This Saturday, Toby and I were riding the bus downtown, when a six-year-old girl sat down next to us. She was wearing a white dress and sparkly red flats, and her blonde hair was twisted into a braid. My first instinct was to compliment her hairstyle, but I stopped myself…
I had just read the GREAT article How to Talk to Little Girls by Lisa Bloom, which encourages adults to ask little girls about ideas and books, instead of complimenting their looks. “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything,” says Bloom. “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…It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it?”
(It’s true! It’s really easy and almost instinctive to compliment a little girl’s appearance, don’t you think?)
“Clothes or hair or bodies…it’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I’m stubborn,” Bloom writes. “Try this the next time you meet a little girl [ask her what she’s reading]. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it…Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.”
So, instead of telling the girl on the bus how much I liked her hair, I went ahead and asked her what books she liked. She told me that her mom was reading The Little House in the Prairie to her at night, and that they read one chapter per night, unless it was a long chapter, in which case they read half. We talked about books for five bus stops (that’s a long time in midtown traffic!) and then I asked her what she had for breakfast. “Pancakes,” she said. I told her that I loved pancakes with lemon and sugar, and her mom looked up and said, “That’s how I ate them growing up in Germany.” And then the little girl told me how she had gone on an airplane (!) to Germany earlier that summer and how she had seen a fox during her trip and how her grandparents took to her swimming and to the movies, where you could eat pizza in your seats.
I was thrilled by our conversation! (Although Toby fell asleep:) It was so much more interesting than braids.
Lisa Bloom’s advice to have real conversations with little girls (and boys!) is wonderful. (Think: “Have you been swimming this summer?” “Do you like animals?” “Do you know any jokes?”) Changing the conversation topic is such a seemingly small thing, but it can make a profound difference, don’t you think?
What’s your take? Do you instinctively compliment little girls’ looks, too? What else do you talk about with little girls? Do you remember having smart conversations with adults when you were little? Do you have any young girls in your life to at the moment, or do you have a daughter? Will you take Lisa Bloom’s pledge, too? (Think how amazing it would be if we all did this from now on!) Do you think it’s important or not that big of a deal? I’m curious to hear your thoughts… xoxo