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There was a fascinating article that made the rounds a few years back. In “How to talk to Little Girls,” Lisa Bloom writes about our tendency to start conversations with girls by complementing their appearance— their hair, their dress, their adorable beauty. This, she suggests, sends the message that looks matter above all else.
Instead we might ask them what they’re reading, what they’re good at, or what they like to do at the park. “You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. … Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.” And, in her example of a conversation with a five-year, she includes a mention of her own accomplishments as an author. ‘I love books, too! I just wrote one.’
I’m more aware of this tendency (and the challenge to overcome it) every day I spend with my daughter. I recall standing over her with Aron when she was an infant and cooing “Hello, little love of mine. Hello, beautiful girl.” And it was Aron who added with a smile, “…who’s really good at math.”
And in my attempt to be more cognizant about the way I begin conversations with young girls, I realized something interesting: I tend to start conversations with grown women in the same way. “Your hair looks great!” “I love your shoes!” “Ooh, great top!”
What does one say instead? Thinking about it from the other side, what do I want people to know about me and my interests? What am I most proud of?
One afternoon on a rafting trip our guide asked my friends and I about ourselves. When the “what do you do?” question invariably came, each of us had a very important answer: we take care of small children. But afterward we confessed hesitancy over sounding too prideful if we also mentioned our past careers, our current part-time jobs, our advanced degrees. And really, it didn’t matter to any of us whether those other qualities were validated, but it brought up that same question: “what am I most proud of?” And also, “what do I want people to know about me?”
It was only with prodding from our husbands that I recall adding that I write a lifestyle and travel blog. My friend added that she had gone to business school. Another mentioned her masters in social work.
I don’t think it’s possible to ignore the role that appearance plays in our lives. And I’m not sure that we should. Hugo Schwyzer, a gender studies professor, once wrote that “When girls are lauded for their other qualities, when they get support about their other interests, then attention for their appearance gets healthily integrated into the symphony of encouragement that all children need and deserve.”
I love that idea of “a symphony of encouragement.” I want to know what friends and family are most proud of so that when I also tell them that they’re beautiful, they’ll know there’s a lot more to it. But I also really appreciate Bloom’s insistence that we learn a new way to start a conversation. What do you think?
What are you most proud of? What would you like to be weighed on?
I’d love to hear and weave your replies into a follow-up post next week. You can respond in the comments or on Instagram (with the tag #WeighThis and @AshleyMuirBruhn). If you’d like me to credit your reply in the post, leave your blog link or your IG handle with the response.
I’ll go first…
I am a loving parent and partner. I am becoming a good photographer. I think I’m good at being an interested person. I’m curious and observant—perhaps reason I enjoy traveling so much. You can talk to me about Nashville or the news. I was on an academic track in graduate school for five years and two degrees before choosing a completely different path. It was scary to change paths—and humbling—but I’m proud that I chose my own and have had so many different experiences. And now I’m a publisher, telling stories and taking photographs. I’ve built something! That’s nice (and yet difficult) to say aloud.
Here are some other women taking their turns. (I love the symbolism of the woman weighing her wedding band, as well as the woman with no regrets about her divorce.)
This discussion is supported by Lean Cuisine, committed to fueling people to do amazing things every day. Thank you for supporting Hither & Thither. #WeighThis