Over a year ago now, Lisa Bloom wrote this very provocative piece on beauty, the female psyche and her opinion on how we should (or should not) speak to little girls. I remember reading it, it had such an affect on me that here I am twelve months later, still thinking about it. When I first read it I was four months pregnant with Bo. I had no idea if it was indeed a little girl I was growing, but my interest was certainly peaked. I have always been a great believer in women’s rights and changing the world and this article certainly calls for change… but there are certain things about this article that now, having Bo here, that no longer sit right with me. A different perspective perhaps now that I have a little girl of my very own. A little girl that I aim to help guide to be a self-assured, confident, happy little girl, teenager and a one-day-hopefully-not-too-soon-woman.
Lisa Bloom calls for action, she calls for change. Which I absolutely 100% agree is necessary. Modern Western society seems hell bent on teaching us that self-hate is cool. Self-deprecations is more widely accepted than self-love. You only have to scroll through your Facebook feed to see all of the self-deprecating status updates of friends and acquaintances and the sometimes shockingly awful “comments” that people write on statuses that may be seen as being “shallow” or “stuck up” or god for bid “loving.” Much like people seem to be more willing to air their dirty laundry by attacking their cheating partner, bad mouthing a friend or just bitching in general in public, than they are to praise, love and celebrate their joy. Why? Tall poppy syndrome runs rife, encouraging people to bring people down when they are at their highest.
Lisa Blooms article urges us to not focus on a little girls beauty when we talk to her. She says:
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.
I agree that talking TO a child is more important than anything. Talking to children about their interests, their loves, their joys, their experiences is more valuable than anything else. A throw away, aren’t you a pretty girl then? Is not really of any use to anyone. But ignoring the fact that the world values appearance, well, I don’t think that is useful either. Because ignoring that it does, won’t change it.
If women are SO UNHAPPY, I don’t think this is a cause of people complementing little girls on their pretty shoes or pretty hair. I think perhaps it is much bigger problem. And it starts with us, the mothers and the fathers, the aunties and the uncles, the adult population as a whole. I tell Bo every day she is beautiful. Because my god, she is. But when I tell her she is beautiful it’s not just her big brown eyes, or long eyelashes I’m talking about. I’m talking to her about her beautiful soul.I will never stop telling my daughter she is beautiful, because I want her to know it. I want her to know that she is a beautiful spirit and I want her to have the confidence to be strong against the negative pull. I struggled a lot with self-hate and self-deprecation, particularly as a teenager. I was often scared I wasn’t good (smart/pretty/wild/edgy… etc.) enough. I was afraid, and because I was afraid I behaved fearless, even though my insides were shaking. I took risks to prove something to other people, not to myself. I don’t want that for Bo.
So how do you teach a child self-worth? For us, it starts with me. It is my responsibility as a parent to instill this confidence to do so. And I am very aware it takes more than just telling Bo she is beautiful, or that she is smart, or that she is clever to raise a confident young woman. Praise and complements only go so far… and it’s not far enough. That is true. I don’t have all the answers, and I know that over the many years of our journey together, and mother and daughter, I will make mistakes. I will say/do the wrong thing at the wrong time. But what I do know is that the best thing I can do for Bo is for me to live a happy, satisfied, genuine life as both a mother, and as myself, the woman. If I am living my life with truth and passion, with strength and joy – then she will follow.
The best way I can empower my daughter, my beautiful-inside-and-out girl, is to empower myself. To give her an example of what it is to be a happy, strong, empowered woman who is kind but doesn’t take shit. Now, that is a much bigger challenge. If I can look for approval from within, if I can learn that I am beautiful, that I am “worth-it” then maybe I can teach Bo to see beauty and worth and wonder in herself too.
After all, one day she will be a grown-up-woman with a mirror all of her own to look into, and I hope when she does it is her own face she sees.