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Peggy Orenstein: Laughing Back at the Princess Craze

Peggy Orenstein: Laughing Back at the Princess Craze

How can a parent compete with an industry that pushes $4 billion in princess products in one year alone?  If you ask Peggy Orenstein, with a good dose of fun.  “I have a natural aversion to the medicinal.  I’m trying to fight fun with fun.”

That’s the theme of Orenstein’s latest book CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (Harper January 25, 2011).  What started as an essay in The New York Times Magazine about the “princess-mania” that has overcome a new generation of young girls evolved into a sharp-witted look at the consumer culture that has overtaken modern girlhood. 

Orenstein relies on her own experiences with her seven-year-old daughter Daisy as a way to examine, warts and all, just how to offer our daughters an alternative narrative.  “The thing is, princesses aren’t necessarily bad.  But the way they are being pushed, being sexualized, that’s a very scary thing” she said.  “It takes some intentional parenting to push back against all the pink, all the princess.  And it’s not easy.  We used to have tie-dye parties so Daisy could make her own clothes.  It helped avoid all the over-the-top pink and she loved it.  She was really proud that she had made her shirt and that it was unique.”

It’s not just about the clothes, as Orenstein notes, it’s also about the character of the princess.  Instead of the standard Disney princess costume Orenstein’s daughter chose to be Athena, the Greek goddess of war.  “There you still have strength, you still have girl power like they are being peddled now, only it’s a bit more authentic.  And the thing is, she loves it.”

As Orenstein notes, sexualizing girlhood is not without some tragic consequences.  Nearly half of girls between the ages of 6 and 9 regularly use lipstick or lip gloss and 8-12 year old girls spend $40 million a month on beauty products.  “Wal-Mart just started selling makeup with anti-aging properties targeted to 8-12 year old girls.  Because that’s what you need to think about when you are 8.  Aging.  It’s positively insane.”

Orenstein’s humor though never gets in the way of the seriousness of her study.  And as a mom with a young boy and now an infant daughter, I’m appreciative for the bit of wryness her exploration brings to a topic that can be loaded with personal land mines to navigate.  And, perhaps due to Orenstein’s aversion to the medicinal, despite the challenges there remains an underlying tone of hope that girlhood can be reclaimed from the princesses.  “I do get a sense that parents are starting to say ‘enough.’  But it’s hard.  It’s everywhere.  Have you gone into a Target?”

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photo courtesy of hudsonthego via Flickr

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94 comments

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6:51AM PST on Feb 26, 2011

Thank you for posting.

8:42PM PST on Feb 12, 2011

Teach boys and girls to be smart and resourceful and kind to others. Clothing and physical appearance should not be overemphasized.

1:59AM PST on Feb 10, 2011

I thought the dance in Little Miss Sunshine was highly sexualized. While I thought Ella Enchanted was an interesting switch on the "Cinderella" need a prince to save you syndrome and was a humorous criticism of the whole celebrity, royalty, fairy-godmother fantasy. But, rather tale of empowerment. (Till the very end where out of nowhere she pulls of her skirt to reveal a mini-skirt?)

2:16AM PST on Feb 6, 2011

Every household with a potential princess should have "Little Miss Sunshine" on a dvd. A great antidodte. The real peoblem is with the parents who want their daughters to be sexualized and plastic.

5:24PM PST on Feb 2, 2011

How exactly do "8-12 year old girls spend $40 million a month on beauty products"? When my daughter was that age, she didn't have an independent source of income nor did she have a way to take herself to the store. If she went to the store, her dad or I had to take her, and he or I had to pay for what she "bought." We simply said "No" when she wanted something that we didn't want her to have. She knew that if she went to the store with my parents, my sister, or anyone else, that if she came home with items I didn't approve of, she would not be allowed to keep them. I have no doubt that she and her grandma conspired to buy her a few verboten items to keep stashed at my mom's house, but as her time there was limited, so was the opportunity for harm.


She went through a short period of fascination with princesses, but never cared for the passive ones. Even as a toddler she would ask, "Why doesn't Rapunzel cut off her hair and make a rope and escape instead of letting the witch use it?" "Why doesn't Cinderella just run away from her stepmother?" "Why didn't the Little Mermaid write the prince a love letter or sign to him if she couldn't talk?" Practical ideas that self-possessed, empowered women would have thought of if they were the kind of women written about in fairy tales.
She didn't like princesses who sat about pining and sighing for a prince to come rescue them. She liked princesses who picked up their own swords and started swinging.

5:43PM PST on Feb 1, 2011

I think is poison for kids!!! shame on their mothers...

12:39PM PST on Feb 1, 2011

I get disgusted when I see little kids in these beauty pagents. A child should be alowed to grow up natuarally. All these commercials for cosmetics for children is nuts. Let a child use her imagination to be whatever she wants and stop pushing for princess. My favorite costume as a child was a devil and played cowboys and indians. I grew up normal

8:27AM PST on Feb 1, 2011

thank you

7:54AM PST on Feb 1, 2011

We used to play Cowboys and Indians and I didn't grow up to be either one and knew it was all fantasy. What is different about today's "play" acting is probably the fact that today's world can't seem to separate the distinction between reality and fiction...possibly due to the fact that we have so many television shows expounding they are "reality" when in fact they are all "game" shows....when a television camera enters your home, it is NO LONGER REAL! And it is a parent's responsibility to bring their children up knowing the difference and not allowing them to watch all that crap or enter their children in beauty pageants that exploit their children. Why have we become such sheep??????

6:49AM PST on Feb 1, 2011

i wish you could see all the fuzz this princess things have caused in other countries, in Mexico, for example it's really huge....girls want many things and parents buy them....yes, it is sickening.....

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