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Realizations

Every once in a while I will experience something that causes a shift in my perception of the world around me. These thoughts or sentiments or realizations tend to stick around for a very long time. Some of these things are cruel and have seared into my memory, some have been freeing, and some are realizations about myself or my behavior. All of these experiences have felt huge, accompanied by some sort of inspiration, awe or groking.

Here are a few examples:

Cruelty: As someone who has struggled with body image for my entire life, I will never forget that horrible phrase “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, fuckyouverymuchKateMoss. When I heard this bullshit statement I truly understood that there are people in the world who will never ever EVER understand what it’s like to be overweight in this society, and that they would never accept or respect people who are overweight – that they would never accept or respect me.

Freeing: When I was young I wanted to rollerblade down a huge steep hill in our neighborhood. I stood at the top, paralyzed with fear. I knew that if I tripped, it would hurt a lot, or I could bust my skull open, or I might fall into traffic (it was a neighborhood street without much traffic, but still!). As I was staring down that hill I suddenly had this feeling that it was going to be okay. I unclenched my muscles and took deep breathes and was amazed to feel a calm come over me. I pushed off and sailed triumphantly down three blocks of pavement, gently coasting to a stop at the bottom of the hill. In that moment I realized that – in some situations – it is possible to control my fear, that it is an emotion that can sometimes be tempered by consciously trying to relax my body, and that I perform so much better when I’m not gripped by fear.

Self-Awareness: When I first learned about microaggressions, and especially when I learned that I was subconsciously perpetrating some of the behaviors that can be characterized as microagression, I was floored. I began to try to recognize these behaviors – in myself and others – and was floored again when I realized how ingrained they are in so many aspects of my life.

So yeah…life-changing moments.

Here’s the newest one:

I recently read an article that came my way via a Facebook group. The group is closed, so I won’t elaborate – but I am grateful to the person who posted it. Thank you. The article is called How to Talk to Little Girls, and it’s from a group blog called LatinaFatale. The blog doesn’t have much in the way of new content, sadly (sadly because it is written by “progressive Latina feminists (and their allies)”, which is definitely a blog I’d love to read). How to Talk to Little Girls was written back in 2011. But discovering new old content is part of the beauty of the internet, right?

Here are a few excerpts:

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!”

But I didn’t. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.

[...]

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23.

[...]

What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

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.

[...]

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.

[...]

So, 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.

The entire article made me realize that this cute overload response is EXACTLY the way that I usually say hello to young girls. There’s absolutely no good reason for this in the course of normal introductions. Every situation is unique, of course, and I don’t advocate never telling someone that they look pretty in their dress. But maybe I’ll start waiting to bring that up until after we have a chance to talk about more important issues, like books and drawings and other “intelligent conversation that respects her brain”, as LatinaFatale puts it.

Comments

  1. coragyps says

    Wow! Point taken.

    The Grandpa in me wants to react to the cute, but LatinaFatale is 100% on target here.

    Though it is true that Latina two-year-old girls with their hair in straight-vertical ponytails are usually cuter than speckled puppies……

  2. CaitieCat says

    Yeah, this is an application of something I figured out when I had a partner with serious body image issues, and who had also always been told she was stupid and clumsy. My habit, in talking to my partners, is to use endearments that compliment: “Hi, beautiful!” or “Goodnight, pretty girl,” or “Heya, handsome!”

    And I just slowly realized that I was doing this same thing, often focusing on the appearance, and much more so with women (I will date people of any gender). So I started to change my endearment pattern, introducing things like “smart girl” or “brightness” or “hey there, madskillz!” or “graceful”. I was at first surprised how much they stuck out in the conversation flow, new rockfalls in a river, all sharp edges and obvious, but it didn’t take long before it just felt natural. I try to use them with children too, where appropriate; the book thing is a good one with kids who love reading.

    Also, I should emphasize, this is consensual-only – if anyone tells me they’d rather I didn’t, then I don’t, and it’s happened with a few people.

    This is an excellent post, thanks!

  3. Onamission5 says

    I’ve got three children who code as sons and one who reads as daughter. Sons are as different from each other as stars are from planets, but still the first thing people will talk to them about is what each of them is *doing* not how they look– exception for my one son who currently has long blonde hair, but the second people get over that (and realize he identifies as a boy), it’s back to his actions, not his appearance. Daughter is kick-ass, outspoken, athletic, always challenging herself to try new things, top of her class in math, kind to puppies, an avid reader, curious and opinionated, passionate about social justice… and pretty. Guess which one people comment on first? It’s rare but sometimes people will comment on the kids as a whole, “You’ve got a gorgeous family,” but even then they are not looking at the boys. They are staring right at Daughter. Daughter is going into the seventh grade, she is right at the peak time in her life when what people say to her and how they treat her will delineate the path she takes, and it bothers both of us to no end that people don’t look at her and ask her about her interests. They don’t look at her and wonder if she has engineering and design skills (she does) or if she likes music (and how) or if she is a poet (came in fourth in her school competition), they fixate on her appearance. And you know what, she IS pretty, but that’s not the only thing about her. As far as interesting characteristics go, it’s the least important thing, it’s what she isn’t remotely interested in discussing. She’d much rather talk to you about the song she just wrote or the new friend she made or one of the plethora of independent study projects she’s working on in school or what she thinks about shit, and I am watching that quality of hers slowly get worn away, watching her start to fixate on her hair or clothes, and it worries me. Not because I want to mess with her sense of style, but because I am worried that the constant barrage of comments about her appearance are starting to mess with her sense of self.

  4. Yellow Thursday says

    My friends have twins – a boy and a girl. I met them when the were 3 years old; now they’re 8. I noticed from the beginning how differently people treat the two of them. I also notice certain attention-getting techniques used by the boy, since his sister tends to get all the attention. I try not to comment on people’s appearance in general, but even more so with the twins.

  5. says

    I know I’ve stumbled across that blog post before, because it’s definitely influenced the way I interact with my nieces and my friends’ daughters. I certainly never tell them how pretty or good-looking they *are* (even though they’re all friggin’ adorable as shit). I do, however, compliment their stylistic choices sometimes, and now I’m wondering if that might be problematic. Like if it’d reinforce the idea that they must spend time putting together a “proper” look in order to impress people. I dunno. I think I tend to compliment the quirkier, bolder choices they make more than the “sugar and spice and everything nice” elements. Something I will try to keep aware of, though!

  6. Pen says

    I feel lucky that my daughter revels in her nickname of Dragon and has self-esteem you could bounce rocks off, but she did the weirdest thing to me when she was four. She somehow decided that I probably admired (loved?) the little blond haired blue eyed girl at her school better than her*. I have no idea where she got this idea. Definitely not from me and it did seem to go away after we had a chat. Could it be the way someone else talked to her? Or the telly? Or the ‘children prefer white dolls’ effect, wherever that comes from?

    * My daughter is kind of brown all over while still being white, if you know what I mean.

  7. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    Hey, yeah! Oddly enough, it’s something I don’t do, but I hadn’t particularly thought of that kind of talking to children in relation to girls and their Gender Expectations Programming. My inability to provide standard, non-creative, content-free yammering, even with children, can be a severe social limitation with me. One more thing I’m glad I don’t do, for reasons I hadn’t considered.

    there are people in the world who will never ever EVER understand what it’s like to be overweight in this society

    They don’t even know why they consider certain body mass ranges to be “overweight”. It’s something that would even occur to them to think about.

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