On Compliments and other Controversies

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Back in June a thought-provoking piece by Lisa Bloom was published in the Huffington Post, its provocative title--"How to Talk to Little Girls." As a mother of a daughter with two more on the way three daughters, I was intrigued. But the article rubbed me wrong and here's why:

The article insinuates that society separates beauty and brains like north and south poles. Up or down? Left or right? Pick a team. That by complimenting little girls (specifically girls we don't know) on their physical attributes we are setting them up for a life of half-shirts and plastic surgery. Or at the very least, a belief that beauty is bigger than brains.

Bloom writes:
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.
If women are unhappy as a whole then it's because we are told to take ourselves SO seriously that we have forgotten it's okay to have fun in our lives. I've said this before and I'll say it again--parents need to lighten up. Nobody's perfect and yet the pressure today's children face to measure up to robotic levels of "well-roundedness" is real. And it's more than just girls wanting to be "sexy." We are raising children during a time when they are told they must be "the very best" at everything. Not just physically but across the board.

"Be better, faster, prettier, more interesting! IN ORDER TO BE HAPPY YOU MUST WIN AT LIFE!"

I do agree with Bloom when she acknowledges the importance of asking questions instead of showering children with praise. About a year ago I wrote this piece about empowering our kids to praise themselves instead of relying solely on their parents and outside influences to do so. Instilling confidence in our children is, I think, our most important job as parents, second to unconditional love. I also think Bloom makes a great point when she writes of thinking before we speak to our daughters and to young girls in general. We could all do with a lesson in that, in opening our minds before opening our mouths, in thinking about the ramifications of our words, including the motives behind our compliments.

But I disagree with her that we should ignore physical attributes entirely, especially when it comes to talking to strangers. Our physical appearance(s) will always be the first thing a stranger sees. Not because it's what's most important, but because... quite literally, IT IS THE FIRST THING A STRANGER SEES!

The truth is, no matter how we talk to little girls and little boys and older girls and older boys, all of us navigate our lives with insecurities, so we must raise our daughters (and sons) with the knowledge that they will, too. And there's nothing wrong with that. Our insecurities are an important component to better understanding ourselves. That's what makes us human and vulnerable. That's what makes us stronger - understanding our weaknesses, or more importantly, understanding that it's OKAY to have weaknesses.

...And lets be honest. Some of our children aren't going to grow up to be rocket scientists so who's to say that putting unnecessary intellectual pressure on children isn't potentially more harmful than commending them for physical attributes?

I loved what Miguelina at Everyday Treats wrote on the subject:
Humans desire beauty. It feels good to feel attractive. Pretending it isn't so doesn't make it go away. A lot of people (men and women alike) enjoy decorating themselves in ways that make them feel attractive. What does that have to do with their brains? Nothing.
A confident woman in work can also be a confident woman physically and hearing that she's beautiful at a young age isn't going to keep her from attending college or reading a book.

I want my children to own their beauty, not be ashamed of it. I want them to know how to take compliments and to return them because we are the sum of all of our parts. In order to have healthy bodies we must know how to properly care for them, not ignore that they exist. Our bodies are more than just shells. They bring pleasure and yes, even happiness when treated with respect and love. So ignoring our daughters' physical selves does not protect them so much as it sets them up for potential guilt and insecurity.

I happen to think my children are extraordinarily beautiful. And yes, I tell them so. Every day. Because I feel it and I want them to know that! I want them to hear me! Because I believe that when you love someone, you tell them so. Hell! When you love someone's shoes, you tell them!

"Hey, you! Fantastic shoes!"

I let Fable wear my lipstick sometimes. She also puts shaving cream all over her face when her dad shaves and enjoys wearing thick-rimmed glasses with her favorite glitter scarf. And sometimes she rocks a camo tee over a pink dress. Sometimes she plays "princess." Other times she slaps on her stethoscope and pretends to be a doctor. Both roles bring her equal joy and why not?

"Wear what makes you happy," I tell her. "Do what makes you happy."
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Our girls need to hear that they're loved, they need to be complimented for the things that make them kick ass, they need to come equipped with the knowledge that beauty is ONLY powerful when one has something to back it up with. But they also need to know that it's okay to want to look their best. That it doesn't make them (or anyone else) vapid or shallow or LESS intellectual to want to don a pair of pretty shoes. Harvard will still accept you if you like the color pink. And think princesses are fun. And dance to Katy Perry. And rock mascara.

Isn't the core of feminist "fem?" Why then, are we so afraid that our daughters will want to enjoy being girls? I want my daughters to understand and embrace their sexuality as they come of age, not be ashamed of it. Does that mean I'm going to buy them a push-up bra at fourteen? No. But I'm certainly going to be understanding if and when they ask for one. Because I remember how it felt to be fourteen. To go to bed a child and wake up a woman seemingly overnight. I remember how confusing and conflicting that was. I remember wanting people to treat me like a woman because suddenly my body was doing womanly things. Not because I wanted "boobs" like some pop-culture starlet but because, all of a sudden, I HAD THEM!

Being a teenager is hard enough without having to deal with parents who can't look past their own fears and remember what it's like to be thirteen or sixteen or eighteen and feel completely misunderstood and hormonally challenged. Mine always made me feel like no matter what I was going through, I was normal. And yes, they let me wear lipstick at twelve. And yes, I came out of it alive AND with a healthy self-esteem.

Pop culture will not kill the Engineer or Author or Professor of Women's Studies in your child. Complimenting little girls on their clothes isn't the gateway drug to implants. A girl can love both books and magazines, documentaries and rom-coms. A competent and confident woman can rock a miniskirt as well as ace the MCATS. The key words here are confidence and self-respect and a girl can only have both if she acknowledges her body AS WELL as her mind.

I love what Skipper has to say on the subject, here:
Maybe better to teach a little girl that she doesn't have to choose between picking the perfect outfit to shine at the dinner party and talking about books while she's there?
Days after shooting the above Momversation video, (comment thread is great, by the way. Highly recommended reading), I read a piece by my friend, Sarah Sophie Flicker on Hello Giggles which spoke to the same kinds of questions I have as a mother of three daughters. Because like Sarah Sophie, I enjoy makeup and clothes and nail polish and getting dressed up and done up and fashion magazines. But also like Sarah I feel empowered by those things. I am a more competent mother, writer, wife, friend and all-around human being with my hair brushed and makeup fresh, wearing something that makes me feel beautiful.
How do I instill the importance of education, kindness, smarts, empowerment, over fashion, beauty and princesses? Can I show her a positive image for female empowerment and still wear sky high heels and red lipstick everyday? If I spend half an hour getting ready and then turn around and tell her that beauty isn’t everything and it’s more important to be smart, am I sending a conflicting message?
... The one thing I do know is that the greatest gift I can give my daughter is for me to be happy, fulfilled, satisfied both as an artist and a mother. This also means being myself 100%. Being “me” means dressing up in my wacky costumes, primping and pruning, but doing it because it is the truest representation of who I am. If I am living my life truly and passionately, I know that she will absorb all these aspects of me as a woman, not just the pretty, fluffy, sparkly bits. I suppose I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest gift of empowerment I can give my daughter is an example of a happy, loving and fulfilled life. That is my hope, anyhow.
Hear hear, sister. Because an intellectual conversation can still be had over sparkly-tutus. And pink-frosted cupcakes. And, yes, even princess crowns.
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GGC

99 comments:

Daisy | 1:05 AM

When I was growing up, you ran the risk of being called vain or full of yourself if you cared too much about what you looked like or spent too much time looking in the mirror. Everyone wanted to be pretty, but you had to kind of pretend that you didn't care.

There is nothing wrong with looking pretty and putting some effort into achieving that.

I tell my girls they are pretty and I tell them they are clever. They are both and how great is that!?

