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Changing the Way We Compliment Our Girls

Posted Cheryl Unterschutz on 10/12/2016 |


Driving to work the other morning I saw a woman standing on the side of the road at the bus stop. She was wearing a beautiful, colorful dress and head scarf. She had a muscular body. My first thought when I saw her was, "She seems like a powerful and strong woman!" Defining what I saw in those terms caught my attention! Normally, when we see women and girls we evaluate them based on their outward appearance. We use terms such as beautiful, pretty, ugly, thin, fat, etc. I have been as guilty as anyone at doing this. Realizing that my response to the woman waiting for the bus was based on something more than just how she looked, I made a pledge to myself to be more mindful about how I interpret and perceive women and girls when I first meet or see them and how I compliment them.

Girls in our culture grow up hearing more about their appearance than just about anything else. How many times have you caught yourself saying, "Aren't you pretty" or "Don't you look nice today"? I do it too. Artist and writer Elizabeth Patch has some great ways to avoid falling into this common trap when complimenting women and girls. In her blog post, 10 Ways to Compliment a Woman Without Mentioning Her Looks, she suggest complimenting women (and girls too) on things like their ability to do something well and asking them how they did what they did. She also suggests letting a woman or girl know how they make you feel.

Journalist Sarah Powers also suggests more thoughtful ways to compliment girls in her article "The best way to compliment little girls" published in the September 15, 2015 edition of the Washington Post. For example, instead of telling a girl you haven't seen in a while that she's "getting so big," say, something like, “You’re tall enough to ride the roller coaster now — how fun!”

At Girls on the Run, we strive to help girls understand that they are more than how they look or what they wear. Helping to develop a positive and clear sense of self is one of our primary goals. To support this, we train our coaches to use specific feedback when complimenting the girls with whom they work. Instead of saying, "You did a good job today" we encourage them to specify what the girl did that was beneficial - "You really helped me today by picking up the extra markers! Thank you!" Simple changes in the way we offer well-meaning compliments can go a long way to helping girls better understand what is truly valued in them as individuals.

While telling your best friends their haircut or outfit is cute isn't a bad thing, it shouldn't be the only thing you compliment them on. It's important to remind women and young girls that their thoughts, actions and words matter too and that their uniqueness as an individual makes them valuable. It's important to tell women and girls why you appreciate what they have to say or what they are able to do. These are the things that help to shape a person.

It's good thing we have a special lesson about "Real Beauty" at tomorrow's Girls on the Run practice because it will help to remind me that beauty can be defined in many more ways than how one looks or dresses. I can definitely use that reminder because like any woman raised in the United States, I can't help myself from complimenting a co-worker's beautiful outfit or cute shoes, but I can remember that in addition to those compliments I need to specify what it is about them as individuals and people that makes them amazing as well! I hope our lesson tomorrow inspires all of the girls to do the same!


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