Posted by: caitlinmcclay | February 13, 2014

How we interact with young girls

A couple of classes ago Dr. Shollen brought up how we talk to little boys verses little girls.  We look at a young girl and tell her how pretty she is or that we like her outfit.  I think that has its place because a little girl in a big puffy dress is adorable.  At the same time, we should tell the little boys in the bow ties just how handsome they are too.  I think the problem is with little girls we don’t move past the cute dress.  We tell them they are pretty and that is what they have to put value in. But, what happens when we attack women for how they look?  Society says that you should be skinny, have tan skin, and have light eyes.  The little girls pick up on these things.  The value we cultivate most in little girls is that they are pretty, and then as they grow up we destroy it with societal definition of beauty.  What happens to the little girl as she gets older?

I had never experienced this in real life until a couple of weeks ago.  I go to a Coptic Orthodox Church to learn arabic, it is also a really cool cultural experience.  Coptic orthodox is the Christian minority in Egypt.  So as you could guess most of the members of the church are Egyptian.  Actually, they are all Egyptian except for my roommate and I.  Everyone there is super nice and it has really broadened my horizons to a new, beautiful culture.  After the service everyone eats lunch and we get a chance to play with little kids and socialize.  A few weeks ago there was actually nice weather so my roommate and I were talking to a couple of women outside.  Then a little girl came up to me and told me that I looked beautiful today, and then she said the same thing to my roommate.  The little girl was so sweet, and at first we just thought she was being adorable and repeating what she hears all of the time.  Then her mom told us that it was because we have light eyes and most Egyptians don’t have light eyes.  This little girl loves light eyes because she thinks that they are the most beautiful, and that is why she stares at us during church. A lot of the little girls stare at us at church, but we always assumed it was because we were the oddballs that never really know what is going on.  We never thought that they were staring at our light eyes because that is what they believed to be pretty.  It broke my heart to hear what the mother said.  We could clearly look at this little girl and see how beautiful she is, but that is not what society is telling her.  We can do better than that for young girls.  I think this is an example of women are sometimes our own worst enemy.  We want things to change and become more equal for women, so we need to make some changes from within.  I had no idea that little girls as young as four years old were picking up on societal expectations of beauty.  It really makes me think about how I talk to those little girls at church in the future.


  1. Women truly are our own worst enemies. This story is touching, and truly reiterates the fact that society is controlling how we see ourselves. So if we do not have a small waist and blonde hair, we see ourselves as outcasts and not beautiful.

    However, society is making small steps to try to improve our self image. Aerie is an off-set of the clothing brand American Eagle, and they sell underwear and bras, generally targeting teenagers and young women. They have recently started a campaign again photoshop retouching their models, and their success has been enormous. In their mission statement for this campaign, they state:

    “Dear Aerie Girls, We think it’s time for a change. We think it’s time to get real and think real. We want every girl to feel good about who they are and what they look like, inside and out. This means no retouching our girls and no more supermodels. Why? Because there is no reason to retouch beauty. We think the real you is sexy.”

    Seeing their ad campaign for this made me EXTREMELY happy! It’s about time a popular brand took a stance against society and what we THINK beauty is. Instead, they are embracing every body shape, size, and color and making every girl feel beautiful inside and out. Thank goodness someone is finally doing this. Hopefully it will finally get to a point in future generations where this is a normal thing, and that girls will be able to develop confidence in their true beauty.

  2. I am so glad someone brought this topic up. I think all women realize the problem of ‘image’, but I think it affects women more than we realize. The fact that society drills the importance of ‘image’ at such a young age really sets the stage for how girls expect to be judged.
    In class we discussed the difference of women’s qualities (communal, collective, and relational) in leadership versus men’s. Most women do not fit into society’s idea of the ‘perfect image’. This could be a reason many women lose confidence to get to the top.
    I know I am self-conscious when others have opinions of me and being in a top leadership position definitely opens up the chance for many people to judge how they look, their personality, skills and effectiveness. By placing such a heavy weight on how girls look, really prevents them from feeling confident with being more than just a pretty face. We should be highlighting academics, thoughts, and activities. Being pretty only goes so far, being smart opens doors with no limits.

