“I love your outfit!”
“Your eyes are so pretty.”
“Your hair looks awesome today.”
“Where did you get those shoes?!”
“She’s such a pretty baby.”
You meet a new person and the first thing you notice is how they look—you don’t know much else about them yet. It’s easy to break the silence with a compliment, and why not? Compliments can make us feel good and boost our self-esteem.
But in our society, one that is full to the brim of impossible beauty standards for women (and men), innumerable beauty products, and gender stereotypes that often put female beauty and female brains at mutually exclusive ends of the spectrum, giving a girl a compliment seems to be a much more complex action than we give it credit for.
To understand the bigger picture, here is a snapshot of some self esteem statistics in young girls:
- The Center for Disease Control reported in 2004 that “In a survey of adolescents in grades 9 through 12 (approximately ages 14-18), more than 59% of females and 29% of males were trying to lose weight.” (1)
- Additionally, “over 80% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat,” (2) and
- “by middle school, 40-70 percent of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body” (3).
While it may seem a daunting task, there are ways we can use our words to combat these trends and work to build up the self esteem in young girls around us.
At the YWRC we challenge ourselves and our girls to build self esteem on foundations other than appearance. In the office, we talk about the importance of giving compliments based on character. Our girls fill out “More Than Pretty” worksheets where they list reasons they are proud of their bodies that have nothing to do with looks (ie: I love my strong legs because they help me swim.) We tell our girls they are strong, inspiring, and creative, though they may also be pretty, beautiful, or fashionable.
To anyone up for a challenge: take a few minutes to read this funny and insightful article by Lisa Bloom called “How to Talk to Little Girls,” then try to follow her example in just one interaction with a young lady. Bloom writes about meeting a 5 year old girl and instead of telling her how cute she is (though she wanted to!), asking about her favorite book and focusing the conversation on the girl’s brains rather than her outfit. The link can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html
This post is not meant to be a discouraging one—we all put efforts into the way we look, and clothing, hair, and makeup allow us to express our personality in a visual way. Receiving compliments on those things can feel great! But by making an effort to compliment girls on their strength, passion, and capability, we challenge the norm of valuing female appearance first and foremost, and show girls that we value them for more than their looks.
1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004, May 21). Surveillance summaries: Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2003. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 53 (SS02), 1-96.
2) Andrist, Linda C. “Media Images, Body Dissatisfaction, and Disordered Eating in Adolescent Women.” MCN: The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing 28.2 (2003).
3) Cash, Thomas F., and Thomas Pruzinsky. Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice. New York: Guilford, 2002. Print.