Jayme | 1:05 AM

Beautifully, intelligently, succinctly written. Our little girls have the privilege of coming up in a time where they can literally be anything they want. They don't (and we don't) need to choose between beauty and brains. And if I have my way, my baby girl will grow up to be the prettiest brain surgeon/rocket scientist/rock star that ever there was.

talkingismyprimaryfunction | 1:49 AM

Nicely done. Good stuff.

After my twins were born, I had severe PPD. I did not care what I looked like. I soon found that by caring, it made me feel better about EVERYTHING. Why? Because I like being pretty. Or at least clean. Also, I'm smart. So there! ;-)

I am very glad for R&B to have you as their mom and Fable as a big sis. They are surrounded by good chicks. There will be a day (sooner than you like!) where people will try to label the twins. Things like, "The shy one" or "The funny one". It will kill you. But, I know you'll be able to help your girls know they are more than just one thing. And they are their own things. And that is GOOD.

Clandestine Road | 3:51 AM

I love this. We have three daughters and, though I despise the princess thing, my view of feminism is that it makes all things equal, that it empowers them/us/women/men to be whatever they want. Like you said, the princess and the doctor. I think the goal of parenting is to love your children, make them know they are seen, loved, and guided so they can go and be and be happy. I cannot imagine saying, "you look lovely today" will make my daughters diet in second grade or get botox at 11 (also, is that even physically possible?!). We praise their problem solving skills, intelligence, and tell them they are beautiful every day. Like you, I am not interested in overpraising my kids. I find that counter-productive.

Thanks for sharing this. I hope you're healing well and getting the rest you need.

Heather | 4:19 AM

Wholly agree. I don't have children, but I can tell my own story. My parents emphasized the importance of academic achievement FAR more than looks, and far more than being athletic, otherwise known as keeping fit. Now I'm nearing 30 and thinking, "Wait a tick, isn't it also important to honor your body and be healthy? To establish bonds with other women through being GIRLY?" The body is important. Community is important.

Margaret | 4:27 AM

Amen. I'm having a girl in December and it already feels so much more complicated than having my son, but it's not. I do not intend to keep my daughter from "girly" things, and I do not intend to keep her from an education, or from doing exactly what she is called to do on this earth, even if beauty AND intellect be damned. If she is called to live in a village in Africa and never need another tube of lipstick or a college degree, then that is fine. We do seem to miss something when we focus so hard on removing a part of who women are, a part of what we are gifted with. No, you don't need endless compliments to be a beautiful woman, but hiding beauty from our daughters altogether is suppressing something natural, too.

Alaythea | 4:59 AM

I actually wrote a post about this same article a while back. It too rubbed me the wrong way and I feel exactly like you do about it. I feel like growing up I always doubted my outward appearance because my mother made out that beauty was something to almost be ashamed of. And I feel like that has led to some low esteem issues. My daughter is beautiful and I tell her and so do others but they also compliment her on being smart and funny as well! There has to be a balance, it can't be ALL about looks but it can't NOT be either.

ClaireCWrites | 5:15 AM

I love this, and completely agree. I grew up with very supportive parents who addressed all aspects of my personality and appearance throughout my life, and I think I'm a happier, fuller person because of it.

When I went to college, though, one of my friends constantly called me "vain" and "shallow" and occasionally a "slut" because I straightened my hair and wore makeup. Apparently that was the equivalent of a mindless bimbo to her. I always tried to explain that there's nothing wrong with being feminine and "girly" - it's fun! It makes you feel good! And, shockingly enough, you can still be serious and smart, too. I have to wonder what it's like to put such huge restrictions on yourself. I mean, really? A girl with a little makeup on is a slut? That is some backwards logic, and I would hate to inflict that kind of thinking on another woman.

Your daughters are all beautiful, by the way!

Melissa | 5:17 AM

Beautifully written and WELL SAID!

Margie | 5:21 AM

Oh, how I wish I could have you over for coffee once a week. Thank you for your wise perspective and your calm. This makes such wonderful sense.

lola birdsong | 5:31 AM

So true-and glad from the comments that others agree! I always felt so so torn between cute and smart. Then I discovered I was both. So there, all you critics that made me feel crappy for wearing glitter AND talking about postmodern deconstructionism. But I have two lovely red-headed girls now and I've discovered this: each individual is different. Duh. One is into princesses, hardcore. One is a pre-engineer. Both are great! I view my role to be support staff. I need to guide and encourage them to read and use their brains but also enjoy dance parties. 'Cause we all, deep down, love dance parties. (Ok, most every girl does at least). Also- I compliment boys all the time on their appearance. Boys are cute- darling things. Why would I not compliment them? Bloom makes it sound as if we only notice the way girls looks. Again, duh. Oversimplification is my take on the original article. I just can't truck with that. I want to be lots of things at once- don't we all?

jessica | 5:48 AM

Please, stop apologizing for turning this into a baby blog. The other day you promised something like "other posts -not about babies ". That's great and all but I need some more baby!!!! More baby!!!
oh and great post by the way. I have a 17 yr old girl and wow the stuff she's going through. No amount of complimenting her brains would help right now. She needs to hear how beautiful she is.

margosita | 6:14 AM

Honestly, I loved the Lisa Bloom piece. Not only because I think she's right, but because of all the conversations and blog posts that came out of it. Like this one! And the many you linked to!

I didn't feel she was talking much about parenting her own children. I thought it was about how you approach girls who aren't yours. Because it is different. You have so much more opportunity to tell your own daughters they are smart and beautiful than you do your friend's daughter. Her argument is not that no one should ever be complimented on their looks, just that girls should be complimented on other things, too.

Also, I think the article was a good wake-up call for adults. Because it's not just that we need to teach girls to value more than their looks, I really believe we need to teach adults the same lesson. It's a horrible, bad, ingrained habit to automatically tell girls we think they are pretty because it limits ourselves as much as it limits them. Adults and parents need to value little girls for their brains, too, and if this is one way we can re-teach ourselves to do that, I support it 100.

Indigo Children | 6:26 AM

I agree with: "The one thing I do know is that the greatest gift I can give my daughter is for me to be happy, fulfilled, satisfied both as an artist and a mother. This also means being myself 100%. Being “me”[...]"

There has to be room for every kind of woman in this equation -- some women feel most like themselves when they are in a t-shirt and comfortable jeans wearing no make-up. Some women want more time for creativity so they choose not to spend so much time on hair, make-up, primping etc. And they feel they are "their best" when doing that. Some little girls fall into this category too -- it makes them no less female.

I cannot get behind any stance that judges one mom's way of being over another's (lifelong process to let go of that judgment by the way). It cannot be only this way or that way -- it is whatever way works for each mom -- each woman -- each girl. We don't have to convince everyone else around us for it be ok for us to be who we are (do we? -- I sure feel like I do sometimes).

And I totally agree about frightening parents with doom(ish) statements about ruining your child by doing this or that -- it won't happen. We can only do our best and let our child be who she / he is going to be.

Hespyhesp | 6:29 AM

AMENA, Sista!

That is all.

Cynthia | 6:35 AM

AMEN!

Now if I can just figure out how to strike that right balance... and manage to keep it there during high school, I'll consider myself a success as a parent! :)

BlackberryGirl | 6:51 AM

What a wonderful thoughtful USEFUL article! As many girls in the South know, it is not a crime to be pretty and yes, good-looking, handsome men that care about their looks and "clean up nice" are usually pretty darn cool. And smart. And sexy. And nice.

I raised two very handsome sons that happened to be very very intelligent: National Merit Scholars, etc. etc. and they have had some people give them long looks because, they are handsome and dress well and are very smart. And I have always believed that we don't all have to be rocket scientists or business execs to have a good productive life.

