Friday, September 23, 2011

Girls, Media, and the Princess Phenomenon

In 1968, I was the proud owner of a Cinderella watch with a light-blue leather band and a china figurine. I don’t know where either are today—but my seven-year-old self thought both were incredibly beautiful and the best gifts I’d received to date. I also wore corduroy overalls, played for hours outside with the other kids on the block, and I wasn’t allowed to watch more than a few hours of television a week. Even going to the movies was a very, very big deal that didn’t happen very often. I didn’t live in a media-saturated world like girls today. I thought Cinderella was great—but she didn’t loom especially large in my imagination.

When my nieces were toddlers—I was reintroduced to the cast of Disney princesses—with a few new characters added into the mix. Thank goodness that I also discovered Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. Peggy—author of the bestsellling Schoolgirls—was as dismayed I was by all the pink and glitter being pushed at young girls—and—in Cinderella Ate My Daughter, she reveals the dark side of all that sparkle.

The rise of the girlie-girl, Peggy warns, is not that innocent. Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. The pursuit of physical perfection been recast as the source of female empowerment. Commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

As a parent, Peggy wondered, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-sized wedding gown? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls’ successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from ealry sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today’s little princess become tomorrow’s sexting teen?

Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or I—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents, teachers, (and aunts) can effectively counterbalance its influence.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter will be available in paperback (9780061711534, $14.99) in February 2012. However, if you would like to consider it for possible course adoption, I'll be happy to send you a hardcover (9780061711527, $25.99) edition now. Please let me know if you'd like a copy by filling out our desk copy form.

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