Ever notice how we talk to girls? By "we" I mean more "society" and less "you and me," because hey, I don't know you. "We" have a tendency to praise girls for their appearance more than we do boys... and we — as in you and I" — have probably done it, too. On the one hand, we all need to do better, but on the other hand, you sort of can't blame us. We have been conditioned to believe that a woman's primary value is her appearance so if you want a little girl to feel she is valued by you, you compliment her appearance. And while that might make her feel good in the moment, over the course of her young life, it's actually sending an insidious message that her character, wit, and accomplishments are of secondary importance. Or at the very least that they won't mean as much or be taken as seriously unless she is also beautiful.
I'm not saying we should never say a word about our daughter's appearances, but I think we have to be more mindful of what we're saying, and when, and how often. And we should take care in speaking to everyone else's daughters as well, not only in an effort to instill in them the idea that they have a value outside of aesthetics... but so we don't all sound so goddamn stupid all the time.
Because for real, so many times we think we're paying a little girl a compliment are actually just instances of us sticking our feet in our mouths without realizing it. To wit...
"She's Going To Be So Pretty One Day"
So wait, what is she now?
"She Has Such A Unique Look"
I would like to let me geek show a little bit hear and quote A Chorus Line...
"Mother always said I'd be very attractive/When I grew up ... /"Diff'rent," she said, "With a special something/And a very, very personal flair."/And though I was eight or nine ... I hated her./Now,"Diff'rent" is nice, but it sure isn't pretty./"Pretty" is what it's about./I never met anyone who was "diff'rent" who couldn't figure that out./So beautiful I'd never lived to see."
Boom. Mic drop. You may mean it in a nice way, but it feels an awful lot like a consolation prize.
"The Boys Are Going To Love [X Attribute]"
OMG, for real? Please stop indicating that my daughter should be proud of something simply because (you say) boys are going to think she's hot. It's not only insulting, but creepy.
"She's So Big, But Don't Worry! My Daughter Was Chubby Like That And Now She's Skinny!"
I get variations of this a lot in regard to my daughter, and I hate it more than words can possibly express. At 22 months, my bonny lass is about 28 pounds and 35 inches tall, which puts her at about the size of a 2.5-year-old. When people learn she's not yet 2, they often marvel at her size... and then, feeling like they've said something insulting, will assure me she'll "grow into her body" or "slim down as she gets older," like if she didn't, that should be something I would worry about. Dude. Indicating that I should somehow be concerned that my daughter will grow up to be fat is waaaaaaay more insulting than simply stating the fact that she's big for her age. I'm not worried about her being fat because whether she is or isn't doesn't effing matter.
"She Would Be Gorgeous If She..."
Stop. Stop. It's not a compliment if it has a qualifier. Also, haven't you ever heard "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"? So I don't care if you think she should straighten her hair or put on make-up or wear more dresses or lose weight. Think whatever you want but keep it to your damn self.
"She's So Skinny!"
This isn't necessarily insulting so much as it's just weird. The fetishization of "skinny" is off-putting, so when you're delighted squealing that a girl is (inadvertently or otherwise) adhering to an adult beauty standard, it's just...bizarre. Also, you don't know what's going on with someone's weight. Maybe this child doesn't want to be skinny. Maybe it makes her self-conscious. Maybe she's ill and her size is a medical concern. Probably not, but you don't know. So, again, keep it to yourself.
"I Bet She Can Eat Anything She Wants."
Like the previous "compliment," this one is just uncomfortable.
"That Outfit Is So Slimming On Her"
Seriously, how many of these do I have to list before we realize that we should just avoid talking about body-type all together. Even if you're trying to be nice. Even if you mean it as a compliment. Stop.
"With Her Face Shape, She Should Style Her Hair Like..."
So what you're really saying (or at least what it sounds like you're saying) is that you think her hair is bad or unflattering as it is and she should change. Got it.
"I Wish I Had The Confidence To Wear That!"
...indicating, somehow, for whatever reason, that she should not be wearing that? Cool story.
Basically just play Radiohead's "Creep" ahead of you everywhere you go to warn people, because that is so, so creepy. Don't talk about anyone about their boobs, let alone young girls. Don't talk about how they'll get them, don't talk about the fact that they have them, don't talk about their size. Shhhhhhh. Hush.
"Why Does She Put That Stuff On Her Face? She's So Much Prettier Without Make Up."
If she's wearing make-up in front of you, she is probably doing so with her parents' permission. She is making a choice about how she wants to look. Respect it.
"You're So Pretty For A [Adjective/Identifier] Girl."
This can be "black," "Asian," "big," "short"...pretty much any adjective. Again, if you're qualifying, it's not a compliment and, in these instances, can be seriously hurtful, obnoxious, and/or racist.
When it comes to discussing a girl's appearance, here's the best advice I can give you: Don't.