We recently published articles on how gender biases in children’s toys can limit kids by preventing them from developing a variety of skills through play, and how toymakers, like Lego, are working to eradicate these harmful biases in play.
Gender biases are not limited to toys but are embedded in how we interact with children, too. Traditionally, the way people speak to and compliment young girls carry toxic messages that focus overwhelmingly on appearance. These comments are often well-intentioned, but this focus on their looks at such an early age can influence how girls determine their self-worth in adulthood.
According to the National Organization for Women, by the age of 13, more than 50 percent of American girls are unhappy with their bodies. This grows to 78 percent by the age of 17. The Children’s Society’s 2016 Good Childhood Report reflected similar results, which found that one-third of girls between the ages 10 and 15 in the UK aren’t satisfied with the way they look either.
We have been trained as a society to react to women’s and girls’ appearances, which makes us a part of the problem, however, we can become part of the solution by intentionally focusing our comments on alternatives to the appearance-based defaults we’ve been programmed with. That doesn’t mean we can never compliment a girl’s appearance ever again—it simply means that we should be conscious of not focusing solely on cuteness, as we may end up overlooking the child’s other valuable qualities such as intelligence, thoughtfulness, and curiosity.
The next time you feel the urge to comment on a girl’s appearance, try these alternatives instead:
It’s so nice to see you!
What are you reading these days? What do you like most about that book?
What’s your favorite show/movie?
How is piano/ballet/karate (or whatever extra-curricular applies) going?
What is your favorite thing to do right now?
Do you play any sports?
What did you do today?
I see you have a talent for ____.
You seem happy today! What are you thinking about?
If you are struggling to not say something about how they look, try to make descriptive neutral statements instead of making value judgments such as pretty, beautiful, or cute. For instance:
Wow, you are wearing quite a lot of yellow today! Is yellow your favorite color?
Those are cool shoes.
Did you pick your outfit out yourself?
What a cozy-looking sweater.
The hope is that, through intentional interactions and engagements with children, we can de-emphasize the value of their appearance and allow their inner qualities and interests to take center stage, thereby un-training girls to think of their looks as their most noticeable and important asset.
This story is part of our ‘Best of 2021’ series highlighting our top solutions from the year. Today we’re featuring lifestyle solutions.