OBSERVATIONS · raising strong girls · slice of life

Going Beyond “You’re So Cute!”

Isabelle, who wears pink and ALL colors, happily plays with a train she just received for her birthday. (I’ve already had someone raise their eyebrows when they heard my parents bought her a train for her upcoming birthday. Seriously, what year are we living in??!?)

Isabelle and I had lunch at Panera today. Prior to our friend meeting us for lunch, an older woman came over to tell her what a pretty little girl she was. Someone else stopped by to say “I love your curls,” while another came by to say, “your sweater looks so cute on you.”  All this within a five minute time span!

Fast-forward to lunchtime and there were more compliments about her looks from total strangers.  The pièce de résistance came from a woman who sat down at the table beside us and asked, “Is that a permanent?” referring to Isabelle’s hair.  Seriously? I thought. She’s two. Do you think, if I were crazy enough to get my toddler’s hair permed that she’d sit still for it?  However, instead of saying what I was thinking, I smiled and said something about it being natural. Then the same woman went on to comment on Isabelle’s looks to which I responded “thank you” for the compliment. By the time she asked Isabelle “Did Santa bring you what you wanted for Christmas?” I decided it was time to ignore her.

Quite frankly, I care less about someone assuming we celebrate Christmas (I don’t live in New York anymore!) and care more about all of these comments about my daughter’s appearance.  Sure, I want her to be happy with her appearance.  Sure, I want her to look put together.  And sure, I want her to have a strong self-concept.  However, I don’t want her to be limited to conversations with people that focus solely on her looks! When everyone focuses on what you look like and not what’s on the inside, it sends a message that appearances are all that matter.  I want my daughter to be have substance and not to obsess over her looks.  However, it’s kinda hard to do that when all anyone ever says to initiate a conversation with her is focused on her appearance!

My daughter and I are not alone here.  I’ve noticed articles popping up online in the past week about this very topic.  Just today Toward the Stars published “11 Awesome Conversation Starters with Little Girls.” As much as I’d like to hand this out to anyone who comments on a little girl’s appearance, I’m not going to do that.  However, I hope these conversation starters will circulate around the internet.  If just a handful of people change their interactions with the little girls in their lives (or who they meet online at the grocery store), then perhaps a lot more girls will see they have something to offer people besides being just another pretty face.

Nothing stops a conversation before it starts with a two-year old like complimenting her on her hair! In an effort to add-on to the list Towards the Stars posted, I’m adding a few more conversation starters for toddler girls:

  • Who’s your favorite (book) character?
  • What’s your favorite bedtime story?
  • What has mommy/daddy/caregiver done that was funny today?
  • What do you like to do at school/daycare?
  • What do you enjoy playing with when you’re outside?

After asking the questions, be sure to add on a why if the little girl (or boy, for that matter!) to further engage the child.  Then, attempt to have a little back and forth.  NOTE: if the child doesn’t answer, don’t assume she doesn’t want to talk to you.  The child may have a speech delay and may not be able to answer you with words.  (Or, if you’re a complete stranger, she might have some stranger anxiety.)  Therefore, you can redirect the question to the little girl’s caregiver in an effort to make a connection with her.

Go to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com to read more slice of life stories.
Go to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com to read more slice of life stories.

19 thoughts on “Going Beyond “You’re So Cute!”

  1. OH BOY! You hit the nail on the head with this one. We may all find ourselves guilty of this once in a while, but many people do this without even thinking twice. What a nice reminder to encourage a different way of interacting with our little ones. My question would likely be, “What is your favorite chalk color?” 😉

  2. Hi Stacey. It’s so important to be aware of the ways that strangers and family members stereotype kids and the message it sends to our children. You’d think that with all that’s out there about gender stereotyping that this wouldn’t happen so often anymore but habits are hard to break. We need to constantly work at changing our language so that it gives kids agency and a sense of self beyond the typical gender stereotypes. And, yes, we all contribute to this kind of talk from time to time. It’s about awareness and empowering girls and boys to determine the kind of strong they want to be.

  3. I’m not a mom and I never thought of this before. I often make comments like this. Hmmmm, Stacey you’ve made me think. I totally get what you’re saying. Thank you for such an insightful slice today!

  4. It’s too bad you can’t have those questions written out on a card and simply hand it to a “greeter” just before they start to speak 🙂 You raise an important issue Stacey. Happy New Year!

  5. Love this so much! Although I have to say, your daughter IS adorable, she is so much more. I like the advice you give and will look for the article you mentioned. I am glad you added the bit about kids not responding. My son has autism and many adults automatically assume he’s rude. Thanks for sharing this. Wishing you the happiest of New Years!

  6. So true! Working on raising a strong girl here. My favorite question to ask kids is what is the last book that you have read that you loved/liked. Keep up the hard work!

  7. I am guilty of this with both boys and girls! My favorite way to begin interacting is with peek a boo or some nonverbal game that gets them laughing! I will think more about my commenting on “cuteness.” Thanks for pushing my thinking! Happy New Year!

  8. So true. I remember that both my girls were always complimented for their looks or their clothes, but my son for what he was doing (climbing, smiling, singing, etc.). It was unnerving, even though people meant well, and the intention was always to be kind. We’ve come a long way, but there is still a distance to be traveled.

  9. Looks get the applause! Just take a look at our magazines, the ads, etc. It is an issue we work to address at school too Stacey. I always try to compliment the students on their actions/work, and ignored the dressing, but I heard it from the girls especially who complimented each other endlessly. My daughter just took the 2 girls & one of their friends to lunch yesterday & one had a complete meltdown. She said the looks of disapproval were widespread, and one woman actually said perhaps the child needed more discipline. Strangers judge all too quickly on the surface. Your words touch me, especially the impact the ‘cuteness’ words have. Thank you!

  10. You have certainly given me something to think about. If I saw your daughter on the street, I would probably comment on her curls too because I do that when I see her picture…guilty as charged! 🙂

    Thank you for keeping TWT going. It has been a huge part of my “search” in 2013. I am very appreciative of this community! Happy New Year to you!

  11. I read the question-starter link when you tweeted it and thought it was wonderful — after I thought, “Wow, I hadn’t really noticed how often people comment on little girls’ appearances”. This story really makes it hit home. How sad! I love that you and others are giving helpful suggestions to help people learn to talk about more important things with little ones. I hope many people read this post!

  12. Your entry echoes much of the thinking I’ve been doing over the years as I work with preschool children. I’m constantly trying to work on conversation starters that don’t begin with comments about appearance – with either sex – think “so handsome,” “what a little man you are…” I love the ideas you have shared.

    1. Amelia – We all have to be careful with all kids. That’s for sure. Thanks for doing your part to make sure your preschoolers are spoken to in a way that doesn’t focus on appearance.

  13. I like your ideas for other ways to engage and talk with girls (and boys). I think it is easy to start with the “surface” or the outward appearances, but the loss comes when we stop there and don’t see the person- girl or boy – beneath. I was so fortunate to attend a high school that convinced all us girls that we were valuable for many, many reasons – including, but not limited to – our appearance. Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

  14. What a great post! My children are grown up now, but I was a lot like you when I was raising them. Our children (2 girls and 1 boy) all had dolls, trains, and trucks. My husband and I wanted them to grow up into wonderful people and tried not to focus on those gender stereotypes. I think we did a good job…I just bought our soon-to-be 21 year-old son a knitting book, pasta maker, and a new bread baking cookbook for his birthday. 🙂 He is a musician who has discovered some new ways to cultivate his creativity. Thank you for sharing your thinking and opening people’s eyes to how our culture interacts with our children.

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