• Now for something different…

    Kindle and paperback available on Amazon.
    Questions arise when a big city family moves to a remote mountain town in the Eastern Sierra: Why is there a bear in the grocery store? What happened to the missing school teacher? Where do you buy soccer socks around here? Skillfully blending anecdote, history, and description, The Mammoth Letters is an amusing and sensitive portrayal of an eclectic town and its colorful inhabitants and will inspire anyone who has wondered about making the leap from one world to another. In a book of wide emotional range, readers will discover mystery, beauty, and tragedy in how a majestic but unforgiving alpine wilderness affects those living at its edge.

  • NEWEST PROGRAM AND HANDBOOK


    Improve your speech for non-native English speakers. Click here to learn more.

  • SECOND BOOK:

    Kindle and paperback available on Amazon.  

    Learn to see yourself as others do and become magnetic, magnanimous, and memorable! Savvy advice, specific examples, and tactical exercises to develop your presence—in months, not years.

  • FIRST BOOK:

    Winner in the Business-Motivational category for 2012

    Book Cover Art

    AN AMAZON BESTSELLER

    "Great graduation present!"

    Inspired to extend a helping hand to ambitious women working in corporate America, a veteran executive offers honest, practical, slightly irreverent advice about navigating companies that are run and populated predominately by men: how to interpret their sometimes surprising behavior, avoid common mistakes, flourish with the good guys, deal with the bad guys, and nurture a wonderful, satisfying career in a non-traditional role.

  • Audiobook

    Audiobook Icon Audiobook now available at audible.com! Click here
  • Links to Booksellers:

    Paperback, Kindle and Audio versions available here on Amazon.

    Paperback and ePub version available here at Powells.

    Audio version available here at audible.com.

    Paperback and Nook versions available here at Barnes & Noble.

    Paperback version available here at Alibris.

    Paperback and ePub versions available here at BookDepository.com (free shipping worldwide).

    ePub version available here on diesel-ebooks.

    ePub version available here on eBookMall.

  • TABLE OF CONTENTS

    The Spirit of the Discreet Guide
    FIRST PRINCIPLES
    The Facts of Life
    In and Out of the Men’s Room
    Tuning In and Dropping Out
    Hold It Right There, Lady
    Skeptical Spectacles and a Critical-Thinking Cap
    YOUR SISTAS AND YOU
    Whose Girl Are You?
    Taking Care
    You’re Different, and That’s Only Mostly Bad
    Impressions and the Real Thing
    Sistas
    EARLY MANEUVERS
    School Days
    Your First Company
    The Cubette
    NAVIGATION TIPS
    Guiding Lights
    The Big C’s: Competition, Challenge, and Conflict
    DANGER—FALLING COCONUTS
    Sit Down and Shut Up
    How Do You Get Anything Done?
    He Doesn’t Think You’re Very Smart
    But Don’t Be Dumb
    TOUCHY SUBJECTS
    After Hours
    One-on-One: Danger Zones
    Sex At Work
    GUYS, GUYS, GUYS
    The Big Guy
    The Good Guys
    International Guys
    The Messed-Up Ones
    Bad Guys
    Super Bad Guys
    YOU’RE A BIG GIRL NOW
    Managing—Between a Rock and a Hard Place
    Work—Why You’re Paid
    THE EXECUTIVE WOMAN’S DILEMMA
    What? I Can’t Hear You
    Courage
    Common Sense
    A Powerful Combination
    THE PRIDE OF THE LIONESS
    Power and Risk
    Leadership
    THE DIAMOND

Beyond “You Look Nice”

“I like your pants,” the waitress said to a co-worker’s little daughter, who was winding her way around and around some bar stools. The girl was wearing polka-dotted pants with frills around the cuffs, a quintessentially girly girl outfit. “Thank you,” she said sweetly. Neither of them realized that the latest rule in promoting gender equality had just been broken.

