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?”
photo courtesy of hudsonthego via Flickr