Please Don't Tell My Girls They're Pretty

Family Matters on 09.14.11
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Photo: Quyen Tran

My mom posted a link to an interesting article on her facebook page.  It wasn't hot off the presses, and it wasn't an idea that I had never heard before. 

But the article was about something that nags at me from time to time, as the stay-at-home dad of twin toddler girls who happen to be extrodinarily (in my opinion) cute.  Beautiful, really.  I wish I could take some credit for this condition, but clearly it's all the doing of my wife and some genetic gift on my side that skipped me in order to save all of its potency for my offspring.

It's not the usual fear that people expect dads to have that's in the back of my mind.  I'm not actually worried about boys chasing them, as people who meet them for the first time warn me; or whatever else it is they're implying with their slightly salacious, "Oh-oh...two girls...you're gonna have big trouble, Daddy!"  I'll worry about that later.

What I worry about now is this idea, discussed at some length in the article by Lisa Bloom (the one my mom put on her facebook page), that celebrating the physical appearance of little girls is one of the ways we steer them toward lifelong body image issues and eating disorders.  If the first thing a girl hears every time she meets anyone is "Oh, look at you with your little curls!  So pretty!", they learn that that's what they are valued for.   So the theory goes.

Sure enough, that's the first thing that almost everyone (virtually every woman) we bump into says to my girls.

Lisa Bloom's solution for sidestepping this impulse is to immediately start talking to little girls about what's on their minds.  She starts off most conversations by asking what the girl she encounters is reading, and then follows that thread, showing the kid that her intellect is her most valued and interesting trait.

I think I'm pretty decent at not focusing on my kids' appearance too much.  We talk about books constantly. And what we have seen at the zoo or the playground or on our walks.  And what the girls can physically do: climbing, jumping, dancing, singing.

But I do backslide sometimes.  These girls of mine like to wear pretty clothes and put little doo-dads in their hair and stuff.  And then they want to see what they look like, so I hold them up to the bathroom mirror.  What am I gonna say? Nice hair clip, kid, but it's on crooked.  Nope.  I'm all, "Oh, look at you with the little flower in your hair!  So pretty!  Oh, what a nice smile!  And your eyes..." etc., etc., ad barfeum.

It was funny when my mom posted that link on her facebook page.  I was like, "Seriously?  The grandma of the cutest girls in the world posts this?  That's so ironic considering how much she oohs and ahhs over her little princesses...oh, wait.  That's not my mom I'm thinking of...that's the stereotypical grandma." 

My mom, while she pays all kinds of attention to her granddaughters, pretty much takes the Lisa Bloom approach.  I tried to think of times when she has fawned over them because of their cuteness, and I couldn't come up with any.  I'm sure she has told them they look pretty plenty of times, and she has even bought them shiny "girly" baubles, but the image that comes to mind when I think of my kids interacting with Grandma is of them sitting on her lap and reading books.

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