It's as you said so nicely, we need to lighten up, we need to enjoy our children, accept beauty (so many kinds) and brains and yes, brawn, for one of my sons is six feet six inches tall and some times people think he has to be all clumsy and stupid, until he opens his mouth! Good looking and huge...well, smart...and kind and funny, I know lots of boys and girls that are all that. And then some more.

We must not limit our children, we must understand them and help them embrace all aspects of being human, boy or girl, fem or not. Handsome, beautiful, it is always nice to SEE someone that is happily gorgeous and stylish with brains and heart.

Thank you again!
Jenn

Mariah | 7:03 AM

Rock on. I hope that my own future daughters understand how powerful true beauty (and feeling beautiful) is. My mother told me I was beautiful AND smart every single day, and I know that it's contributed to how I navigate the world: with happiness, creativity, and confidence.

Megan | 7:06 AM

Yes, yes, yessssss! Being pretty doesn't make you stupid, and wanting to embrace all that femininity means to you, doesn't make you any less of a feminist. I respect Bloom's position, but her view is completely oversimplified. To support woman-kind, we need to support all facets. And if I want to rock a cute skirt or some kick ass lipstick while I blow your mind with my knowledge of foreign policy, more power to me. And you! And all women!

P.S. Thanks for including me in this post. I am so, so honored.

Sarah | 7:06 AM

You rock. This is a great post. I've been thinking about the article a lot too, as I have a 9-month-old daughter.

renee | 7:10 AM

I very respectfully disagree with you. My grandmother had a rule: no personal remarks. That means no "your haircut is gorgeous", no "did you lose weight?", no "you look great without your glasses." Other people's personal appearance is not fodder for conversation. I took that to heart: what I look like may be the first thing people see, but I do not want it to be the last thing they remember. I want to look so nondescript so that people remember me for the brilliant point I made in the meeting or my incredible wit at the party, not what I wore or how cool my hair was.

I was in a car yesterday, going apple picking on Rosh Hashanah (happy new year, yo) with 3 8-year-old girls and one other mom. One of the girls (a brilliant and studious kid, by the way), for some reason found it relevant to point out that she was skinner than her 7-year-old sister (I think the context must have been the doughnuts we were going to eat at the orchard.) The other mom (who is not that girl's mom) and I groaned and launched into the expected lectures about how their bodies were healthy and beautiful, but I couldn't help noting to myself that that girl's mom has long struggled with her weight and is on a constant diet. And she's actually a judge. Kids watch and learn, and we have to be very careful.

Katy Widrick | 7:11 AM

I'm so glad to get your perspective on this, as a mom of girls...

I don't have kids, so I was hesitant to weigh in, but I did: http://katywidrick.com/2011/07/29/the-case-against-youre-so-pretty/

I'm pretty active in the healthy living community, and there's so much focus on looks and body image, so it's a timely and important topic for all of us to be thinking about.

Thanks (and I love love LOVE the pictures in this post)!

Kate | 7:19 AM

Yes. Just yes.

Smart vs. pretty is a false dichotomy. Though it seems to blow many minds, so many women are both on a daily basis. And frankly? Both are great and not important at the same time. What matters is raising kids who are kind, respectful, and compassionate towards all people. Those qualities are what gave that extra shine to a beautiful and intelligent girl.

PopMommy Pam | 7:19 AM

Perfectly said. I wrote about this subject too. (Although not quite as elegantly as you!) I definitely think our daughters can do and have it all.

http://www.popmommy.com/raising-a-daughter/sugar-and-spice-and-smarts

The Dalai Mama | 7:24 AM

I think it is so important that we teach our children (boys and girls) to love who they are--beautiful, smart, kind, sensitive, average, etc. I want my kids to love who they are. I want them to understand that what matters is that they are kind and considerate people.

It is just as hard for boys too. My son is thin and maybe smaller than average. He isn't as strong and physical as other boys his age. He struggles with that. He's a perfectionist and wants to do things right and wants to please. I have to teach him confidence. I have to teach him to look inside for confidence.

Whereas my daughter who is almost 4--couldn't be more confident. She wants to be pretty and asks "do I look pretty?" But she also wants to be smart and is quick to say look at what I can do. She is less affected by what others think.

I want my kids to embrace who they are and not shy away from their physical appearance, nor do I want them to shy away from their intellectual abilities or their other abilities. I want them to be who they are and embrace it--for better or worse.

Most of all I want them to know that they are loved for being just who they are and not for how they look or what grades they get. That they are loved for being a good person.

Chiyiyite | 7:37 AM

Thank you. I printed this post and will give it to my daughter. She's 10, in 5th grade, and just entering that angsty phase of tweendom. You said this SO WELL. Congratulations on your growing family.

klcalder | 7:38 AM

I completely agree with you! There is a balance and if you don't find it with your kids, you're likely to have problems in either direction. If there's no focus at all on your appearance in anyway, then you run the risk of people noticing your appearance for the wrong reasons.

You don't have to be a plastic barbie doll to look nice. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look put together and feeling pretty (whether that means you're decked out to the t's like a star or sporting a pair of jeans, an understated blouse, and some chapstick).

Think of a job interview or running for class president. You need to be smart, you need to be confident, and you need to look confident. A girl can put on some lip gloss, smooth their hair back into tame ponytail, and wear a simple outfit without having people focus on what the girl looks like, good or bad.

Brains and beauty do not have to be separate.

Mandy | 7:45 AM

Inspiring

Laura | 7:50 AM

I think this is such an interesting topic.

Something that I really think is missing from the Bloom piece and the ensuing posts is the comparison to boys. To me, the problem is that girls learn that their appearance (and more specifically, the proximity of their appearance to an unrealistic cultural ideal) is more important than other areas of their life because there is so much attention paid to it, whereas boys don't suffer that same pressure because people are less likely to talk to boys about their appearance. I think an interesting discussion that could come out of this issue is considering why we don't compliment boys' appearance in the same way as girls'. If appearance compliments are so great, why wouldn't we bestow them onto boys as much as girls? I would love to hear your thoughts on that.

Also, I think your point that we pressure our kids to be the best in all domains is so on point. And I think that the pressure that girls inevitably feel to look a certain way just adds to that. In theory, yes, you are exactly right that you can be beautiful and make honest efforts at being beautiful while also being smart, funny, charming, caring, etc. But it is also true that the time & money that we spend to be beautiful is time & money that isn't spent on other things, so the extra pressure that women feel to be beautiful really can limit those other qualities, even if we enjoy feeling beautiful and the work we put into it.

Anonymous | 7:52 AM

Hear, hear! (Not "here, here", by the way.)

But I really think Ms. Bloom's article has been oversimplified for the sake of argument. First, she was not speaking about parenting. Parents know their children. Family friends know them. Neighbors know them. And they should definitely interact with and compliment them on ALL fronts.

I'd even say that it's fine for someone to say in passing to a child they don't know and aren't getting to know (in the checkout line, maybe, or on the bus...that sort of thing) how pretty or how handsome or how neatly dressed they are.

But if you're MEETING a child for the first time, with the prospect of getting to know them over time, of interacting with them in the future, why not take the opportunity to make it clear you're interested in getting to know the whole little girl. Not just, "Wow, you're pretty SO I'm glad to meet you and I love you already!" Had she made that comment and then turned to carry on catching up with her friend and jut left it at that, as SO many adults do with children, the little girl does learn that her appearance is really what she needs to focus on to be appealing to someone she meets (not someone she ALREADY knows, mind you). I think Ms. Bloom, in meeting her friend's little girl for the first time, did a great job of really engaging that little girl. Of really MEETING her and of expressing that she valued the experience of meeting her and of getting to know her. I do think it'd been fine had she THEN also complimented the shiny, pretty night gown, but I do not think that little girl left that encounter feeling bad about herself in any way. I bet Ms. Bloom compliments her in the future about physical characteristics.

