More Than a Pretty Face: Book Study Expert Commentary for Chapter 6 (Week 4)

Published on: September 21, 2015

Filled Under: Beyond The Pages, Books, Guest Speakers, Resources

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What If Book Study Marketing PicToday we are discussing Chapter 6: Teaching Girls They’re More Than a Pretty Face. Diane Levin is our guest content expert this week to provide insight and lead our discussion. Visit Diane’s website to learn more about her work. Find her on Twitter @DianeELevinJust joining us? Get all the book study details HERE.


dianelevinA Child Development Perspective on How & Why Media & Marketers Promote “Pretty Faces” to Young Girls and What We Can Do about It by Diane Levin

Thank you, Rae Pica.  The child development issues you raise in Chapter 6, “Teaching Young Girls that They Are More Than a Pretty Face,” are vitally important for parents, teachers, and the wider society to address if we want to promote the optimal well-being of girls in these times.  Several factors you address stand out for me and connect directly to why I felt I needed to write my book, So Sexy So Soon. (Levin, D. & Kilbourne, J., So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009).

The degree to which young girls growing up today focus so much on appearance and think that popularity comes from looking “right”, has not always been quite as extreme as it is today.  And the increasing focus of young girls on these issues is not happening totally by chance.  It is deeply connected to both how children think in the early years and how they develop ideas about gender.  But, it is also highly related to what they learn about how to define their gender from what they see males and females doing in their environment.

Young children tend to think in dichotomies—for example, things are good or bad, right or wrong, for me or not for me.  At around 18 months or 2 years, they begin to learn about gender and what they learn fits very well into this dichotomous thinking—for instance, “I am a girl and not a boy.”  They then set out using this dichotomous thinking to try to define what it means to be their gender and not the other gender.  And because young children are concrete thinkers, they look for concrete images they can see in the world around them to help them define their gender category—pink for girls, dresses for girls (even make-up which is being used at younger ages than in the past), and of course, princesses!

Because of how they think, it is hard for girls and boys not to develop some stereotypes about their gender.  They always saw differences in what men and women did and put these differences into the dichotomies they needed in order to define their own gender.  But, whatever behavior they learned from their environment for their gender in the past, today’s lessons in the all-pervasive media and commercial culture provide a whole new level of highly visible, gender-stereotyped content (and products) for young children.  From very young ages, children are seeing extreme gender divisions, which focus on girls “being pretty,” and needing to look right and having/buying the right things.  And, as the Princess theme has become a dominant force in media and popular culture for girls, so has it become a role model for young girls’ appearance and play.

Creators of media for children know just how to exploit the cognitive and gender development vulnerabilities discussed earlier to capture children’s attention and to sell them products which they come to think they need in order to be happy (and popular).  And manufacturers make big profits from engaging in these practices (See: Linn, S. Consuming Kids: Protecting Out Children from the Onslaught of Marketing & Advertising. New York: Anchor Books, 2005).

Of course, because of how young children think and develop, with an early focus on appearance, there probably has always been some gender-stereotyped behavior that focused on appearance, as young girls tried to figure out what it meant to be a girl, and not a boy.  But in girls’ world of today, where appearance has become such a dominant force in media and popular culture, the emphasis on appearance has been greatly increased to the point of being the dominant force for many girls.

Thus, it is more important now than ever that we recognize the importance of finding time and developing strategies and resources to counteract the potential harm being caused and promote positive gender development and the full potential of girls.  That is why I am so grateful that Rae Pica has addressed this issue in her book as a vital aspect of child development.  We should all know about and address this issue in our work with children.

[A brief note about boys in these times:  The developmental and societal issues raised here related to gender are also relevant for them.  They too are victims of increasingly narrow and extreme stereotyped images about their gender.  For instance, for boys, being tough, macho and ready to fight is what is often modeled as important for them, and viewed as what is necessary to be popular! These images potentially undermine caring behavior and relationships, and can undermine positive interactions and friendships with both other boys and girls.  Could the increasing levels of bullying behavior being reported in schools by the “tough guys” of the boys “wimpy guys” have anything to do with the increasingly macho stereotypes being modeled for boys at a young age?]

