Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Imagine we didn't praise little girls for being pretty. Imagine we praised them for being clever'
I was, ironically, as you'll read, in a hairdresser's recently and there was a little girl getting her hair done. She was having a lovely time and it was remarked upon how tall she was for her age. Someone said she might grow up to be a model. Or a basketball player I thought - but wasn't sure it was polite to butt into other people's conversations - and it was agreed she could easily be because she was so pretty. And in fairness she was.
She was delighted but it got me to thinking about how we praise little girls for being pretty. Which for a variety of reasons - not least that being decorative isn't the best a girl can aspire to - isn't ideal. And I thought to myself that it isn't fair that we praise girls for something that's an accident of birth. Not something that they can do anything about. Like striving for an education or career success or any of the stuff that you actually work towards. And which are coincidentally the kind of thing that I'd wish for a little girl.
But then I realised. What was I thinking? Girls do strive to be pretty! Girls in fact devote huge amounts of time and effort and genuine hard work to it! Because that's what they know will gain them approval, praise and even success.
So they have pedicures. Paint their toenails. Wear hugely uncomfortable, high-heeled shoes. Wear anklets. Shave their legs. Wear fake tan. Wear body lotion. Wear thigh-slimming underwear. Shave their bikini line. Have a vajazzle. Do sit ups. Wear Spanx. Have a tummy tuck. Get their belly button pierced. Wear push-up bras. Get boob jobs. Tone their arms. Get manicures. Paint their finger nails. Wear rings. Wear bracelets. Use hand creams. Use anti-ageing creams. Wear perfume. Wear necklaces. Get a neck lift. Wear lipstick. Get their lips filled. Get their teeth whitened. Wear foundation. Get a facelift. Get their face filled. Get their face lasered. Get a nose job. Wear earrings. Wear eye make-up. Get eyelash extensions. Get their eyes lasered. Get an eye lift. Get their brows plucked. Get their brows tattoed. Get Botox. Get their hair dyed. Get hair extensions. Get their hair blow-dried (lots). Wear hair spray, root spray, thickening spray. It's literally exhausting.
I only included things there that I or people I know, have actually done. And I excluded things like exercise or watching your diet because they can actually benefit health - even though often the aim is still actually to be pretty. And I didn't even go into the need for multiple outfit changes - in case we bore people by re-wearing our clothes.
But then I thought to myself. Wow women are amazing! Look at how unbelievably hard they work towards their goal. I doubt masters of industry work harder at becoming billionaires than women do on their appearance. So just imagine if their goal wasn't only to be decorative. Imagine we didn't mainly value women on their appearance or praise little girls for being pretty. Imagine we praised them for being clever, or kind, or hard working, or doing well, or being sporty, or innovative, or showing leadership.
Imagine if we switched what we praised them for so they switched what they devoted their time to - what would change in the world? A world where both genders were facilitated and encouraged to reach their full potential - what would that be like? What could the human race achieve that it can't now because it chooses to mainly ignore the innate abilities of half the population?
While the most insulting thing you can say to a woman isn't that she is cruel or bad but that she is fat it will continue that women's greatest goal is to be thin and pretty. And if we turn bright inquiring, creative minds or gifted sportswomen into thinking their main aim in life is to be merely ornamental - we squander half the world's human resources.
Sixty per cent of the young scientist entrants this year were girls. I think that's great. And hope maybe one day they won't feel they've to get up an hour earlier than their male counterparts to put on lashes, tan and make up, before heading to the RDS. It's a waste of their precious time. And it's hard enough already to compete with boys - without giving them a head start.