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.
That’s the beginning of a very thought-provoking article that I read last week called “How to Talk to Little Girls.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, but for those of you who aren’t link-clickers, the thesis is that we as a culture need to find different ways to start conversations with girls. Our society sends a strong message to kids, especially girls, that your looks are the sum of your existence. Particularly as followers of Christ, that ought to be a message that we’re working hard to counter. The writer of the article suggests that instead of commenting on physical appearance we should consider breaking the ice with questions about books. Sounds good to me!
I started by listening to myself more closely when I converse with (and about) my daughter and other young girls that we see at playdates or church. Honestly, I’ve been surprised how often I have an impulse to remark on clothes, hair, or other aspects of appearance right at the beginning of a conversation. Try it for yourself – you may be surprised, too.
When it gets right down to it, though, talking about books instead of looks isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. “Cute dress!” requires little thought and just flows right off the tongue, doesn’t it? Finding something more substantive to talk about is harder, especially with really young kids and kids you don’t know well. It seems to me, though, that the effort is well worth it. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever comment compliment girls on their appearance. But if we can send a better, more true message to girls, let’s do it. Not only will we be honoring their made-in-God’s-image personhood, we will also benefit from getting to know them on a deeper level.