Anyway. I think you're right about the value of building our girls up mentally, emotionally, spiritually, AND physically. I also think Ms. Bloom is right and that her article has been kind of made into a straw man for the sake of saying, "Wow, it's horrible to never say our daughters are pretty!"

Anonymous | 7:56 AM

Also, I agree with Laura. If we don't interact with boys on the same plane (Nice to meet you, look how cute you are!) as with girls, then we do teach kids that being pretty is higher up on the list of priorities for girls than it is for boys. That's a problem.

Deanna | 7:58 AM

I think the problem with teaching girls about the value of being physically beautiful is that when you get older, people will definitely treat you differently if you aren't. Be smart and beautiful and the world will be yours. But try being the 16 year old girl who weighs 200 pounds and throws the shot put and see how many boys come sniffing around, no matter how smart you are.

Nina V.+ Co. | 8:09 AM

I read that article a while back after it was featured on cup of jo. I didn't gather that Lisa Bloom was saying we IGNORE physical attributes all together. I believe she was saying we as (parents/teachers/etc.) should ask/compliment other attributes in addition to telling them they are pretty. I mean, we all gather what we want from articles, maybe my perception was different but as a whole I thought the article was inspiring and a reminder of how important is is to compliment my girls intelligence as well as beauty.

Shannon | 8:09 AM

I don't have any daughters, but I do care a lot about looking put together every day. Even if I am only going to pick my kids up from school and run errands I feel better when I do it in a cute outfit. Yes I went to college, and am much smarter than I am pretty but it still feels good to look nice. I also tell my boys how handsome they are, how rockin the outfit they picked out was, etc. because I don't want to raise slobs for boys either.

The other day I was at my son's preschool and I complimented one of the girls on her fantastic fancy outfit. She thanked me and went on to tell me her mom bought it when they went to China Town last week. And also did I know she knew 100 words in Mandarin? Then she proceeded to tell me all of them. Awesome.

Melinda | 8:11 AM

Love your writing!

And as a mother of a girl and a boy, I want both my kids to look really good, while they deliver the valedictorian addresses for their graduating classes. ;)

Ok, really, though. You catch more flies with honey! I consider it to be a sign of respect to others when I put on nice clothes and do my hair and make up...and I've taught my kids the same thing. Their worth isn't tied to their appearance any more than their test scores. And as I had to remind my son this week when he chopped off his hair at school on a dare "You are not your hair." And my daughter "You are not your choice of earrings!" (She recently got some animal earrings, age 5.)

Barbara Fryman | 8:17 AM

I'm waiting for the article on how to let boys rock being boys.

The world I grew up in has been chanting how awesome women are my whole life, which is a huge blessing, don't get me wrong. But, when I had a son I was totally ready to accept him if he had a taste for pink and princesses and barbies. What I was NOT prepared for is the aggressive, unshakable masculinity of this person to be so pervasive! Guns and swords and defending our home are things he was born to do. I sure as heck never showed him anything like this. When he's scared he yells, "I STRONGER!" and then punches the air while claiming to punch whatever he is afraid of. And, I have found, so many people are concerned that he is "too masculine".

I have daughters too. I like my kids for who they are, and I like seeing them display themselves by showing their interests. But I'm totally finished with worrying about raising them to be the "right" kind of girl or the "right" kind of boy. I just try to raise them to take their talents to do the right thing.

Steph(anie) | 8:17 AM

This is one of the best things I've ever read on the Internet.

Seriously.

Polly | 8:55 AM

tears welling. spilling. dripping into coffee. love you.

bodegabliss | 9:10 AM

Thank you so much for this post. I have so many concerns surrounding this in raising my step-daughter. It's nice to hear your thoughts on this, it has helped to ease my mind.

Kim T | 9:13 AM

I love this. Couldn't agree more. We all need to be free to be who we are. Whether that means jeans and T-shirts, tatoos or sparkly ruffles, it's awesome that we have choices. Both the boys and the girsl. I'd like to teach my girls to be who they are unashamedly and to rock it. They both do too!

Siaci | 9:16 AM

When I see meet a wee little kid, I often say, "I like your shoes" or "I love your dress/hat/hairbow/stuffed toy Elmo." I didn't realize until I read this that I was making a conscious choice to say things that way, but I was.

The idea is to not just praise appearance, but to indicate that I like their getup too, so we have something in common. And it gives them a chance to indicate, if they choose, Hey, I like that too.

It is a conversation starter as well as a self-esteem booster, and it works on both boys and girls. And hey, little kids sometimes just wear the coolest stuff. I dig it.

Siaci | 9:19 AM

Oh, and, I wholly agree with everything you said. Parents do need to lighten up. Being a kid should be fun as much as possible!

Amber S | 9:27 AM

I read the original article by Lisa Bloom and loved what she had to say because I have a gorgeous 2 year old. I was bugged that all anyone talked about was her looks.

Now, though, I realize that what bothered me is that her good looks is the focus. If they comment on her big brown eyes and rosebud lips AND her amazing sense of curiosity and observation, that's ok in my mind. I think you're right that it's about including all traits our kids have, and finding a balance and installing confidence. Thanks for the perspective!

WILLIAM | 10:06 AM

I think complimenting a child, on anything, even if it is looks, is key to building their self esteem. A person with a good self esteem will be able to overcome all the other obstacles that get thrown in their way.

Bitter Betty | 10:10 AM

Amen to all of the above!! Why can't a woman decide to be girly? Whatever decision my daughter (if I am indeed having a daughter) makes in life is her own. If she chooses to be a brain surgeon, so be it, if she chooses to be a housewife, also so be it. My parents instilled this 'be what you want to be as long as you are happy' mentality in my siblings and me and have supported us in all our decisions in life. I'm pretty well educated, well read, well rounded as a whole and also I think I'm very pretty! I hope no less for my children!

Erin Riley | 10:14 AM

Thank you for this post. I also felt conflicted about the original message. For me, it comes down to the fact that I compliment the beauty of both boys and girls.

Blessed With a Boy | 10:19 AM

I think girls need a balance. We need to be reassured that we are pretty, smart, kind, loving whatever. I think boys need this as well.

By complimenting them and encourageing them in every area of their lives you make a well rounded person.

When my son would take the personality test when he was little he would be dead even. On the left and right brain. Not sure what that says but I take it as him being well rounded in all areas.

I wish that for all of your kids. :-)

Elise | 10:24 AM

I agree with the commenter who said that the subject of the original article was how to talk to girls who aren't your daughters. That it's important to notice more than just "girly" things about other people's girls. That it's good for girls to hear that people other than their parents are interested in their ideas, what they are reading etc. That by leading with questions or comments about physical appearance you are sending the message that it is the most important thing about them, why else would they always be asked about it. Kids are wicked perceptive, they will notice what other adults value about them and build that into their self-image. It's much more important to measure your words when interacting with someone else's child than your own because they don't see you as often and you have few points of contact by which to connect with them. I really didn't think that she was saying never to compliment a girl on her looks, just to make sure it's not always what you lead with.

Roxanna (Miguelina) | 10:26 AM

Thank you so much for including my post on your post!

I didn't write my post in reaction to the bloom piece (I wrote it last november), but I totally agree that we all need to lighten up.

I have three sons, and they get compliments from strangers about their "looks" -- "look at how cute you are!", "my what a handsome boy", "nice light up shoes, dude" -- it never occurs to me that this diminishes the other aspects of who they are or that it will affect who they grow up to be.

I wish we gave little girls the same credit.

(For the record, I don't have daughters but I was a little girl once. In Latin America we don't have hang ups about praising female beauty, so I grew up being told that I was pretty - I can tell you that not having to worry about it is incredibly liberating. Also, it doesn't consume you, either.)

