gets it’. Parents need to be aware of how they themselves are contributing to this situation i.e. ‘pretty pink and purple colours, cool and cute shoes, adorable hair.’

    I would also like to recommend reading the book “Failing at Fairness”, which brings attention to the fact girls are not being given equal time and attention by their teachers (failing at fairness in the classroom). I won’t go into too much detail, however various testing was done with teachers in their classrooms. The teachers were made aware of the purpose of the testing.
    After the taping, examples were pointed out and explanations were given to the teachers, with regards to how their actions were contributing to this inequality of their teaching. The teachers were shocked. They didn’t realize how unintentionally, they were giving boys more of their teaching time. It is a must read.

  14. I thought this essay was powerful and useful. As a parent of two boys I use the suggestion to say something to a little girl that I’d say to my boys sometimes. But I forget! I’m a feminist and I can say the stupidest things to little girls! Thanks for a needed reminder, and good tips. Bummer about some of these mean comments.

  15. Strangers are strangers. Cut them some slack. Mommy taking the time to take a picture of her outfit with the flower in her hair is making more of an impression about appearances than the words of strangers.

  16. I red some comments, how can people ger upset about this? I would not like to be commented on my looks every time I go somewhere… I am studuing to become a nurse and I work on trying to treat every patient whit the same respect and dont act diffrently whit boys and girls. In Sweden (where I live) there is also a debate about using “hen” instead of the feminine “hon” (she) and maskuline “han” (he). And some people get upset about this. I on the other hand have roots in Finland and there we only have one word for both; hän. Thats how it always has been… I do not underdtand what the big deal is?

  17. Not going to give you any flack, you’re 95% right (always leave room for improvement right) Thank you for writing this, as I too have noticed just how stuck on appearances that people really are. Children beg for highlights at 10 years of age now – and get it. I remember being 14 when I got my 1st perm. Who’s to say when a person is “old enough” for something like that but …. I do notice a primadonna attitude going right along with all the trends going to younger and younger crowds. It’s too much….. too fast. And it’s coming at them all like a tidal wave!!! Boys are subject to this also to a larger measure too. But I remember my father scolding people for complimenting our looks when we were little girls. I always thought at the time that he was mean and thought we were ugly as a result so …… be careful not to teach the opposite while at this. It’s a great thing to combat this war against worldliness in appearance above ALL. But remember to not neglect when praise is indeed necessary – and it is in this greatly negative world. Thank you.

    • Yes, there with you. You do have to admit though…… there’s WAY too much gushing going on over looks these days. If the media didn’t “care” Miley Cyrus would not be headline news 😉

  18. I can understand everyone who has made points on here…generally speaking yes I think we do focus on appearance far too much & I think it does gofor both genders although probably more so for girls . The article though is written by a Mother who has a daughter though & so she can only go on her own experiences.

  19. I agree this is a terrible post! OMG for some of us we can’t think of what to say and outfits catch attention. If you don’t want people to comment then why wear eye-cathing dresses with loud colours, etc.
    If my son is wearing a costume (which he often dresses up as a firefirghter) every second person gives him a comment and I’m appreciative that people talk and pay attention to him and give him such kind words. I’m not going to complain that they didn’t say the right thing.
    Posts like this make the world feel like a less unfriendly place. Lighten up!

  20. My son gets this too, honestly, just about as often as your daughter. Santa says to him “What a handsome boy!” and then to me “Have you thought of putting him in acting?” I often hear “Where did he get that adorable coat?” He gets “Ooooh, I love your little smile! Tickle tickle can you smile for me?” “I could just squeeze you, your so cute!” “What a sharp dressed little man you are!” “Awww, some sweet little jeans! And look at your little boots! Darling!” I think it comes with the territory of living in a superficial, consumerist culture. I’m sure there is more pressure on little girls at present but I just wanted to point out that it is (to our collective detriment) becoming standard issue conversation with boys too. I am really taken aback every time I hear it. I think many people have lost the art of making small talk and base their conversations solely on appearances (which sadly is what we are most often judged upon, as well). Thanks for your post.