I myself might not have noticed if a very smart colleague had not enlightened me six months earlier. She had become aware that every time she saw her two young nieces, she invariably said something positive about their appearance, complimenting them on their clothes, their shoes, or a new haircut. “I decided it was sending the wrong message,” she explained to me. Now she deliberately refrains from talking about those things and focuses instead on questions about their activities or school projects. Once she pointed it out to me, examples of the knee-jerk “you look nice” reaction to little girls abounded.

“Those sunglasses look good on you,” a Little League mother says to a friend’s daughter in the stands while we were were watching the boys play baseball. “That haircut is so cute on her,” a woman says about another little girl to her mother during the boys’ soccer game. “I love that dress,” a grandmother says to her granddaughter. As a mother of boys, I had not experienced this phenomenon first hand, but once my ears were opened, I heard it everywhere.

I have a friend whose daughter likes to wears boys’ clothes. When she is introduced to strangers, their discomfort is visible as they contemplate the tough-looking three-year-old in a Star Wars T-shirt and soccer shorts. They sometimes manage to cough out a “Guess you’re a Yoda fan, huh,” but usually they are struck speechless, and she never gets the you-look-nice-type compliment.

At the other extreme, when I attended my first dance recital, I was floored by the outpouring of effusive praise for the little girls in pastel-colored leotards, puffy tutus, encased in makeup and lipstick, with their hair in sparkly buns. Many of these girls were wearing fake eyelashes—on seven-year-olds! It must have taken them hours to get ready. And you should have heard the mothers: “Taylor, you look bee-uuu-tee-ful,” one crows. Another gasps and puts her hand over her heart, “Oooo, that outfit is perfect on you.” “Mackenzie, you look so sweet—I’ve got to get a picture,” another enthuses. Even the fathers were piling on, telling the girls they looked “great” or “awesome.” No one said a single thing about stretching, eating, or hydrating before the girls danced.

The other noticeable feature of the dancing girls was that every one was wearing a bun on top of her head, proof that she had hair long enough to form a bun. Not a single girl had short hair. Another friend subsequently pointed out that every girl on the high school soccer team had long hair despite its obvious disadvantages for an athlete. Fashion seems to have outlawed any short-hair options for girls when once an array of hairstyles were allowable. Conventions about girls’ appearance seem to be narrowing, rather than broadening.

This focus on the female appearance appears prevalent, and perhaps worsening, as technology and wealth combine to “fix” any perceived flaw from hair, eyebrows, and teeth to toenails, bunions, and cankles. At my son’s high school, it was rumored that a common graduation present for the girls from their parents was a breast augmentation procedure—the implied message of which I find stunning. Features that could be considered unique or idiosyncratic are viewed with dismay and shame. Despite open acknowledgement of the heavy-handed use of airbrushing in advertisements and star-filled glossies, the pressure to conform to idealized notions of beauty is as high or higher than it’s ever been. The damage that this focus on female beauty wreaks is now well-documented, from girls’ negative self-image to bulimia and depression. While we are quick to blame those unrealistic expectations on the media and powerful public relations machinery (at least I am), perhaps we need to recognize our own complicity in emphasizing appearance when it is the first thing we say to a girl.

In the book Why So Slow, researcher Virginia Valian lays out study after study showing how parents, other adults, and other children treat girl babies differently than boy babies starting from the moment of birth. She didn’t discuss any study in which comments about the babies’ appearance were evaluated, but I speculate that coos about “a beautiful baby boy” morph pretty quickly into admiring expressions about his energy level and physical prowess rather than his aesthetic appearance. Beautiful baby girls however grow into beautiful little girls and then beautiful young women—that’s what we tell them when we emphasize daily and with each encounter the importance of the girls’ appearance from birth until age 18. It comes as no surprise that they internalize this message and conclude that their looks are the most important part of their being. If you’ve ever eavesdropped on girls talking about their hair, face shape, eye color, eyebrows, eye shadow, eye lids, eye lashes, clothes, purses, scarves, shoes, nails, nail polish, feet, toes, toe rings, and all things fashion, you know they can do this for hours. If we imagine just for a moment a group of boys having this kind of conversation, we see what a waste of time it is for girls.

