Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to Talk to Little Girls:
a cross post by Lisa Bloom

Originally published on ThinkTV and The Huffington Post.

I went to a dinner party at a friend's home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.

Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, "Maya, you're so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!"

But I didn't. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.

What's wrong with that? It's our culture's standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn't it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.

Hold that thought for just a moment.

This week ABC news reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that fifteen to eighteen percent of girls under twelve now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and twenty-five percent of young American women would rather winAmerica's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

That's why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.

"Maya," I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, "very nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.

"Hey, what are you reading?" I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I'm nuts for them. I let that show.

Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.

"I LOVE books," I said. "Do you?"

Most kids do.

"YES," she said. "And I can read them all by myself now!"

"Wow, amazing!" I said. And it is, for a five-year-old. You go on with your bad self, Maya.

"What's your favorite book?" I asked.

"I'll go get it! Can I read it to you?"

Purplicious was Maya's pick and a new one to me, as Maya snuggled next to me on the sofa and proudly read aloud every word, about our heroine who loves pink but is tormented by a group of girls at school who only wear black. Alas, it was about girls and what they wore, and how their wardrobe choices defined their identities. But after Maya closed the final page, I steered the conversation to the deeper issues in the book: mean girls and peer pressure and not going along with the group. I told her my favorite color in the world is green, because I love nature, and she was down with that.

Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It's surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I'm stubborn.

I told her that I'd just written a book, and that I hoped she'd write one too one day. She was fairly psyched about that idea. We were both sad when Maya had to go to bed, but I told her next time to choose another book and we'd read it and talk about it. Oops. That got her too amped up to sleep, and she came down from her bedroom a few times, all jazzed up.

So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya's perspective for at least that evening.

Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she's reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

And let me know the response you get at www.Twitter.com/lisabloom.

Here's to changing the world, one little girl at a time.

For many more tips on how keep yourself and your daughter smart, check out my new book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, www.Think.tv.

LISA BLOOM, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, is an award-winning journalist, legal analyst, trial attorney, and the daughter of renowned women's rights attorney, Gloria Allred. A daily fixture on American television for the last decade, Bloom is currently the CBS News legal analyst, appearing frequently on The Early Show and CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as the legal analyst for The Dr. Phil Show. Bloom has written for the Los Angeles Times, Family Circle, the National Law Journal, CNN.com, the Daily Beast, and many more. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she runs her law firm, The Bloom Firm.


  1. Yay! Yay! And YAY!

    I have a friend who just had a baby girl. I looked everywhere for something that did not have the words "Cute," "Princess," or "Angel." I couldn't find anything. I ended up making my own bibs for little Kenna. Her mom's favorite said: "When I grow up, I'm gonna be a genius, so please don't talk to me like I'm an idiot." (Her second favorite: A skull with a pink bow on it's head, labeled "Who you callin' a sissy?")

    How we socialize children determines the course of our society. I prefer smarter society to prettier society.

  2. Wow, I love that idea! Especially "When I grow up, I'm gonna be a genius, so please don't talk to me like I'm an idiot." Can I get one of those for my nieces? In fact, I'm going to post it on the IWillNotDiet Facebook page as soon as I can.

    I remember that when I was a kid LOTS of my relatives (including my parents) asked me on a regular basis what I wanted to be when I grew up. Not "Do you want to get married" or "Do you want to be a mommy?" but "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I truly believe it affected how I looked at life and the choices I made. Though I did always want to be a mother, when I finally made the tough decision not to have kids, it was much easier because of the way I was raised.

  3. First, I love this post and this blog.

    I have three little nieces and one more on the way, and I love them all dearly. They are all so bright and fun! For Christmas this year I decided to get the older ones books (each got one newer children's book and one of my all time favorite books when I was a younger). I thought they were going to think I was a boring aunt who doesn't get them cool toys, but they loved them! I got to spend the night reading with them and talking about the books. It was wonderful.

    For the youngest niece, I managed to find a long-sleeved shirt (her mama put long-sleeves on her list) that I loved! It had all these cute, shiny pairs of glasses on it, and it said "smart cookie." My math teacher sister loved it :)