Here are some additional suggestions for what you can do to counteract the harm to the development of girls caused by the forces in society that I outlined above:

  • Protect girls as much as possible from exposure to media and media-linked products that show extreme gender divisions and narrow roles for girls that focus on appearance—even though some of it will get in no matter what adults try to do.
  • Talk to children about what they do see on screens.  Don’t try to tell them the right way to think about it.  Have give-and-take conversations.  Ask them what they think. Try to complicate their thinking by asking questions like:  How are the girls on the screen like you?  How are they different?  Make the conversations comfortable so children feel safe talking with you about what they really think.
  • Help children develop a broad range of interests, skills, friends, and behavior beyond a focus on appearance.
  • Work with families to help them better understand the gender issues in these times, and reduce the exposure to and impact of gender stereotyping in their children’s lives.  And help families talk with each other so that when their children get together to play, there are shared understandings about the issues.
  • Work in small and big ways in the community and wider society to reduce the gender-stereotyped images that girls are seeing in the community, media, and commercial culture.


  • Have you seen behavior like what Rae and I describe?
    • Please describe some of the more dramatic examples.
    • Do you have concerns about this behavior? If so, what worries you the most?
  • What aspects of popular culture [TV shows, movies, video games, toys] seem to enter most into the gender specific play and behavior you see?
  • Have you tried any of the strategies recommended by Rae Pica or me for dealing with the gender divisions among girls and boys and particular stereotyped behavior of the girls or boys?
    • How did they work?
  • Do you have other strategies to suggest to readers?
  • Do you have questions about what Rae or I wrote about this issue that you would like us or other readers to answer? If so, please ask!


Please share/retweet this post! Let us know that you’re participating in this study. We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts regarding Chapter 6 and about the Thought Questions Diane has provided. Your voice matters – participate in the dialogue and share your ideas here! (Comment below) If you’ve chosen to blog about what you’ve read on your own site, link back and share your post with us here. Perhaps you have a burning question about something that you read in one of these chapters… we have a feature for that – Ask The Author! That’s right, Rae Pica will be available throughout this live study to answer your questions. #AskAuthor

What to read next: Chapter 13- Play Is Not a Four Letter Word (9/28/15).

*If you’re a MN participant seeking training hours, please visit this link to access to requirements.

76 Responses to More Than a Pretty Face: Book Study Expert Commentary for Chapter 6 (Week 4)

  1. Bobbie S says:

    My daughter is 9 and she is exploring with makeup but its not an everyday thing. I am judged because I let my daughter cut her hair like pink. Here is the thing pink is pretty yes but she is herself and my daughter watched an interview and has become this huge pink fan. Yes I let her die her hair with lice its better to let her do her hair and die it, the stink drives away the bugs. Also my daughter grew in confindence with the hair cut and style. No we did not do makeup right now I say we save it for special days. It helps that I don’t wear it. Now last year she has really liked doing her nails thats always been a kid thing in my eyes to paint nails every color she has and do smiley faces. My daughter is a pretty sweet kid ( swear I am not being biased here she is that sweet shy child for now)
    Now I have had a talk with one of my moms her 3 yr old came to daycare one day with makeup on and perfume which gave me a headache. She stopped bringing her but she posts pictures on social media of child dressed up and acting all diva, she wonders why her daughter behaves poorly and acts like a diva at home. She does it here but I am working through it best I can.
    I don’t have advice cause I clearly don’t have an issue with my own child but I can’t stop the mom with the 3 yr old.

  2. Sue says:

    Todays girls are growing up too fast. The clothing for sale is more approperate for much older women. But my granddaughter wants to wear what the other girls are wearing. I am very guilty for telling girls that they look beautiful ! I will think before saying that again.

