I believe princesses are born, not made.
How else to explain my two children, born from the same set of parents, brought up in the same house under the same circumstances, but who exhibit very different styles?
My eldest is just as likely to go frog-catching as she is to play with her American Girl doll. She acted like a dog, barking and scampering around on all fours, for about three years—one of her longer childhood “phases.” As a preschooler, she liked dinosaurus, denim, and superheroes.
The youngest came into this world like a little lady with an inherent love of all things that glitter and sparkle. There is no such thing as too much pink for her. She has been a princess for Halloween for three years in a row. She is pretty much a princess the other 364 days of the year as well.
So I couldn’t wait to read the latest book by Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter just because the title was so apt.
In Cinderella, Orenstein, who also wrote Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap, explores girlhood as a marketable commodity, exploited and under siege. She explains how, since roughly 2000, the executives at Disney began selling the princess "lifestyle" to preschoolers after one Andy Mooney witnessed legions of girls in homemade dresses emulating their favorite princesses at a Disney On Ice show in Phoenix.
"We simply gave girls what they wanted,” Mooney said in an article.
Orenstein travels to a child beauty pageant, gingerly tiptoes through Facebook pages and online gaming sites to observe girls being girls. She goes to a toy expo, where she finds pink Tinker Toys and learns how marketers began focusing on “tweens,” a demographic without a name just a decade ago. She dissects Miley, Britney, Bratz and, of course, Barbie.
Parents of son(s) might want to grab a copy of Cinderella, too. Orenstein makes the case that gender-specific toys, especially those with licensed characters (like Power Rangers) detract from and limit all play, and not just for girls. At the turn of the century, the color associated with femininity was light blue, as in the Virgin Mary. Pink was reserved for the boys, a variation of red.
For those looking to combat the commercialization of girlhood, Orenstein doesn’t provide answers. Instead she gives real-time evidence of her own struggles in raising her daughter, 5-year-old Daisy.
Case in point: By buying Daisy a Barbie doll, is she complicit in sexualizing childhood, objectifying beauty and tacitly approving some antiquated notion of woman? By denying her daughter a Barbie, is she implying that doll play is bad? Will she be an outcast, at some social disadvantage? Can a Barbie doll just be a doll? And if a parent stumbles in the Barbie aisle trying to make up her mind about such matters, does she make a sound?
I appreciate Orenstein’s journalistic research and writing on this subject, as well as her candor as a confused, sometimes conflicted parent. It’s good to know I have some company in the sparkly pink aisle as I bumble along, trying to get my little princess to maybe, just maybe, consider the color purple.