unless you’ve been living under some sort of internet-proof rock, you’ve watched (or at least heard of) this video, released by always, the lady product brand;
this is obviously part of a well thought out and put together ad campaign, designed to make more women by always products–as is the dove real beauty campaign. however, since i’m not made of stone, it totally got me teary eyed.
then, i was reminded of a comic my parents had up on the fridge while i was growing up.
it appeared during the 1999 women’s world cup, so my sister and i were thirteen and ten respectively. she was always more interested in sports (soccer, softball, volleyball), while i showed a preference for fashion, dance and pretty things from an early age. example: when i was six my mom and asked me if i liked playing soccer, and i told her i liked the snacks, hanging out with my friends on the team and the fact that our uniforms were pink…clearly not an olympic athlete in the making.
but the message the video and the cartoon highlight is the same–doing anything like a girl is not something anyone should be ashamed of. i was lucky enough to have parents who recognized that it was a message important enough to have their young daughters see it every single day.
a few years ago, i stumbled across an article published by the huffington post called “How to Talk to Little Girls,” by Lisa Bloom, an attorney and legal analyst. Bloom writes,
I went to a dinner party at a friend’s home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.
Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, “Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”
What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.
Hold that thought for just a moment
Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.
That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.
“Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.
“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.
Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.
“I LOVE books,” I said. “Do you?”
Most kids do.
“YES,” she said. “And I can read them all by myself now!”
“Wow, amazing!” I said. And it is, for a five-year-old. You go on with your bad self, Maya.
“What’s your favorite book?” I asked.
“I’ll go get it! Can I read it to you?”
…one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya’s perspective for at least that evening.
Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.
i immediately emailed the article to my dad, thanking him for always talking to me in an engaged, intelligent way, and for encouraging all of my weird interests when i was a kid. my family went on an entire Abraham Lincoln themed summer vacation because i was THAT into him as a kid. THAT’S WEIRD.
because of the way my parents raised me, i’ve always known that my worth lays in my mind and spirit, not my face or my body.
because of that simple message, i’ve grown into an independent, capable woman who can take responsibility for her actions as well as stand up for herself. i know that the only people who matter in life are the ones who value my whole person, and not to settle for less.