  3. Terri Vh says:

    Having Girls think of themselves of being more than just beautiful will be a steep hill to climb.. This has been going on forever. From birth little girls are told how cute they are,. they get dressed up in pretty little dresses and told to keep them clean. society doesn’t like to see girls or women dressed down or dirty. in daycare setting i see it all the when it comes to building things for craft they usually are not interested.
    I have 1 girl who always seems to act like she cannot do anything or that she is dumb. i am always telling her that she can do it. i will purposely ask her to do things that take some logical thinking to show her she can do it. We try to incorporate building with different materials. We use alot of popsicle sticks, straws, marshmallows. i bought the game system Osmo, which is a science, thinking game system. It will take time and lots of work to make beauty the 2nd thought.
    As a daycare provider and even a Grandparent of a girl i would love to see trainings on Helping girls become more confident from the start. If we start young, we can start the next generations onto this thought. It also goes for Males, working in the house, doing baking, cleaning and time with kids.

  4. Jessica Kabogoza says:

    This topic hits very close to home for me. My daughter is 5 years old and, while I am obviously biased, she is very beautiful. My husband is from Uganda and I am Caucasian. Our daughter has a ton of curly black hair and was born with a bright blond streak of hair right in the front of her forehead. Needless to say, EVERYONE comments on her looks. I am highly aware of the constant (positive) comments, and I also have had many conversations with her about how people look and how everyone is uniquely created. I also try to be very diligent to do a lot of activities that have nothing to do with the way anyone looks. We play outside and get dirty A LOT, we go to the library and check out a large amount of books a few times a month, we exercise together and talk about what it means to be healthy (not skinny). We pray for others. I know I won’t be able to protect her from everything, but I am doggedly determined to raise a well rounded, level headed, kind, thoughtful, gentle, self respecting, and loving daughter. That makes a beautiful child.

  5. Anna Patnode says:

    Week 4 – 7/20/18
    Reading – chapter 6
    Being a mother to three little girls chapter 6 was very thought provoking. My girls are all very confident like their father and don’t have a natural tendencies toward self confidence issues or anxiety as I do myself. For this I am very thankful but we have been struggling in the boundary between caring what others think and treating our bodies with respect.
    As each child enters my classroom I try and connect with them and similar to the behavior Rae describes it’s so easy to comment on clothing, I find it easy for both the girls and boys but I can see Rae’s point in that girls it’s more a focus on “pretty” and boys more “cool”. I believe this is common for many and my girls are normally complimented with a “you look pretty” and boys a “cool shirt.” I guess I’ve never really had major concerns as none of my children have been overly concerned with themselves and therefore the negative issues Rae points out haven’t manifested but I can definitely see the concern issues discussed.
    I think toys are a very clear place where we see some of the gender stereotypes come to life. Having both boys and girls in my home we have a very equal playing field and everyone plays with everything so my children, are well rounded in their play. Clothing is another huge place where gender is divided – obviously. Thankfully culture is somewhat shifting in this divide but little girls clothing far to often mirrors current trends for adult women, therefore over sexualized and inappropriate.
    As I mentioned above as young people enter my classroom each morning I try and establish a quick, immediate connection, normally this refers to their new shoes, shirt, etc. Then following this initial connection I try and ask them more pointed, real questions; to establish a deeper connection based on themselves not their gender.

  6. Terri VanHoudt says:

    Having Girls think of themselves of being more than just beautiful will be a steep hill to climb.. This has been going on forever. From birth little girls are told how cute they are,. they get dressed up in pretty little dresses and told to keep them clean. society doesn’t like to see girls or women dressed down or dirty. in daycare setting i see it all the when it comes to building things for craft they usually are not interested.
    I have 1 girl who always seems to act like she cannot do anything or that she is dumb. i am always telling her that she can do it. i will purposely ask her to do things that take some logical thinking to show her she can do it. We try to incorporate building with different materials. We use alot of popsicle sticks, straws, marshmallows. i bought the game system Osmo, which is a science, thinking game system. It will take time and lots of work to make beauty the 2nd thought.
    As a daycare provider and even a Grandparent of a girl i would love to see trainings on Helping girls become more confident from the start. If we start young, we can start the next generations onto this thought. It also goes for Males, working in the house, doing baking, cleaning and time with kids.