Sarah Teres | 10:37 AM

Love this!! Brilliant and so very,very true!

Glenda | 10:57 AM

Growing up we didn't go out looking like we just woke up. My mom had us dressed to the T. Was that vain of her?

She told me daily how much she loved me and how beautiful I was. I didn't have to hear it from a boy. I knew it because my mother told me so. I felt it because I grew up hearing it and knowing it. I was confident and secure.

I have a daughter and a son, and I've told them since an early age how beautiful and handsome they both are. Hell yea...

I let them be "themselves" in their own unique way and I tell them they can be anything they want to be.

I was raised girly girl and my daughter is girly girl too. There's nothing wrong with that.
Both my kids are confident and secure in their own skin. They've both excelled in school too.

As always love your post. Amen!

Aimee | 11:01 AM

I was the last baby born on June 4th 1980 and my cousin was the first baby born on June 5th 1980...in the same hospital. Our ID bracelets were 1 digit apart and we were dubbed the "Twin Cousins." Of course, we weren't twins in everything. We didn't look alike, we didn't develop our motor skills at the same pace, and school learning was different for both of us. I picked up on reading, writing, you name it, 10 times faster than my cousin. So, to make up for a comparison that should never have been made in the first place, her mom started calling her the Beauty. I was the Brains. That was possibly the worst thing she could have done.

I always felt lacking in looks with our mutual families and my cousin always felt lacking in brains. Now, 30 plus years later we are both married, we both have our Master Degrees, we both are pregnant, and we both are pretty! It took both of us a long time to say, yeah, I'm AM pretty and yeah, I AM smart when it came to our mutual family there.

You can bet I am going to always tell my daughter she is pretty, smart, and whatever else she ends up being. I'm glad my mom did - tell me I was pretty and my cousin that she was smart - because it really was something we both needed to hear. The dichotomy is a bunch of BS.

I see your twins and I think if me and my cousin. One is fair like me and the other is dark like my cousin. One is a plump baby like I was and the other is skinny. And I think that it all began just that early on. May each know that she is beautiful and smart and important. Not in "her own way," but in every way.

Abigail.Jason | 11:31 AM

First of all, great post! Ever since watching your Momversation video I've been hoping for a follow-up, yay!

I definitely agree, it's not fair to compliment your child on their phsyical appearance or their non-physical attributes to the exlusion of something else. If we want to raise them to be confident people who love themselves, we have to show appreciation and love for ALL their aspects, not just the ones they have that stick out the most.

What's missing in this debate is the reality that modern-day society still DOES recognize women for their physical beauty more than men. It matters in job searching, social friend group, matters of romance....everything. How do we change this? I don't know. But it's a problem that's still there.

Berit | 11:33 AM

Well this is awfully coherent for a mother of two brand-spanking-new borns. Love the topic. I have a boy, with a girl due in January, so I'm especially intrigued. Wonder how I will treat her differently and how I won't and what effect it has on both of them. I tell my son he's adorable every day, but I also tell him he's smart and has crazybuns. All true.

CP | 11:50 AM

I LOVE that you took a different perspective on this then what I had been reading. I had the same thoughts when I first read the article...I'm not going to stop telling my daughters they are beautiful, nor will I keep them from playing princess or playing with makeup. The comments that most affected me I think, that I held on to for years, we negative comments - that a friend thought I was annoying or that my mom's friend thought I was chubbie or that my stomach was poking out too much in my stretch pants. Those overshadowed all of the compliments I was paid for a long time and I will be damned if I stop telling my daughters they are beautiful on the inside and out.

Erin | 12:11 PM

I'm of two minds on this one. I agree with everything you said, as it applies to our own children. I think your girls (and Archer!) will grow up confident and happy, whether they hear that they're beautiful, or are asked about their clothes, or whatnot. But I also agree with the OP's point that girls hear and see these messages about their appearance EVERYWHERE else, and I DO try to talk to other kids about things other than their appearance.

I have two girls, one of whom is 10, and has heard all her life comments on her appearance. From the time she was an infant, whenever I'd take her out in public, someone commented on her beauty. She hates it. She wonders why people don't ask her about the sports she plays or what books she likes or any number of things that are not her face and body. I do compliment her appearance, because I know how important it is to hear things like that from your parents, but it's part of an entirety that includes talking about her other attributes as a person, as well as talking about the messages she receives from the outside world, advertising, people in stores who talk about her looks, and, already, men, which is another whole deal in itself. (She's ten, still VERY much a child in attitude and appearance, and yet men already look her up and down. Grr.)

So I guess what I'm saying is that while I agree that parents should comment on their childrens' beauty, I do also agree that the messages kids get from the outside do impact them in profound ways, and I don't think it's a bad idea to leave the comments about appearance out of conversations with other peoples' children. It's not like they won't get the messages about their appearance from the rest of the world, and maybe some random woman at the store asking them if they like sciencey stuff might spark something in them, give them a message that wow, there's a grown-up woman and she likes science, maybe that's something cool I'd like too.

Anonymous | 1:01 PM

Everyone in life has had a different experience with this -- therefore will respond to the article differently.
It is important to remember that this article is about how to speak to girls who aren't your daughters. Is it appropriate to tell your daughter she is beautiful? Of course. But when little girls (especially those already immersed in princess culture) here something directed to their looks only whenever meeting a new person, it sticks. When you meet a boy age 5-13 ... do you tell them how handsome they are? Or do you comment on what they are into or activities they like participating in?
Honestly, I get what you are saying. But I'm pretty disappointed in your response. The article wasn't telling you how to talk to your daughters. But how other people should talk to them.

Ellen | 1:11 PM

This is wonderful. Very well said, and I completely agree.

Tracy @nystoopmama | 1:26 PM

Well said. That article rubbed me the wrong way, also. Living in such a liberal enclave I catch the other moms rolling their eyes at my daughter in her pink tutu and sparkly shoes, and I always have to bite my tongue. I shouldn't have to defend my THREE-YEAR OLD. She plays with dinosaurs as much as my makeup. She'll use her polished fingers to dig worms out of the front yard. You don't have to trade in your femininity if you want to come across as intelligent, strong and dynamic. We can have it all.

Flight Attendant Extraordinaire | 2:15 PM

So I'll share my little story. I have one older sister who is now 6'1" and was always very, very skinny growing up. Everyone would always tell her she should be a model, that she was so pretty and had such a great smile and was soooo tall & slender! And then they would turn to me and say, "And Sarah, your mom tells us you are so smart!" No one ever told me I should be a model. This scenario played out SO MANY TIMES, that as a little girl, I got it in my head that I was smart, but I wasn't pretty. And it took a very, very long time for me to realize otherwise. And even now, at 27, I'm always kind of taken aback when men flirt with me or hit on me.

As a flight attendant, I have the opportunity to interact with a lot of little girls on a regular basis. After I read that article a few months ago, I paid more attention to how I talked to them and found myself sometimes NOT interacting with the girls because I didn't want to just compliment their shoes. But then I noticed I interacted with the boys the same way, by telling them I liked their hats or their tshirts or backpacks. So I decided it was okay to begin a conversation with a compliment if I was complimenting something the child likely had a hand in choosing, like a super cool backpack or a sparkly, shiny pair of shoes.

Bekka Ross Russell | 2:35 PM

I wrote about this same topic, inspired by your original video - but in the context of the orphanage I work at in Tanzania. The issues are a little different, since we're some strange point in between parents and strangers - and also because it's not just a matter of self esteem if our girls decide that their bodies are what they have to fall back on. In a country racked with AIDs and where tens of thousands of impoverished young girls turn to prostitution because they don't think they have another out, it could be a matter of life and death. http://www.thesmallthings.org/2011/09/beautiful-girls.html

GGC, it's great to finally get to read your full take on the issue - I've been looking forward to it for a while, although OBVIOUSLY you had one or two other priorities!