  3. This post is really eye opening to me as well. Body image is something that affects everyone, especially women, however I have never really though about what age it all starts.

    The conversation we had in class about how we talk to girls and boys regarding the way they dress has also stuck with me. Society really does treat girls and boys differently on this topic. We discussed how most people will compliment girls on their dresses and boys on their toys, which I never really though about before. However, it is true! I can remember being complimented as a child on the dresses I wore. I loved it, but it made me feel like I had to wear dresses to be pretty. I think this is what propels how girls and women feel and perceive body image. I would also agree with Tori in that there have been some changes made in society regarding body image. I am eager to see what comes next in changing the way society views body image and the way beauty is currently defined.

  4. What ceases to amaze me about today’s society is what beauty is considered. We constantly preach that we are not our looks, yet in practice it is what we focus on. My grandmother is the same way. She accepts and loves all of her grandchildren, but if we bring someone home who is “too dark” in her eyes, she’ll find reasons why they aren’t handsome, or smart, etc. I was amazed at this, Granted, these classifications of beauty change little by little and generation by generation, but when will beauty actually be classified by what is on the inside? When will people be viewed than more as people than classifying and defining categories?

  5. I think it’s very important to focus on all facets of an individual, male or female, instead of just appearance. When our society focuses just on appearance, we’re spreading the wrong message and enforcing a gendered, socially constructed view of people and their place in society.

    However, simply changing what we say may not solve the issue. We need to take steps to educate children on the importance of individual understanding instead of stereotypes. It’s true that our sense of beauty is socially constructed and we have expectations of what we think individuals “should” look like. Our place in society should be determined by the qualities of our character, not our defined concept of beauty.

    When we begin to quantify and focus on beauty, we are taking the important aspects of people out of the picture. They become paintings rather than breathing, feeling individuals. And what more is a painting than something to admire the outer shell?

    I believe our, and other, societies will always have biases and expectations towards what we believe beauty is and should. With this in mind, it’s important to focus on our outward appearance as something that should represent US, our own personal style or look, not something that should be determined by groups of people.

    Even if it’s Wednesday, we don’t always have to wear pink.

  6. This made me think of the book The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. In the book, the main character is a little black girl who everyone considers ugly. The book takes place in the 1930-40s I believe so there is still inequality between races. All the little girl wants are blue eyes, because she thinks that if she has blue eyes then the rest of society will think she is pretty like they do with all the little white girls.
    Society puts a lot of pressure on both genders on how they are supposed to look and act. If we can start breaking the “rules” on how each gender is supposed to be then we can take steps towards being ourselves and seeing everyone else for who they really are.

  7. Absolutely love this post. It is so disheartening to see how women are taught what mold of beauty they have to fit into, and feel the crushing burden of not being able to fit that mold. I have always heard people make fun of American women for wanting to be tan so often when in other countries it is seen as one looking “poor” because they are so tan from working outside, while the rich people are paler. And to Tori I love that new aerie campaign! I really wish more companies would start moving in that direction. I all to often hear about women and younger girls that starve themselves, or harm themselves because of their anger for not fitting into a certain mold. I would like to see our media especially help us to move out of that mold and help girls realize that there is not an exact definition of beauty, and that they do not need to look like the airbrushed women in magazines.

  8. I was just thinking about this subject what beautiful looks like this weekend. I am amazed at how we are all so critical of ourselves and sometimes of each other when at the heart of us all is the desire to feel beautiful. I’m not talking about the beautiful in the sense of looking attractive, but rather feeling valued by hearts and minds as well as our unique bodies. I hope that we can find a way to A. make beautiful less about our outward appearance and B. appreciate the differences in our appearances and classify them all as beautiful. I fall victim to the same routine, of telling myself I am not beautiful, or that I need to fit into a certain dress size, wear makeup and achieve some ideal to be beautiful. I’d love for college girls to go a week without wearing makeup and remind each other that we’re all beautiful for our appearance and that our aspirations, fears, and dreams are beautiful as well.

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