Posted by: Chasy | 15/01/2012

How to talk to little girls

The title of this post is misleading, because I have no idea – despite having one of my own.

I’m talking specifically about beauty and self image. This wonderful post made me feel both scared and positive about tackling the subject of body image with my 3 year old.

You may be wondering why I would be worried about it when she’s so young, but she’s already showing signs that she equates beauty with self worth. A friend recently accidentally bought her a lipstick (she thought it was just a flavoured lip balm). The second my daughter put it on, she instantly started prancing around, like she was in a music video. Then she said, “I look beautiful, don’t I?”

I immediately said, “Bubba, you look beautiful all the time. You don’t need lipstick or anything else.”

She’s 3 years old. THREE, going on four. She barely even knows what lipstick is and already she equates it with beauty.

This wasn’t the first time something like this has happened. Soon after she turned 3, when she began to have a better grasp of language and expressing herself, she would get upset if she didn’t have a certain dress or hair clip, saying, “Now I won’t be pretty any more!”

This hasn’t come from me. I have made an effort to encourage gender neutral play, read her feminist fairy tales and made sure there were an equal amount of dresses and jeans in her wardrobe. I don’t dress her up specifically so that she looks ‘pretty’, though I may dress her up for special occasions.

I know she hasn’t got it from her father, either. He has tried to aim for the same kind of values I have. So, where is it coming from?

The big bad outside world, it would appear.

Well, then. That settles it. I’ll wrap her up in cotton wool and make her a home-schooled weirdo so that she isn’t subject to the outside influences that I can’t control.

Yeah. Like that’s gonna work. She’d probably get so bored, she’d kill me for sport.

I have to admit, the idea that there are influences out there shaping my baby’s image of her self, that I can’t control or even can identify, scares the shit out of me. What do I do?

I have a vague idea of where it comes from – images in media. I don’t just mean advertising, but in TV and cinema. All the female characters are tall, thin, wear make up and have pretty outfits. More often than not, reference is made to their beauty as if it’s the source of their motivation and power. If they don’t, it’s made clear they are a ‘tomboy’.

Knowing where it comes from doesn’t exactly solve the problem. I can’t exactly shut her off from everything around her. She’ll have to deal with these images eventually.

What it needs is a two-pronged attack.

First, give her the tools to deal with those images. Along with the feminist fairy tales, I need to sit her down and explain that the women in cartoons and in magazines aren’t actually real. They have been created by someone at a computer. The same goes for women and girls on TV. I need to explain to her that they have special lights, make up, cameras and computers making them all look perfect. Most importantly, explain to her that they are real people; that the people playing the roles have a hard life in making their image perfect; that it’s not glamourous, it’s hard work and can often make people miserable.

Secondly, keep fighting the good fight. I’m only one person on the internet, but I can keep up the dissent and fight images, campaigns and programs that undermine women and encourage poor self image. We all should. The more we do, the more likely we will see images of women in the media diversify. It’s worth a shot, anyway. If my daughter sees and hears me talking about it, at least the message is getting to the right person – the most important one.

What she doesn’t need is the likes of Melinda Tankard Reist, Hetty Johnson and Kids Free 2b Kids, who all seem to focus on sex in the media. They’re all missing a really fucking important point. It’s not the ‘sex’ that shapes kids’ minds. Kids don’t think of these images and messages in terms of sex – not until an adult points it out. But, they definitely see it in terms of their self image, which is real problem. They internalise it until sex actually becomes a topic of interest and THEN that is when it becomes a real issue. Girls who have been subject to these images without guidance and open discussion are then lead by the images alone. They become teenagers who think they have to be ‘sexy’ to get a boyfriend and be accepted by their peers. It can become their driving force in life. I should know, I was one. If you’re reading this, you probably were, too.

But it doesn’t happen at the age of 3. It actually frightens me that the people listed above do. That kind of thinking misses the real insidiousness in the images our children are exposed to. It definitely doesn’t give them any tools with which to fight it, either.

I still don’t know if I know how to talk to my little girl. But, christ, I’ve gotta do it. I can’t let her go out into the world thinking that her entire self worth is based on how she looks.

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Responses

  1. I think one of the best things we can do as mums of girls is model the kind of values and behaviour we would want for them. I remember a story about Kate Winslet who shakes her wobbly bum to her daughter and says how gorgeous it is. Whether it’s true or not, what I got from it was we can be proud of our bodies, regardless of how they may look, and actively share the joy of our body and appearance with our daughter. We can continue to talk with them, just as you are doing with your girl, about what it is they are really seeing when they see girls on tv or in magazines. It also comes back to us as parents and what messages we are imparting to our kids. We need to be mindful of our own words and actions about our own body and appearance, sometimes we may not even be aware of it ourselves. Like most people, I get self conscious about parts of my body yet when I really think about why that is, it’s been shaped by what I think I should look like, rather than accepting those bits as they are. It’s also remembering my mum’s own struggles with her appearance and how that had an effect on me. The older I get, the more accepting I am of them and the happier I feel about myself. I hope that because I am learning all this now while my girl is still relatively young (6) then I’ll have a few extra years up my sleeve to impart good habits 😉 So now I shake my wobbly bits and make a conscious decision to talk about myself in a more positive way. I hope it helps my daughter with her own journey of acceptance as she grows up 🙂

    • Being a ‘model for values’ is exactly what I was trying to get at. Nice one, Rach. You’re obviously on the right track and are being an excellent mum to your daughter (and son, of course!).

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