Kitty | 2:44 PM

I grew up a tomboy, and my parents were thrilled to let me play tee-ball instead of taking ballet lessons. I was confident that I was a strong, athletic person...but not until high school did I start to realize that I was pretty, too, because my mom and her friends started telling me. It didn't make me vain or shallow - it didn't make me stop playing sports or doing well in school. It did, however, give me a new level of confidence. I really did not know that I was attractive, and to have someone verify that was incredibly freeing! It also gave me the chance to have fun dressing up and using makeup - things I might not have tried if I'd never thought it was "worth it."

Anonymous | 3:09 PM

You know what though? I kinda disagree. When first meeting people who would tell me "Oh, how pretty you are!" Or "you look beautiful in that dress." I would feel so objectified. I was confident enough but my looks weren't on my radar. The first thing I thought was "ya, thanks, but don't forget that I also play soccer like you just asked my brother." I felt like, "ugh, don't just look at my face."

As I aged and became more aware of all things that I was or wasn't in the beauty department (through tv and magazines or other girls at school) I felt the longing to be told I was cute or whatever. There is nothing wrong with trying to be pretty but the confidence to not care whether or not someone comes up to you and says so comes from people caring about your whole self from the beginning.

Lacy | 3:42 PM

Thank you for being both beautiful, AND smart. For offering the world of possibility, without exclusion to the world. I want to turn heads when I walk down the street, just as much as I want power in the board room. I want to be THE WHOLE PACKAGE. I can be both, without compromising what it means to believe in, support, and be a woman. Thank you.

Whittles Wobble | 4:02 PM

Self love is something that has recently weighed heavily on my mind. The sad truth is, it makes me uncomfortable. I was raised in a verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive household. I was taught to dislike and distrust myself, which impacts me today with constant second guessing my decisions and beauty and intelligence, etc. Thankfully I was removed from the home around the age of 14, but by the time it happened, most of the damage was done. It makes me exceptionally uncomfortable when someone has a strong sense of self worth and compliments themselves. I know that discomfort is my own personal shit coming back to haunt me, but it doesn't change my discomfort. This might seem like a given, but I want to know HOW a parent instills a strong sense of self love in their children? And HOW someone who isn't able to grasp the concept can start making real steps to change that. (I can see your name plate now "Rebecca Woolf, Full time blogger, part time therapist.")

Noelle | 4:36 PM

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I desperately want to read all of the comments and haven't yet, so forgive me if I repeat what's already been said.

It's really quite anti-feminist, this idea that because a woman chooses to wear lipstick and fix her hair a certain way she can't also have something to say. That, for me, is the heart of the issue—along with the idea that what we think of as "feminine" or "girly" is the only way for a girl or a woman to be beautiful.

Über-femme women can also be intelligent (and strong and loving and generous and...). And women don't have to be über-femme to be beautiful.

andygirl | 6:20 PM

BRAVO!

Hell, my mom was the other way. She would skimp on the compliments but still emphasize the importance of the physical to the point where I never felt good enough. I was too skinny or too fat. I really needed to wear makeup, etc. If she'd just told me I was beautiful as I was, I would have grown up much more confident in my personal appearance.

deannagabriel | 7:42 PM

ROCK ON, lady. SO. WELL. SAID. when i initially read the huffington post article, i thought some of the same things. whats wrong with a small personal compliment? i met one of my best friends because i complimented her on her shoes while we were both in line at starbucks. its the way the world works and parents are responsible for teaching their children those kinds of things! the huffington post article presents an interesting, academic way to approach the idea of girls and beauty and such, but real life is not academic. besides... who say you cant be smart AND beautiful AND awesome al at the same time?

momentsofexhilaration | 8:18 PM

This is a wonderful piece and a great follow up to your earlier momversation. I agree with pretty much everything you say. But I do think that as a woman, your appearance does matter. I was struck by the line "Harvard will still accept you if you like the color pink." Unfortunately, I think this sentiment is not entirely true. I worked for several years in a very male-dominated biglaw firm and woman who were too feminine were absolutely looked down on. They were given less work and less serious work. Quite simply, they were not taken seriously. This is a terrible thing, but it's reality. I certainly wouldn't want that life for my daughter, but I do want to prepare her for it. My mother always said to me "you can be whatever you want." I loved that and I'll say it to my daughter too. But when I came up against the cold hard truth of sexism in the workplace, I wasn't prepared and it made it a lot harder to deal with. So I want to instill confidence in my daughter but still find a way to show her how the world really works. It's such a fine line and I certainly don't know the answers yet. I'm rambling now, so I'll shut up. I love the post!

The Beckster | 9:05 PM

AMEN sister. That's all I have to say!

SoMo | 6:01 AM

Great post. You are amazing and a breathe of fresh air.

Thank you.

Carla @ All of Me Now | 6:10 AM

Amen! I embrace being a woman and I firmly believe we are, as you say, a sum of our parts. I want my daughters to love it all and sing it from the mountaintops - I am woman, hear me motherf-ing roar!

I think a lot of the backlash against compliments is the fear that it's all superficial. But there's nothing superficial about praising a child's choice in clothing, like you point out, which is a practice of their creativity. I compliment my daughters all the time. And like I mentioned here: http://allofmenow.com/2011/08/how-to-compliment-little-girls/ I try to make sure it's in a beautiful and meaningful way.

Rock on for telling our kids they're beautiful =)

Molly | 8:38 AM

I didn't read the original article, but what I don't like about this conversation is that it sets up yet again the idea that it's either/or: either focus on beauty or smarts. And of course that is a false choice.

I do believe that little girls are more likely to hear comments on how they look from adult acquaintances than little boys, not to mention millions of pop culture messages every day (just as grown women do) that their appearance is what matters. And no, I don't think that is an entirely good thing. It wasn't that long ago that we were property, remember. Because of this, I think that mindfulness about what we choose to praise about children is a good practice. Just mindfulness--not banning any particular type of comment, but just noticing what we say. I *am* a feminist women's studies professor, and I notice myself focusing intently in my comments on how beautiful my nieces are. I don't stop myself, but when I'm around them I try to *also* tell them lots of other good things about what they do. I also try to tell my nephews how beautiful they are, too.

Everything we do and say is going to contribute to gendering our children, there's no way around it. So let's just be conscious of it--not careful, just aware. What a great model then, for raising girls who *notice* assumptions about gender, and feel empowered to make choices about how they're going to express themselves.

Krista | 10:22 AM

But that article didn't say you shouldn't tell your daughters they are gorgeous. And it didn't say you can't be pretty at the same time you're smart (or even that pretty = femme, where did that come from?). She was talking about what we do the first time we meet a little girl. Do we go on and on about how cute they are, or do we find out what they are interested in?

And being smart doesn't equal rocket scientist. Sure, not every girl is going to be a genius, but they have the potential to be brilliant at something.

Most kids are beautiful. And most of those kids as adults will not get that same kind of reaction out of a total stranger based on their appearance. And while we can and should appreciate each other's beauty in all its forms, wouldn't it be great if we showed little girls that the world is impressed by their smarts and skills and interests, too? After all, they have their moms at home telling them how beautiful they are everyday.

Molly | 10:49 AM

P.S. Just to keep in mind when thinking about what mainstream girls are up against in having their looks define their worth: JC Penney had this shirt in its stores *this year*: http://jezebel.com/5836173/jcpenney-will-destroy-your-daughters-self-esteem-for-just-999

Jessica | 11:08 AM

Rebecca, I love reading your blog but I feel like you almost deliberately missed the point of the article for the sake of argument. The writer didn't say anything about parenting, not complimenting your own children, or teaching your children that they need to be rocket scientists. She makes her finest point in the last sentence, Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does. It is most important that we are role models that girls can look up to. That is such an important, undervalued power.

