Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pretty. Already.

"I want Matt* to think I'm pretty."

I was temporarily stunned into silence when I heard those words from my daughter.

Because she's three years old.


So it begins
What?! Already? Is this how it begins? So soon? Why does she care whether he thinks she is pretty? Most importantly: How have I contributed to this? And, what can I do to combat it?

The first answer is "No", this is not how it begins. It begins so much earlier. It begins when she was born. I begins with how we talk to our kids. This video shows pretty clearly some of the common pitfalls in the way we talk to girls.

Have I contributed to this? 
Probably. I tell her she's beautiful. I also tell her she is wonderful, funny, smart.

How can I combat it? 
I can be more aware of the language I use, and how I respond to her behavior.

Ever since she was born, we try to make sure she has an assortment of toys to play with, not just stereotypical girl toys. We also encourage her to take things apart, and encourage her to try again when she wants to give up (girls tend to give up faster than boys and doubt their abilities more).

We also want to help her to be independent and responsible. We try to give her the freedom to make decisions about her life (within reason, I mean, she is three). That said, there are a lot of ways a three-year-old can be involved. She helps chose books we'll read, and the activities we'll do. She also helps with chores around the house and cleaning up her own messes.

She also helps choose her clothes. It would be an understatement to say my daughter loves pink and frilly dresses. As her parents, we let her wear what she wants, making a mental note that we would do the same with any child (although we do try to sneak some other colors and styles in). We also try to encourage her to get dirty, to explore, to investigate, and to question. The dresses will wash. And what's wrong with a few stains anyway? The experiences are worth so much more.

So, what did I respond with? I told her that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of her. She is pretty and she should wear whatever she likes to wear, because she likes it.

And then we went and played in the dirt.

Mud is exponentially more fun than dirt.

*Names changed


Mike said...

This is something I think about all the time now. I tell my daughter (only 4 months old right now) that she is beautiful and pretty, but I also make sure I tell her she is smart too. I'd like to think that I would be treating a son the same way; telling him that he is cute and handsome as well as smart.

mathbionerd said...

I wonder whether that really is equivalent though. The pretty-but-dumb stereotype doesn't really have a handsome-but-dumb common equivalent.

This is totally my own perception, but when I hear "pretty", words that also pop to mind are not necessarily positive, whereas when I hear "handsome", it is associated with positive words. A good example is that pretty-boy is used to describe a man with features that are more effeminate, and are not positive. Food for thought.

Mark P said...

It's something to think about but do take a deep breath. You'll never fully insulate your daughter from the society that is constantly broadcasting messages you don't like, and even those of us with the best intentions have been shaped by societal norms and sometimes send the wrong messages. I am toward the late stages of raising two teen/post-teen daughters, and I think both of them have a good sense of self-esteem. That doesn't, however, mean that they aren't "fashionistas" with great skill in the make-up department (unlike either of their parents). The collection of shoes in both closets staggers the imagination. Despite or maybe in part because of that they are not afraid to have opinions, to hold to their beliefs and to excel academically.

Do your best--if you love them kids are pretty unbreakable.

mathbionerd said...

Mark, I love this: "if you love them kids are pretty unbreakable."

David S. F. Portree said...

I'm a single dad raising a daughter. She is 11. Somehow I've never really encountered this kind of thing. She used to like pink, now likes black. She has a pet snake she adores and thinks girls who squeal and shudder about her pet are pathetic. We build LEGO together, but she insists on building her LEGO Friends ("LEGO for girls") kits by herself. She loves My Little Pony, Disney Fairies, dolls, comic books, big ugly carrion-eating lizards, and LEGO robots. The whole world (and beyond) is open to her. She's lucky - I think boys who like girl things have a tougher time.


mathbionerd said...

dsfp, I agree absolutely about the asymmetry. I think it is much harder on boys who like "girl" things.

isabel jordan said...

I hear you. My daugher is 10 & the worries get grow as she approaches adolescence. I think I'm doing things right. I think I'm saying the right things and emphasizing her actions and her efforts, but man, society is large and exerts such influence. Ultimately, I think it's important that she sees how I treat myself - how I talk about myself and my value as a mom, a woman, a person. Those are the lessons that stick.

mathbionerd said...

Thanks Isabel. I agree about how we treat ourselves setting a huge example for how they'll learn. That has made me inspect my own self-treatment more in the last year or so. That was an unexpected side effect of becoming a parent. :)

Anonymous said...

don't know if you can read in French but if you can have a look on this work about so called studies showing immediate diffences between boys and girls choosing a toy.

mathbionerd said...

Unfortunately my French is not that good. I do agree that there are differences in preferences between the sexes. What I dislike is the ways we (society, parents) constantly reinforce those, instead of being more open.