Can we find our way back now that girls have been indoctrinated all their lives that what they look like is of utmost importance? Some parents address the topic head on and tell their daughters that looks aren’t their most significant attribute. My parents attempted this strategy, and it was somewhat effective. At least, I knew intellectually that my worth went beyond my appearance although I probably suffered less than the average girl from the you-look-nice badgering because I didn’t look particularly nice, falling more in the camp of my friend’s daughter who likes to wear boys’ clothes.

Another strategy could be to follow the example of my friend and make it a rule that we don’t talk about girls’ appearance, that we consciously refrain from the you-look-nice comments. You may be surprised to discover that you are at a loss for words, so accustomed are we to turning to compliments about clothes or hair or accessories when talking to girls. It will take practice to come up with other ways of starting a conversation, but perhaps that effort will teach us to be more observant and personal, more focused on the individual girl herself, instead of falling back on the knee-jerk “You look nice.”

Telling girls that their appearance is not the most important thing about them, and then proving it by talking about something else, is a two-pronged strategy that could counteract the constant “you look nice” message. It’s worth a try.

Copyright © 2015 Jennifer K. Crittenden

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Laura

     /  May 24, 2015

    Guilty as charged. Though I confess I probably tell boys they look handsome too often as well. I think I do this as a way to engage, to open a conversation. But you are right about the damaging cumulative effect. With every passing month, I am discovering the power of the question as a replacement for the easy statement. I love your suggestion to turn to questions when you want to say something positive and engaging. “What have you been doing today?” “Can you recommend a book I should read?” “What’s your favorite thing about your family?” All of these questions will open the conversation and lead to a much richer discussion. Thanks, Jennifer!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

(optional)

(optional)

  • Sign up for The Pergola, a free bi-monthly digital magazine

  • Archived Issues

    Click here for the "Sexual Misconduct" Issue - Nov 2017.

    Click here for the "Empathy" Issue - Sep 2017.

    Click here for the "Uncommon Courtesy" Issue - July 2017.

    Click here for the "Humor" Issue - May 2017.

    Click here for the "Stage Fright" Issue - Mar 2017.

    Click here for the "Women's March" Issue - Jan 2017.

    Click here for the "Executive Presence" Issue - Nov 2016.

    Click here for the "New Opportunity, i.e., Looking for Work" Issue - Sep 2016.

    Click here for the "Business Travel" Issue - July 2016.

    Click here for the "Bully" Issue - May 2016.

    Click here for the "Men, Women, and Money" Issue - March 2016.

    Click here for the "Boss" Issue - January 2016.

    Click here for the November 2015 Apology Edition.

    Click here for the September 2015 Single Mother Edition.

    Click here for the July 2015 Negotiation Edition.

    Click here for the May 2015 Birthday Edition.

    Click here for the Mar 2015 First Edition.

  • Invest in Yourself! Executive Presence

    Customized one-on-one consulting program to enhance your presence, both professionally and personally. Available from anywhere. Starts anytime. Ten 90-minute individualized sessions. Private and confidential. More info
  • Straight Talk Logo
  • Trailer for Exceptional Presence Program

  • Experts About the Presence of Others

  • JENNIFER K. CRITTENDEN
  • Latest Tweets

    DiscreetGuide
  • About the Author

    Raised on a farm in southern Indiana by an idealistic professor and a feminist homemaker, and after language and film studies in Europe, Jennifer was an unlikely candidate to graduate from a leading business school and enter corporate America. To her surprise, she excelled in her new world and spent the next twenty years building a scintillating career, rising from Financial Analyst to Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Secretary, working for big pharma and biotech companies in the US, Europe, and the UK.

    Read her LinkedIn profile.

  • Meta