Of course you think your children are beautiful and tell them so. You're their mother. Of course a girl can be pretty and smart. I noticed that you don't mention in your blog post if, upon meeting a stranger's daughter, you immediately compliment her appearance. The crux of the issue is not whether you tell your girls they are pretty, but how you interact with other little girls you meet for the first time.

It is no small feat to give a girl the feeling that a stranger might value her for something beyond physical beauty. I meet a lot of strangers' daughters, and Lisa Bloom is right. You get to know a kid better if you talk to them about something else. Kids are not fixated on the (fleeting) physical beauty of youth like adults are. Most kids think we're silly and boring for our fixation on that stuff. And honestly? They're kind of right. Kids: 1, Adults: 0.

mynewfavoriteday.com | 12:38 PM

I couldn't agree more. I see it as my job to make sure my little E believes in her heart of hearts that she is the smartest, prettiest, funniest, most creative girl in the world. That she can do anything she sets her mind to. I will do this so that she is well-armed with a self-esteem that as she grows up in a world that will inevitably challenge her at various times, she will always be righted by her foundation of believing she is all of these things and more.

Anonymous | 3:41 PM

Thank you! This post has summed my perspective of being a woman in this day and age so well.
As the youngest of four girls my mum taught all of us that to take pride in appearance was to take pride in yourself, not just with clothes but physically and mentally. I love fashion and design, when my husband tells me I look great I feel great. But I also feel great when he tells me I'm the best fisherman, gardener,camper, hard working, intellectual person he knows & that I always look damn cute in what I'm doing.
While I don't do the princess thing I believe that
clothes are an outward symbol of you as a person and your views on life at the different stages of your life and fashion has a lot to do with revolutionizing the feminist movement. It's always been entertwined and always will be.
Not as beautifully written as the post but you get the drift....
Again thanks

Sarah | 3:42 PM

I love what you wrote here. I had a couple of reactions when reading the HP article. 1. I agree with so much of the author's thoughts on the subject & it's obviously a discussion that needs to happen. 2. I'm not going to stop telling my own daughters (twin girls- woot! ;) how beautiful they are ever. And I probably won't stop telling other little girls either. Because like any compliment, it builds confidence, and I just can't see the wrong in that.

But... what I take away from all of this is that there is a clear slant in our society when it comes to women. Even the toys and clothes marketed towards our little girls are sexualized (barbies, brat dolls, etc.) and if we aren't careful to counter this at home- big problems in the teenage years. We need to protect them by accentuating other, more important attributes, because our society as a whole just isn't going to.

Ash | 4:04 PM

I would recommend reading Peggy Orenstein's "Cinderella Ate My Daughter." It got me thinking very closely about all this, and how I raise my daughters. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it's more than okay to embody what culturally may be seen as a paradox. I can rock hot red lipstick and heels while being the most staunch feminist there is. We all can! Here are my more thorough thoughts: http://blogalacart.com/2011/03/cinderella/

Perhaps a read for your midnight shift with the babes! :)

Shay | 9:42 PM

We tell our daughters or we're supposed to that they have all the choices in the world. Then she chooses to be a princess and society expects us to quietly discourage the -wrong- choices. You have all the choices in the world - wait! Don't choose that...

Princess doesn't have to mean bimbo - I remember Princess Di helping get rid of land mines - that's pretty bad ass if you ask me.

If I have learned anything about being female even more so since becoming a mother. Women take on a million different roles mother, teacher, friend, sister, daughter, librarian, repairman,and even princess. Although the last time I was a Princess it was so my son, the shiny knight could save me.


I tell my DD who's only 24 months she's gorgeous when she brushes her hair in the mirror. I tell her she's a smarty pants when she finds letters in a book. Both are true and she seems equally happy with both.

Meg @sleepynewmommy | 7:31 AM

Thank you for this.

My daughter loves to dress up in fancy dresses and tutus. She spent the entire summer in them. At the same time she wore those, she was roaming the yard with binoculars, crawling through the dirt, "exploring". She kept a notebook of all of her finds and then came inside to look them up on the computer and learn more about them. Then she'd run to her room to sing at the top of her lungs while dancing around. She's five. We make it a point to tell her how smart and creative she is, but we also tell her how beautiful she is, inside and out. No pressure from us. Be who you want to be, baby.

I don't think compliments need to be mutually exclusive. It's ok to ask a friend's child how her day was at school and compliment her shoes in the same conversation.

My final thought: girls always need to feel pretty, even smart ones. If a girl is never told she's pretty, she's going to look for acceptance elsewhere, often in the wrong ways.

Dragana | 8:56 AM

Oh come on! They won't get vain if you tell them they are pretty. As a matter of fact they may get too obsesed with their looks if you don't as girls will always want to look pretty, with or without parents' support. If you tell them they are pretty , they won't tend to try so hard. Of course, awareness of one's looks being only one factor of confidence, it will contribute to them feeling more worthy and not settle... For anything. Why does it have to be all or nothing? It is not like that is all you will be telling them.

It is even more important dad tells them they are pretty.

Raising a balanced child is an art and skill most of us learn as we go and never master. But if I am going to err, the safe side for me is getting them to feel they are worthy of every compliment.
Just relax and enjoy your daughters.

Christy | 10:23 AM

Yes, well said! I agree that Bloom's best points relate to the importance of asking questions and thinking about how we engage with children before we toss off an obligatory compliment.

Did you see the Heidi Grant piece, The Trouble with Bright Girls? A really interesting piece about how complimenting girls for being "so smart" can ultimately limit their perception of their own capabilities. Really good read, and one that resonated with my experience of growing up as a "bright girl" far more than the Bloom article. Probably because being told I was pretty didn't turn me into a junior stripper or anything.

And the resulting "don't tell girls they're pretty" hysteria has gone a little far with some people. A friend posted a picture of her daughter on fb the other day, and after a few "how cute!" and "she's getting so beautiful!" comments, someone pointedly posted "She looks so smart!" I know, right? I rolled my eyes so hard I saw my brain for a second.

bbgHappY1 | 4:31 PM

I remember reading that article too and thought to myself after I read it, did I raise my 13 yr old daughter up all wrong and am I destined on the same path of raising my 4 yr old daughter..
Society as a whole needs to lighten up and let people be people no matter what gender.
Why does there have to be any particular way of raising girls? I do not recall reading any articles like this when it comes to my 15 yr son.

I agree with you, tell your daughters they are gorgeous and can do and be whatever their heart desires!!!

Jen | 5:06 PM

While I've read millions of your entries, this has to be one of my faves! Every sentence had me saying, "Yes! You go girl!" I can't agree with you more -- I have a daughter and my goal in life for her is to balance both beauty (both outer and inner) and brains.

Mary L. | 9:54 AM

I grew up with a mother who very seldom told me I was pretty. What resulted was years of bad makeup/hair/clothing choices because I was so incredibly insecure with myself and how I looked.
Of course my mother loved me, and she showed me in other ways, but I can't help but wonder how differently things might have gone if she had ever told me I was beautiful.
When I read Lisa's article, I appreciated what she thought she was doing for little girls everywhere, but I am a perfect example of why her theory doesn't work.

Anonymous | 11:30 AM

I found that entering my three-year-old triplets in beauty pageants did a lot for their poise and self-confidence. Plus they look adorable in maribou feather trimmed elbow-length gloves and sequinned thongs.

cora d | 1:07 PM

Thank you - very well put. When my first daughter was an infant, people commented all the time how beautiful she was, to an extreme amount. So, we'd do affirmations, in a mirror, each morning (yes - with an infant). I told her she was smart, funny, caring, loving and beautiful - and I made sure to reiterate the beautiful, for that is a positive thing, along with all the others. We don't do the affirmations any more, but I do tell her about all her wonderful qualities, including how stubborn she is and how beautiful.

