Peggy Orenstein had confident ideas about how she was going to raise her daughter – until the day her daughter came home reciting the name of every Disney Princess, despite the fact that Orenstein had never introduced her daughter to any Disney movies. Thus began her quest to uncover how, when and why princesses – and, more generally, the emphasis on physical perfection – have become the golden standard for young girls today. Her exploration led to Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.
Cinderella Ate My Daughter looks at the rise of the intense girlie culture in the marketing world and how it emphasizes and encourages young girls to emulate specific traits, most of which focus on physical appearance. Orenstein also tries to discover whether gender automatically or inherently dictates a child’s choice in toys, tries to unravel why so much (in some cases, too much) importance is placed on a girl’s appearance, traces the evolution of pink as a decidedly “girl” color and, throughout it all, shows clearly how marketing executives across the country are taking advantage of all these changes to deliberately target girls and create highly divided, hyper-segmented target audiences.
The book is approachable and easy to read. Reading it felt like talking with a friend, which comes in part from Orenstein’s reliance on her own stories and experiences to make her research relevant. She’s also very funny, which helps dampen the blow of her scary conclusions. I especially liked how Orenstein wove her own thoughts, doubts and feelings about all of these issues into the book. She’s honest about how she feels and how she constantly struggles to do what she thinks is right for her family. Above all, she doesn’t judge parents who do buy into the whole “princess scene.” She tries to understand the choices they make, especially when they are different from her own, but she doesn’t criticize. She just wants to give all parents (and/or all readers, as well) as much information as possible so they can make informed choices.
The extensive appendices feature an interview Orenstein gave with American University, sobering statistics about the depiction of girls on screen from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, and several pages of notes referencing the books, reports, articles and journals Orenstein relied on for her research. (I would have liked those notes as footnotes in the actual text, so I didn’t have to keep going back and forth, but that’s a minor quibble.)
Cinderella Ate My Daughter is thought-provoking and enlightening. Even if you don’t usually read nonfiction and even if you are not a parent, this book is still worth your time. With an easy-going, approachable writing style and lessons everyone can benefit from, Peggy Orenstein’s book is eye-opening and vitally important to the future of girls.
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