Should I Tell My Niece She Is Adorable?

IMG_1773I adore my niece, Anna.

She’s a little over 2 years old now, so she’s learning to talk. I’ve always talked to her, as uncles do, but now we’re close to having a conversation of sorts. She understands so much.

I recently read an article about the way we speak to young women, and it really made me think about the way I speak with Anna. It’s by Lisa Bloom, and she focuses on how we should try to avoid talking to little girls about how they look (no matter how hard it is not to point out all the cute things about them).

The article is particularly interesting to me because of a different viewpoint I had previously been exposed to. I didn’t agree with this viewpoint, but I respect the person who said it. His idea is that women spend ages 8 to 80 being told by numerous sources–the media, friends, family, etc–that they are NOT beautiful. So to counteract that, he thinks those early years when everyone tells little girls they’re beautiful and adorable are really important.

I see that point, but I like Lisa Bloom’s stance more. As she says, “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.” Instead of focusing on beautiful vs. not beautiful, she believes in the importance of not talking about looks at all.

In the article, she talks about some interactions she had with a friend’s 5-year-old daughter. They sat down to read a book (the girl chose the book, and it was all about outfits and clothes–even kids books are focused on appearances).

After reading the book, they talked about a lot of things. But, as Bloom says, “Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I’m stubborn.” I really love that.

I think Anna is adorable, but fortunately it’s not my instinct to tell her that. My instinct is to talk to her about the world and her world. That’s the Bloom method, and I like it.

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Should I Tell My Niece She Is Adorable?”

  1. A very powerful thought Jamey, thanks for sharing. I have a 4 year old niece and I’m always mindful to never limit her options based on her gender (i.e. talking about what she wants to be when growing up, a firefighter, doctor, scientists, whatever), but never really thought about discussing her image. Normally we talk about school and science (former science teacher, what do you expect!). I’m fairly sure her image not the first thing we talk about when I see her, but I’ll certainly be more mindful of this in future.

    • Gino: Thanks for your comment. I like the idea you mention about not reinforcing gender stereotypes from a young age. That’s great!

  2. As a father of two girls, now teenagers, I agree and we have done the same. However, no matter what you do, your niece will probably be bombarded with all sorts of societal cues and intimations (through relatives and media) so the best thing you can do is NOT do the same. Hopefully she will be a game-player and you can compliment her on more important and lasting things, like what wise choices she can make, what a great learner she is, etc. And every kid wants to tell relatives about their world, so she is lucky to have an uncle who will indulge that desire.

    • Thanks for sharing a father’s perspective. That’s a great point that no matter what you do, young women are going to hear society’s point of view at some point. My sister and her husband are doing a great job of raising my niece, though I wish I could spend more time with her to have these types of conversations.

  3. A female and mom perspective here: while I totally respect your & Bloom’s stance, my own feeling personally is that the real problem is not that we ever compliment little girls on their appearance (or how sweet or nice they are — conditioning them to accept roles of being a beautiful and/or helpful thing to serve others), but rather that we compliment them for those things FIRST, and SO OFTEN, and to the EXCLUSION of other types of compliments.

    I tell my daughters that they are sweet and pretty and beautiful (and my son that he is charming and kind and handsome), but I compliment them even more on how smart, funny, creative, tough, and talented they are. 🙂

    • Melissa: Thanks for sharing. A fellow mom on Twitter said something similar to that, the idea being that saying a girl is adorable or beautiful is fine, but it should be balanced (if not heavily counterbalanced and preceded) with comments and questions about all sorts of other topics. I like that idea.


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