  7. Nallely says:

    There are many stereotypes regarding the gender of children, from the moment we are born, we are labeled by the colors, that is, as the author mentions it, for the girls the pink color and for the children the blue color, that if the girl is from small we let ourselves be influenced by what society shows, dressed for girls and pants for children, in fact at the time of my mother all the ladies used skirts, because if they got to wear pants all the people talked about them, and now that times are changing, both men and women can use them. The society has a lot of influence on the aspects of the girls because for trying to imitate certain characters or simply for being popular in a group of friends, they stop living stages according to their age, this leads to the use of makeup, heels when They are still girls, they stop doing some things, they stop living stages according to their age. Another example is when women go in search of work and it depends on the way they dress, it is the way they will be treated, if they are thin with a miniskirt, slippers, and make-up, rest assured that the work is from her , but if the situation were different, if instead of being dressed sexy is dressed in a formal and simple manner, they put some obstacles in order to acquire the job. this is wrong, appearance does not determine the value of people.

  8. Liz says:

    I have been teaching preschool for 20 years and I have seen a change in the interactions the girls have with each other. In the last 5 to 7 years I have seen more adolescent behavior among the girls. The things they say to each other is startling, along with dance gestures, and songs they sing. It is apparent that media has played a large role in their lives. Children are growing up fast for a lot of reasons, I believe media plays a large role in this area.
    I have guest speakers both male and female in traditional roles visit, along with dramatic play opportunities that allow for exploration of all roles in society.

  9. DeAnna Stowe says:

    Telling a girl she looks pretty has become the norm for today’s society. Comments like these create a lot of animosity towards the other girls not receiving similar comments. It creates depression at young ages, it also creates low self esteem. As hard as it may be, we need to learn to create comments directed more towards their knowledge and inner beauty rather than physical appearance.

  10. Laura Borchardt says:

    This is a huge issue that I see in our society. I am guilty of it every day when I tell the girls they are wearing pretty clothes that day. I am very aware of it but it has become a habit that the families and I have grown use to. It is much easier during the day when I see them working on tasks and I am able to compliment them on their work and not their looks. I find that when I compliment any of the preschoolers on their work or behavior that many other preschoolers will ask me immediately to comment on their work or behavior. I try to give compliments to all the preschoolers as much as I can and notice why I say the things I do to them but it does seem to create a lot of competition between preschoolers. I think they probably feel more secure at home because there are usually less children at home and they are at different ages. It is very interesting to think about how much our words as adults affect their self-esteem.

  11. Judy Nelson says:

    More then a pretty face made me really think about how I talk with young girls and even young boys. We as a society very focused on clothing , hair, shoes etc. I think even as an adult I feel terrible if I wear something new and receive no compliments on my appearance.
    I take the challenge given in the book to engage children in conversations about their interests. In the long run I think this also will encourage young girls to feel confident in expressing their opinions and show pride in sharing their passions and interests with others.

  12. Brittany says:

    Yes. We need to start at an early age that girls are why more than just what they look like on the outside. I do not think it is a good idea to not let them watch media or movies with the ideas of girls and beauty because if their parents or daycare providers are not teaching them that they are more than their looks, they will go find the answer somewhere else. I think we need to show girls that their personality is what people really care about once they get passed the outside. I do not really like that our society is that why, but our society needs to start teaching girls that your personality is what is truly beautiful and your outside looks are fun to “pretty up” by adding items to it. Our looks will someday start changing as we age, so we need to help girls develop a beautiful heart.

  13. Sherie Melchert says:

    This has made me think about how I talk to young girls. We in society are very focused on hair, clothing, and shoes. I will be very aware and start asking questions on their interests and passions.

  14. Jill N. Walker says:

    I found this chapter to be an eye opener! I am very interested in listening to the comments I hear and listen for the differences between the comments made to the boys and girls in my program.

  15. Karen says:

    Very good chapter. I am going to work on more like asking about a book they read, or a sport they enjoy, or what is their favorite outdoor activity.