Molly R. Stern | 11:43 AM

Yet another inspiring IMPORTANT piece written by you wonderful and great Rebecca!!! As a beauty "expert" this subject is something that I am personally constantly addressing with raising two daughters and a son. Noticing, complimenting and honoring beauty is intuitive in all of us and spreads far beyond our daughter's looks. We acknowledge beauty in nature, art, words. Though I appreciate Lisa Bloom's point that acknowledging what a little girl is reading is a great conversation route vs strict focus on how adorable her curls are, to blame women's societal self image downfall on placing value on looking cute is too extreme. I am proud to know that as a woman I have the ability to achieve greatness by using everything I've got. My body, mind and spirit. My focus as a mother is to link all the physical beauty and strength to other areas of importance. The more I encourage my daughter to tap into her strength abilities in her body she not only gets the importance of healthy living, but she gets more out of practicing her cartwheels on the grass. I urge her to connect her physical radiance as a direct result of her heart being filled with love on a daily basis. I compliment her clothing so she knows she has the power to be and represent herself with confidence any way she chooses. It's not superficial, it's deep to know we are beautiful confident creatures inside and out. It's my job to explain through nature, art, literature and yes, pop culture, that beauty is individuality. We as mothers and as woman and as friends have a responsibility to encourage each other in every area. Acknowledgement isn't what limits us, fear of our power does.
Love you Rebecca xoxoxoxo

Heather | 9:38 AM

I saw this article, and it just seemed to fit in so well with your post: http://www.chicagonow.com/portrait-of-an-adoption/2011/10/pink-is-not-the-enemy-stereotypes-are/

Couldn't agree more!

Cheryl | 3:00 PM

I am well into middle age, and grew up hearing "beauty and brains don't mix." I knew I was smart, so figured I must be ugly--especially since I was not allowed to wear makeup, etc., and not often told I was pretty. As a result, I spent much of my young adult life screwed up, trying to prove to myself I was physically attractive as well as smart. (And I am, BTW.)

Have we ever thought that we might do young girls a huge disservice by NOT acknowledging their beauty? That perhaps they might go overboard trying to be sexy or whatever simply because no one has ever validated them in that way? It's a basic biological human need, for pity's sake, to be seen as attractive.

Jordanna Fraiberg | 12:34 PM

I love this post. Couldn't agree more that beauty and intellect are not mutually exclusive. So well said.

Jennifyr | 9:01 AM

I love reading your website, and I honestly wish that all parents had your insight into growing as a person and an individual in society and in ourselves.

The idea of being less feminine to be smart is ridiculous. I love makeup and fashion, but it's not all of me. I also love reading, psychology, law, documentaries, etc. Equating ugliness with intelligence and beauty with vapidness is just as dangerous as any other stereotype. People should teach their children how to figure themselves out, figure out their own happiness, comfort levels, and personalities. Whether it's lipstick or tonka trucks or both. Or whether they pretend to be a princess or a doctor. I remember getting complimented on my looks as a child, and I remember it fondly. But I also got complimented on my intelligence, and that meant more to me, because it was something I did, something I could control.

I don't plan on having children, but I do have a niece, and when she gets to an age where she can ask questions and think about things like body image, I'm going to be honest with her. I'm going to take her shopping for clothes and for books. I'm going to tell her that beauty can be fun, and sometimes useful, and should be appreciated, but that the idea of beauty varies wildly. To some it's Monet, to others it's graffiti. There will always be someone out there who will appreciate what you have to offer.

It's like the house you went to look at, with the beautiful entrance way covered in vines. It was alluring and it drew you in, but when you got inside, to what was important - the things you would have to wake up to everyday, that's what mattered the most. The inside made the decision for you.

Anonymous | 4:50 AM

But what if your 'beauty' is not considered such by community. What will you tell your daughter then ?

Anonymous | 7:27 PM

THANK YOU for this! I've seen that Huffington Post blog circulated by several friends and that article infuriated me. I can't see just walking up to a little girl and saying, "What are you learning in school?" - SERIOUSLY?

My parents never, ever told me I was beautiful or pretty. Not even once when I was growing up. I got told I was smart over and over again. What did this lead me to deduce? That I was smart, but might as well forget my looks. I was ugly. Hideous. My mom didn't dress me pretty like the other little girls. I ended up having self esteem issues because I always felt inferior to the little girls who looked like girls.

My mom cut my hair into an unflattering bowl cut. I wore ugly plaid pants. During picture days, I looked more like an orphan that someone's loved, cherished, little girl. Inside, it killed me. I grew up this way believing I wasn't pretty. As hard as my parents tried to UN-pretty me so I'd develop intellectually or whatever they were hoping for, it didn't make a bit of difference as to how the REAL world works. Pretty is valued. You don't even have to be a textbook beauty genetically, but being clean, having neat hair and keeping a neat appearance is very important.

I hit puberty and still thought I was hideous. About 16, boys started noticing me and I didn't know what to do about that. For the first time in my whole, entire life someone told me I was beautiful - and I LATCHED onto that boy and was with him for 7 years and married him. I didn't care that he was a drug addict, cheater, loser. He thought I was pretty. Nobody else was ever going to think that about me in my eyes. Over the years, I blossomed even more and soon everyone was telling me I was pretty and it was like I had woken up and realized that I had been lied to. I thought I was so ugly nobody would ever want me and so I settled for the first loser who came along.

This is what happens to little girls whose physical attributes are looked over and IGNORED. It's just delaying the inevitable force of nature of a girl coming into contact with her sexuality and embracing it instead of running from it. I highly advocate your daughter hear it from you first that she is beautiful. Otherwise, the people who are going to be telling her are teenage boys...and that's when you lose her forever and she loses herself. Thank you for speaking your mind. I believe this whole movement is borne out of jealousy for beautiful women and has no basis in reality or sanity, for that matter.

starophie | 7:30 PM

I, personally, quite enjoyed/appreciated the HuffPo article. However, I also appreciated/enjoyed yours. What I didn't get from the HuffPo article that you seemed to was that you shouldn't tell little girls that they're pretty. I felt that Bloom was merely saying put emphasis on the fact that they're also reading things and knowing things that a lot of people (read: strangers and family friends, because that's the perspective from which she was writing) neglect to mention or ask about.

That being said, I thoroughly agree about making children, especially our daughters, feel that what makes them feel good is what they should do - be that reading, chemistry, or playing princess (and, in most cases, all of the above)!

I just feel that what I missed, perhaps, in your commentary, was that balance. What happens when other people don't see your child the way you do? I'm not what most people consider to be "attractive," so I would have appreciated, as a young(er) girl, people commenting on my looks in a positive way. Conversely, because they didn't, I would've appreciated people who took the time to look past my appearance and asked me what I was reading or what I liked to do in school or, even better, what I liked to do outside of school.

It can't be just one or the other. That doesn't work for anyone. It has to be both, so it can work for everyone.

starophie | 7:36 PM

Follow-up to previous comment:

I just read a bunch of the comments already here, and a lot of people are commenting on the balance as well. I guess I did miss it! My 18-year old eyes just ain't what they used to be...

P.S. All of the pics of Fable in this post are hilarious. What a great lil' troop you've got.

All the best <3

Unknown | 11:28 AM

I love this! I am raising two daughters myself and it is something I have struggled with in trying to figure out my parenting philosophy.

My husband came from a very religious and conservative home where his mother doesn't wear make up or jewelry to me...which...well that ain't me...
I am trying to explain the value of both sides of the coin. Love it!!