Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | April 11, 2011

Attack of the Princess Years

I just finished reading a very thought provoking book entitled “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.” Here are my thoughts on the book.

I first heard about this book by catching a few minutes of an interview with Peggy Orenstein on the Diane Rehm show. I was fascinated so I downloaded the episode so that I could hear the whole thing and quickly put myself on the waiting list for the book at my local library (amazed they actually had it).

The book deals with a lot of concerns that many parents of young girls face these days – namely, how to raise your daughters to be strong, independent young women in a world where they are inundated with marketing that encourages them to focus on their appearances and be avid consumers. It also discusses how girls are encouraged to grow up so much quicker these days.

I found the book to be a very interesting read, but as one of my local friends complained, it was annoying that there really was no resolution, no thoughts about what we should do.The book used a somewhat research oriented process to look at the struggles that we face as parents these days, but gave no attempt to give guidance on how to deal with it. This is, of course, partially due to the fact that every mom (and dad) has to deal with the situation in their own way. Peggy Orenstein has gone a hard-core route and pretty much outlawed anything related to princesses, especially those of the Disney variety. So decisions that she makes in dealing with the messages that the media sends to our daughters is going to be different then the ones that I make, since J is quite enamored with princesses.

The other issue that I had was that most of the book was summarized in the radio interview and I wanted more.

All that said, here are some of the interesting tid-bits and some thoughts of my own…

  • All of this over the top princess craziness seemed like something that wasn’t around when I was a kid and that’s because it wasn’t. Some marketing exec realized in 2000 or 2001 that there was a ton of money to be had in selling dresses, make-up and other tie-ins. Kind of sad since “dress up” used to mean raiding mom’s closet.
  • The whole segmentation of teen, tween, pre-teen, even toddler are marketing tools. I have always understood that tween was, but the fact that toddler itself was a marketing gimmick from the 1930s.
  • Items get marketed to one age group and then the girls below take it over before it is meant for them, thereby making the older girls no longer like it. Take for instance Barbie dolls. They were, for a long time, aimed at the 6-12 age group. These days, however, they seem to be geared more towards the 3-6 age group. I personally don’t think that my 4 year old is ready to play with Barbie and quite honestly, she isn’t interested. But some of her friends already are.
  • All of the fairy tales and stories that these princesses come from were originally stories that taught young girls and boys moral lessons. I think Ms. Orenstein has a point about going back to the original Brothers’ Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson versions of many of these tales. The protagonists in their stories didn’t just need to be saved by the prince. However, they were also apparently a bit more gruesome with things like Snow White’s step-mother being forced to attend her wedding to the prince wearing red-hot iron shoes and made to dance until she dies. Have to try to find a happy medium with that one.
  • A big part of what she talks about is how all of this consumerism and focus on appearance impacts our girls as they grow older. What might seem harmless at age 4 gets less so at age 14. Girls get sucked into the Disney machine at a young age and then their “role models” like Hannah Montana or Lindsey Lohan grow up and rebel by using their sex as a marketing tool

Orenstein makes all of this sound incredibly pervasive and unavoidable unless you boycott princesses altogether. I have to think that parenting does actually come into play and that we can allow our girls to experience princesses without losing them to it. The one thing that makes me sad is that all of this media and marketing aimed at young kids is hard to avoid.

In the end, her book makes me miss the “good ole days” when I was growing up. In know that I enjoyed Cinderella, but it didn’t get in the way of also loving sports. I’m hopeful that I am also managing to raise my daughters that way. I remember when I was pregnant with J, I didn’t want anyone to buy her anything pink. Not for the princess aspect, but because I honestly don’t like the color and think it is ridiculous for us to push it on our girls. 4 years later, I know that it is unavoidable, and quite honestly, both my girls look great in pink. But when I get asked what my favorite color is, I always say blue. I fear that television and the internet and social media (an interesting chapter in the book) are hurting our children. I wish that we could find a way to keep them away from it for longer, but I am guilty myself about allowing television in as a necessity. On the flip side though, there are quality programs out there that show girls doing other things so that we can manage to do this fine balancing act. J’s current favorite (changes frequently) is Jake and the Neverland Pirates on Disney. She only recently got into actually watching the longer princess movies. But the good news is that she seems equally fascinated with Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. This mothering thing is hard.

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