When I go out with my kids, it’s not unusual to have random conversations with people. My kids are outgoing, friendly, and happy so it’s no wonder they get attention. People at the store like to ask what their age is, if that treat we’re buying is for them, but I have noticed a difference in how people talk to my son versus my daughters and it bothers me.
A typical conversation between an adult and my 7-year-old son usually starts out when they ask him how old he is. They wonder if he’s in school and ask about his favorite sport, or whether or not he’s got a favorite color. The conversation doesn’t last more than a minute or two, but already they know a few things about him.
A typical conversation between an adult and my two daughters (6-years-old and 4-years-old) goes in a different direction nearly every time. They are told, “Aren’t you beautiful?” or “Oh, you’re so sweet,” or “That’s a pretty pink skirt you’re wearing.” The girls are polite and say thank you — they love to hear that, but it makes me cringe a bit.
Do you notice the difference in the typical conversations? The adult takes time to ask my son questions about himself, they’re interested to get to know him, and to learn things about him. For my daughters, their interaction is all superficial. They don’t ask any questions about them. They make statements about their appearance. I’ve seen the same thing happen over and over again to my kids and other children — it’s normal, everyday conversation.
I worry about raising daughters. Their self-esteem can be so influenced by society and such a huge focus is put on appearance. Yes, my daughters are beautiful and have a cute sense of style, but they are so much more than that. I worry that this typical conversation will influence my girls into thinking that they are only noticed for what they look like — only after that will someone will take the time to get to know them.
No one means to treat my children differently, but this idea is so ingrained in society that we catch ourselves doing it without thought. With this way of thinking, it’s no wonder women have experienced a steady erosion in happiness since the early 1970s according to a study published in May 2009 by The Wharton School; University of Pennsylvania. It’s no wonder that by the age of 14, 55% of girls already feel the pressure to be beautiful according to statistics gathered by The Real Truth About Beauty research.
I want more for my girls.
So, I ask you to please stop telling my daughters they are beautiful. Ask them what book they’re reading, what their favorite sport is, or what they want to be when they grow up. Teach them that they’re interesting, that you value them far above what they look like, and build their self esteem apart from their appearance. It will do the whole world a great deal of good.
Photo credit: adapted from iStockPhoto