  21. I dunno…I think that could backfire, easily. You never comment on your kid’s appearance while we live in such a visually stimulated world that there is no way they won’t notice that EVERYONE else is being praised for theirs? I dunno. I like the general idea…I think it’s really about balance. I will absolutely continue to tell all my students how ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL they are. You’d be shocked to know a lot of them will correct me and tell me that they aren’t pretty at all. Or tell me that no one ever tells them they are beautiful. It’s sad. I especially make it a point to tell the ones that seem self-conscious at all, or the kids that may have a disability or other physical differences from other kids. Because the media standard is so skewed…kids need to know that Beauty looks just like them-not the airbrushed stuff in magazines. Yes, what’s on the inside matters just as much…but they also need to learn to look in a mirror and love what they see. Some positive reinforcement re: appearance, is just as healthy and important as reinforcing their deeper qualities.

  22. You sound like a very angry, bitter and irrational person. It’s people like you who make people feel terrified and uncomfortable to say anything to anyone anymore as we never know what well intentioned words may “offend” somebody.

    For the record. It’s not just little girls. I was constantly told as a little boy that I was cute and/or handsome, that my clothes were nice, or that I had cool shoes. How is that sexist? The same goes for both sexes. The vast majority of the time the adults intentions are to be kind and friendly, and to positively acknowledge the child.

    Women who think they’re alone in this are sadly mistaken. Even as a male adult I feel the constant need to “diet” and exercise to ridiculous lengths to fit in with what society considers attractive. Look at GQ, look at male sex symbols, look at a Gillette shaving commercial or Calvin Klein underwear ad. It’s not just girls, it’s not just women. Get off your high horse.

    • Totally agree that “the same goes for both sexes”. We need to value all people for who and what they are, not how they look. Sadly though, it is a reality that girls and women are more often than boys and men the focus of a “beauty culture”.

      • I sincerely appreciate your unbiased and open minded response. I do agree that girls and women are more often subject to “beauty culture”, but it is appreciated that you can acknowledge that this effect transcends gender and is also present on the male side of the equation.

        A heartfelt thank you.

    • So true! You’re awesome! And I’m a girl! It’s true, all the underwear packages for guys have men with perfect six packs and everything..

  23. Do you believe that adults do not talk to a boy about how handsome he is, or what? this is just foolishness! Since not everyone will take your advice, how will your daughter feel when all the other little girls are being complimented (which by the way is a good thing for self-esteem, we all like to feel we look nice, or that something we chose to wear compliments our hair/ eyes/ fingernail polish!) how rude will your child be when he/she grows up believing that it is wrong to say thank-you for someone seeing him/her as an attractive person? Enough already~ by all means find other topics, teach your children the art of conversation, but for goodness sake don’t tell them that getting complimented on anything is wrong! THAT is just wrong!

    • Anecdotal experience: I have two small boys, and while they are complimented on their appearance sometimes (“so cute!” and “so handsome!”), they are *much* more frequently complimented on other qualities (“so strong!” and “so helpful!” and “so happy!”). Small girls of our acquaintance are–as I was when I myself was small–bombarded with compliments that are *principally* appearance-oriented (especially remarking on clothes and specific attributes, such as eyes and hair), and are much less likely to hear compliments on other qualities (and what few they get are often heaped with gendered expectations of passivity, ie: “so sweet!” and “so good!”). My boys are also sweet and often even good, but we as a culture treat boys to more active descriptors, and treat girls as decorative, passive objects. My experience is borne out not only in the experiences of many other parents and women, but also in research into gendered language and child development.

      Of course we all like to hear that we are valued, that we are attractive, that we have taste and style. Yes, that feels good to us. The problem is believing that this is the only way in which we are valued, that our appearance trumps our bravery, our strength, our creativity, cleverness, and kindness, and that the way we look (much of which is not a matter of choice) is more significant to our character than the things we *do* choose, such as our actions and the ways in which we look at the world.

      The author isn’t telling her children that it’s wrong for people to compliment them. She’s telling ADULTS, and emphasizing to her children that they are much more than their looks.

  24. Santa saying a little girl is pretty can be quite revolting. My husband and I walked past a charity Santa (Rotary in the UK) in our local village at a Christmas lights turning on evening – she was about 3. The Santa must have been in his 80’s. He took one look at my blonde blue eyed little girl, being carried incidentally by her Daddy, and said. ‘Oooooo isn’t she a looker with those lovely blue eyes and blonde hair. Bring her back when she’s 18!’
    Gross – especially as he’d then be about 98!!!

Comments are closed.