  16. Morgan Hinzmann says:

    The whole world set unrealistic beauty standards on women and men. Women are to have large breasts and tiny waists, men are to be muscular and tall, we don’t appreciate that everyone is unique and different. I remember worrying about being too tall and too fat in grade school and I sometimes still worry about it today.
    I agree that we need to focus on what is in someone’s head rather than what is on it. If I can make a difference in the self-esteem and self-image of young girls I work with then I have done my job. Girls are more than how cute they are and boy are more than how strong and tough they are. We as a society have put gender into boxes and built huge walls around what we believe a girl/boy should be. We need to work together to break down these walls. Dolls and trucks don’t need to be labeled girl and boy toys, they just need to be toys.

  17. Shannon Alexander says:

    This chapter, “More than a Pretty Face,” hit me hard because I have a daughter and I don’t want her growing up with the idea that appearance makes everything for her life. In my childcare, i have a lot of girls and they do like dressing up as princesses. This only includes dresses. I don’t want to have makeup or lip glosses and thankfully they haven’t asked. I do want to make an effort to balance this type of dressing up with dressing up for other careers such as mailman, doctor, dentist, vet, police officer and more. I also want to make a goal of being aware of my comments about appearance and looks. I think once I become aware, I will be able to stop myself and change these comments into more meaningful conversations for girls and boys.

  18. T. Enter says:

    As a mother to an almost 10 year old girl, this chapter hit home. It was a great read and loved to read all the other comments on the blog. I have been guilty of always telling my daughter she looks “pretty” Or “that’s cute” and yes her nick name I call her is princess. I never stepped back to see how the words I have been using with her could/has effected herself image. I am grateful that she isn’t into make-up, lip gloss, or tight clothes. I am now more aware of what and how I need to talk with her so that she can build her self confidences, and understand that her image isn’t everything.

  19. Theresa says:

    I agree that girls need more encouragement for their work rather than what they look like or what they are wearing. It is hard sometimes to keep that in mind when I am a female myself and comment on such as a way to socialize. But it also makes me reflect to the times when my sisters were underestimated of intelligence because they were blonde haired and blue eyed, especially my younger sister who was the most striking of all of them. I would see boys her age or older try to treat her as a “dumb blonde” and it was always funny to see what she would sling back at them. I remember some guy making a remark and she responded back, then he would be laughing and commenting that he figured her to be dumb blonde, but his friend would point out that she just put him in his place with a few choice words (I am not talking about swearing at her, I am saying she would point out the “hole” in his statement and turn his words against him in some kind of manner). I would be proud of her for her intellectual wisdom of opening the ignorant guy’s eyes.

  20. S. Hanson says:

    This is another interesting topic. It’s another balancing act in the classroom to not focus too much on being pretty yet not discouraging their imaginative play. We try to strike a balance of gender options in the classroom. All children are encouraged to dress up in what they’d like- princess dresses, construction vests, suits and vests etc. We have conversations as needed when children say “boys can’t…” or “girls can’t…”.

    I also try to make a point in the morning to greet each child and have meaningful conversations about their interests and what they did last night or over the weekend and not always commenting on their attire for the day unless they bring it up and want to show me.

  21. G Anderson says:

    This topic has been one I find myself purposely doing a balancing act with. I try to make a point throughout the day to visit with the preschoolers in my class about all kinds of things. They often come in (boys and girls) showing off a new shirt or hair do…..I recognize their excitement in sharing this-but I will talk about what they did over the weekend, or what was their favorite part of the night that made them happy. …..that way it is not just about physical or material things that we feel are important , but how they feel or what they are thinking is important as well

  22. Faye says:

    Chapter 6
    This chapter helped me realize that instead of giving compliments about their cute out fit or how their hair is fixed to ask other questions. Ask them about the sports they are in or other things they are interested in, or what they did over the weekend.

  23. Cheryl Thomas says:

    I find myself telling little girls how cute they look or how pretty there outfit is, I also tell little boys how cool there shirt is or how nice they look with there haircut. Guess I will have to rethink this.

  24. Lynda Smith says:

    Our compliments must meet the needs of a girl at a specific time. If she feels “ugly”, a physical compliment; if “dumb”, an academic compliment, if inept at a game, an encouragement.

  25. Barb Luxford says:

    Girls have diversified interests in sports, how things work, science, and so much more. They are not viewed as just a pretty face as they were generations ago. I see a new generation of young women emerging in our society that are strong and capable.

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