This photo is of some t-shirts we discovered at a Target, of all places, in the GIRLS’ section! The fact that it was so exciting and such a rarity to see sports shirt made for girls in such a mainstream store made us consider how clothing can give us cues about how to approach and talk to girls.
Having worked with children for years, I (GRRRL Camp Founder) know that the way people speak to little girls is problematic. The first thing after “hello” is almost always a comment about how pretty they look, about their sparkly shoes, or on how they look like “princesses.” The problem with this is that girls get used to being praised for looking a certain way and to being valued because of how they look, instead of what they can do. This immediately leads to an unhealthy obsession with clothing/weight/makeup. Instead of focusing on learning and moving and growing, 80% of 10 year old American girls say they’ve been on a diet. The number one wish of 11-17 year old girls is to be thinner. If only so much of girls’ clothing didn’t also portray lipstick, high heels, and teach them that they’re bad at math or “too pretty to do homework.” So what can we do?
When interacting with a little girl:
- Brainstorm an ice breaker topic besides her looks, like asking what she’s studying in school, whether she plays a sport, what she likes to read, or if she’s seen any good movies lately.
- Use positive, powerful adjectives to describe her. Comment that her actions are “strong,” “powerful,” or “smart,” instead of only “pretty” and its synonyms.
- Discuss the issue with princesses: they almost never get to do anything besides look pretty. Ask what the princess is in charge of in the castle, or how she likes to spend her time.
- Discuss math concepts. Bring up numbers whenever possible to build her confidence in the face of the stereotype that she’s probably not good at it. We know this is not the case.
- Talk openly about photoshopped media images of women. When she starts noticing more of them, she’ll be able to tell herself that looking that way isn’t a goal, or even a reality for anyone.
- Let her see what you’ve been taught are your “flaws,” such as wrinkles, blemishes, hair, or fat where we’re told those shouldn’t be. She will be less likely to hate them on herself later if she sees that those things are normal.
- Eat. Eat enough healthy things, have a few little treats here and there, and never NEVER mention how you’re not going to finish something because you’re on a diet. Say that you’re full and that you ate just what you needed. Say that you need food to have energy and muscle and brain power.
- Praise other women and girls for things besides their looks.
- Discuss the fact that all people come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, and all of them are ok.
- Seek out positive role models for her, such as female athletes/politicians/scientists, and discuss them and share images of them with her.
All of this is, of course, a great exercise in feeling positive about yourself too! Enjoy!