Last week I ran into an old friend at the grocery store and met her daughter for the first time. Four years old, long strawberry blonde hair, and the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. She was completely gorgeous and I couldn’t help myself. “Ava, you are the cutest little girl in the world,” I squealed. “You are totally stunning and I love your pretty outfit.” Ava blushed and quietly thanked me as she skipped down the cereal aisle in her canary yellow princess gown. As I walked away and replayed the encounter in my mind, I was instantly flooded with shame. Here’s why.
Appearance-based compliments are our go-to icebreaker when striking up a conversation with a young girl. It’s easy, socially acceptable, and a guaranteed way to put a smile on her face. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with a flattering remark or two (and let’s face it, sometimes it’s almost impossible to hold them in). But when we’re only talking to little girls about their looks, we’re teaching them that appearance is the most important part of a person.
In her book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, Lisa Bloom reveals that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly... and the numbers are on the rise. Signs of unhealthy dieting and eating disorders are beginning to show as early as age five and self-esteem is at an all time low for girls of every age. Our culture places an exorbitant amount of importance on appearance and by filling our interactions with shallow compliments, so are we.
What should we be doing instead? Ask her what she’s been learning and what her favorite books are. Tell her how smart, brave and kind she is. Inspire her to stay active and let her know that she is strong and capable of doing anything she puts her mind to. Ask her what she wants to be when she grows up and encourage her to dream as big as she can. Don’t waste your time spent with a future world-changer by telling her how adorable her hair looks when it’s curled. Change the conversation and show her how much sisu she has.