What We’re Teaching Little Girls

I recently experienced the following at a grocery store…

In the check-out line behind me was a young girl who couldn’t have been older than seven or eight.  She had long hair, was wearing a floral print dress, and by all accounts seemed like a typical, innocent child. She was buying popsicles with her Dad, scoping out all of the magazines, and this is the conversation I overhead:

Girl: Dad, wow. Look how fat Kim Kardashian is…
Dad: Wow, yeah she is.

Girl: And oh my goddd, is that __? It doesn’t even look like her. You can totally tell she has had plastic surgery. I bet she has had a face lift, maybe more!
Dad: Yeah, I think you’re right. She’s barely recognizable.

Girl: Ugh, look how ugly Mylie Cyrus looks with short hair! Why would anyone want that haircut?
Dad: I don’t know, honey. It does look pretty bad. I prefer the long hair myself.
Girl: Me, too. I would never want to look like her!

!!!

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There are so many problems with this conversation that I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll dive right in with the little girl.

Socialization 

This girl is seven years old and has already been socialized to believe the most important thing in life is beauty. And not just any type of beauty—beauty that’s defined by being blonde, white, and thin (with long hair, apparently). She thinks that anything that strays from this is bad, wrong, ugly, and undesirable.

What is arguably the saddest part of all of this is that the standard of beauty she so badly believes in and presumably wants to emulate doesn’t exist and no one has ever told her differently. Those aren’t real people she sees on the magazine covers. They’re airbrushed, photoshoppedliquefied, perfected versions of someone they used to be. And she probably won’t learn this until it’s too late.

Did you know half of girls between the ages of 3 and 6 worry about being fat?  Don’t even get me started on thinspiration or thigh gap.

Little girl's diet plan

One little girl’s “diyet” plan, found by her mom

Girl Hate

Another huge problem is that this little girl has already learned girl hate. She’s been taught all women are in competition with each other and that she should dislike any female that could potentially be prettier, smarter, or better than her at something… And if she suspects any of those things, she’s learned to pick them apart.

Wow, look how fat Kim Kardashian is.
Ew, why would Miley Cyrus do her hair like that?

You might be thinking, she is only talking about celebrities…does this really matter? YES, it absolutely matters because she I guarantee you she will do this with girls her own age, if she isn’t doing so already.

Reinforcement

Even though I truly believe our society is to blame for what this little girl knows, I still find myself angry with her father. He is her role model and did nothing but reinforce everything she said. Wow, you’re right. I think she did have plastic surgery. Yeah, I’m not a big fan of short hair either.

Was it possible that this dad had a really long day and was just absentmindedly saying anything to appease his kid? Sure. But something tells me he truly believed these things and may have even taught his daughter some of it.

There are so many teachable moments with kids. During this short time in the check-out line he could have easily talked to her about body image, worth, respect, the concept of beauty, or even some age appropriate sex-ed!

IE: Actually, honey, Kim Kardashian has gained some weight because she’s having a baby, and that’s the normal, right thing to happen.

The Dad happened to be an elected official. I don’t know why, but I expected and hoped for more from him.

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Change

I have a niece that’s three years old and is obsessed with weddings, fairy tales, and princesses. Her favorite color is pink and her favorite activity is putting on makeup, a crown, and prancing around the house. When anyone gives her a compliment, nine times out of ten it’s, “Oh, Maddie, you are so beautiful.” She always cocks her head to side and starts laughing, as if to say, “I know.” Her five year old brother Jack experiences the opposite. People seem to have a list a mile long of words to describe this boy: smart, inquisitive, caring, compassionate, strong, and, sure, cute. So why is it that Maddie, even at three years old, is constantly reduced to her looks? Why doesn’t anyone tell her how smart she is? How capable she is? How strong, or compassionate, or good she is? I try so much to relay these messages to her when I see her, to let her know she’s more than just a pretty face, but it disappointingly feels like an uphill battle I’ll never win.

Tonight made me realize more than ever that this isn’t the world I want my future daughter or son to grow up in. I don’t want them believing their worth is measured by the symmetry of their faces, or the number that appears on a scale. I don’t want them to hate other kids and people around them who aren’t blonde, thin and white. I want my future seven year old daughter to not know what the word diet means. To not know what plastic surgery is. To recognize the images she sees before her in grocery check-out lines aren’t real and don’t matter. To spend her summer nights chasing fireflies barefoot in the grass, or telling scary ghost stories around a campfire with her friends. To scrape her knees. To get dirty. To eat ice cream cones. To be a child. And to remain that way for as long as possible.

I just don’t know how to make this happen and that’s what saddens me the most.

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One thought on “What We’re Teaching Little Girls

  1. ilian says:

    As the mother and the first biggest influence on your daughter’s life and perceptions, I fully believe that what you want for her is possible. You cannot shield her from nefarious societal programming, but you CAN give her the tools to recognize media bias, propaganda, and artificial body imagery when she sees them.

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